What can you learn from your life?

Five years ago I began writing down stories from my life. Actually, the process began earlier, when I tried to write the stories of my parents and grandparents (and even great-grandparents).  Newly retired from the full time practice of psychiatry, I had time to explore old photos, letters and records, and to interview surviving relatives.  I wrote about some of what I discovered and sent it to family members.

But, I realized the one person I knew the most about was myself, mostly in the form of jumbled half-memories.  So, I decided to write my life experience as an autobiographical story, and attempted to discern patterns and lessons for myself, and perhaps for my children and grandchildren.  The more I wrote, the more memories I recovered and, as I tried to put them in story form, the more sense they made.  I saw connections between events, people and feelings I hadn’t appreciated before.

Five years later, I have a 250 page book, with 18 chapters, covering 65 years.  And I have learned a lot.  For example:  I am a product of multiple generations of struggle to survive and thrive, including various traumatic events that affect me still; I suffer from some degree of survivor syndrome, with the attendant guilt and impulse to rescue others; my repeated attempts to rescue loved ones have generally failed, but my career helping others has provided some compensatory satisfaction and redemption; my love for, and attachment to, my wife, children, and grandchildren has been enhanced by the process of self-examination; I am beginning to learn what is most important and meaningful in life; I can celebrate my own courage in facing some formidable obstacles; I hope, now, I can draw on this courage as I face challenges ahead.

Why am I telling you this?  To suggest that you, too, may benefit from writing your life story, even if no one else ever reads it.  Don’t have a clue how to begin?  Here are some resources that have helped me (and there are many others):

An update on the history and current status of memoir as literature:  “But Enough About Me” in The New Yorker.

An inspiring book about a way to conceptualize your life:  The Writer’s Journey

Two practical books on how to start your own memoir:

Your Life as Story

Writing Life Stories

Writing as a way of self-healing:  Writing as a Way of Healing

How to write funny stuff about your life:  What Are You Laughing At?

A website containing useful articles and tips about memoir writing (type “memoir” in the site’s search box):  Guide to Literary Agents Blog

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