A Gift to Your Family: Write a Memoir

NOT in the slow lane, YET

The blog is about living life after 70 with joy, resilience, and purpose. It is a source of positive, helpful advice encouraging people to set and achieve goals  and find joy in life. The blog will cover firsthand experiences, thoughts, and concerns. Topics of blogs will be health, retirement, fashion, travel, and  living in continuing care retirement communities. The blogs will be short and appear at least once a month on my website www.nadineblock.com or by email if you choose. Come walk with me.

A gift to your family: Write a memoir.

My Memoir Remembering Rosie: Memories of a Wisconsin Farm Girl

Have you thought about sharing your experiences and life lessons with others?   Do you want your memories to be remembered? Do you want to improve your writing?  Are you looking for something to do that is useful and keeps you busy?

 Have you thought about writing a memoir?  

I will share my walk in writing a memoir.  I hope it will encourage you to start writing. 

Why did I write a memoir? 

The author, Isabel Allende, states: “Write what should not be forgotten.” 

Sometimes, writers want to change minds and hearts like I did in my books about ending hitting  of children, Breaking the Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment and This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You:  Children Share How Spanking Hurts and What To Do Instead (Publisher of both: Center for Effective Discipline). Social progress is slow, and I wanted to push along the idea that children deserve the same legal protection adults have to  be  free from physical punishment. Over sixty countries do not allow children to be hit, even in homes.  All US states allow hitting children in families and eighteen  states still allow paddling in schools. I wanted to add my knowledge and experience to history.

Memoirs are different.  They are stories about important times in our lives.  In writing Remembering Rosie: Memories of a Wisconsin Farm Girl (Page Publishing, Inc. 2021),  I hoped to provide my grandchildren with an authentic and entertaining  story about the life of  farm children in  the 1950’s when I grew up. I wanted to gain their respect for the contributions of our pioneer families. I was looking at the end of my life and wanted to make sense of it.   I did not make a list of why I was writing a memoir. I just knew that I had to do it.

Writing has always  been a link to my seven grandchildren who live out of state. They are now in their teens and early twenties. When they were little,  I tried to connect with them through small books (12 in total).   I wrote, illustrated, and privately  published stories for children  about my travels. I was grateful for being able to travel.  I hoped travel would be part of their lives. I wrote fanciful stories about countries I visited and used travel photos and my  drawings of imaginary figures such as “Corey the Camel in Timbuktu” and “ Casey the Cat in Kathmandu.”  As they grew older, I added historical and geographical information to my travel stories. 

I  compiled a picture book (Our Family: Wisconsin Pioneers) with biographies of  our German and Lithuanian immigrant families who were pioneers in Wisconsin. One day one of my grandchildren was complaining about the number of chores expected of him. I thought, “Someday I will write about real W-O-R-K,  the hard and dangerous work of farm children 80 years ago.” 

My memoir, Remembering Rosie: Memories of a Wisconsin Farm Girl  gives my grandchildren a snapshot of my life  on a Wisconsin dairy farm.  The main characters are my four siblings and my parents.  My mom was an important part of the story.  She suffered from depression as a young wife but found her own happiness and joy owning her own business.  To our delight, she also found  her long-lost sense of humor and wit.  Her recovery was a lesson in finding a place where you can grow rather than feel trapped.  A Gannett reporter said my book is a feminist farm memoir.

How I wrote the memoir:

I decided to write about my early years in a mostly linear manner, from birth to leaving home as a young adult. The subjects were historical and personal:  work of children, education, economics,  medicine, religion,  and family dynamics. My four siblings contributed their memories as I wrote chapters.  I wrote most of it during our Covid shut-in times.  We communicated by zoom and email. My siblings helped me recall forgotten events.  It was a great bonding experience for our family. 

Halfway through drafting the memoir, I decided to get it published  because it might appeal to people who grew up on family farms or visited them as children.   It also might appeal to people who like nostalgic books about life in the past.   Covid lockdowns also had me looking back to calmer times.  

Lawndale Elementary School, Wisconsin one-room school 1950’s

Was I happy I wrote the memoir?

Yes. I got to know myself  better. I realized that I thrive on structure, even in old age. An hour of physical exercise and two hours of writing or painting are daily goals for me. 

I learned more about my family relationships.  My siblings and I  were sometimes surprised at how differently we remembered events. One of my brothers commented on a memory I offered,  “Did we grow up in the same house?”  How lucky I was able to share memories of a close-knit family and to appreciate  and gain from their viewpoints!

I became a better writer.  In my work life, I authored reports and position papers requiring research interpretation, providing  conclusions and making recommendations. In writing a memoir, I  learned to think about more than facts and conclusions.  I learned to care more about piquing the interests of the reader while still being true to representation of facts and historical information.  I had to learn to write like a fiction writer.

Why should YOU write a memoir? 

Everyone has a story to tell.   When you are gone, your stories may die with you unless you write them down.  You may  write to learn more about your ancestors and gain insight into them. You may want to put into words what meaning life holds for you. Your words may become lessons that help others. You may  write to get to know yourself better. You may want to become a better writer. I wrote for all those reasons.  

Start writing your memoir:

Find courage to start drafting your story. Take a chance!  You may end up with a short story to share with your family. You may end up with a longer story, a memoir.  

  • Think about an important part of your life.  Write down memories and scenes from that time. If you have painful memories, let them come back, cope with them, and put them into words. 
  • Organize the memories.  Ask family members to share memories and family photos.  Ask them to tell the stories behind the photos. 
  • Check Ancestry.com or other genealogical websites for information about your family. 
  • Do historical reading on that period for information and to bring back memories. 
  • Check with your local library or senior center to see if they have classes on writing  a memoir. 

 Share your story  with a couple of friends or family members and ask for comments.  Most people will cheer you on.  You have begun your memoir. Keep writing.

More to think about:

How to Write a Memoir: 13 Steps for a Gripping Life Story

Six Steps to get you started in writing your memoirs