A Gift to Give: Writing Your Memoir

Guest Post
by Alastair Henry

Writing a memoir should be on every boomer’s bucket list

The most endearing and enduring legacy you can leave your family is you – your story. And anyone can do it. All it takes is time. You don’t need money. The form that your memoir takes can vary widely: from just a stack of notes, or in a story format if you, your child or grandchild want to convert your notes into a memoir, or even a simple digital recording of you reminiscing about your life.

Imagine how thrilling it would be if you could read, in their own words, what your great, great grandparents had to say about their life – the way the world was back in say 1860; how they lived: what they did, believed in, and what they hoped for the future. Conversely, imagine how meaningful it would be for your great, great, grandchildren to read your words a hundred years from now telling them about your life.

Writing your memoir is therapeutic on many levels, depending upon how much work you put into it: it exercises the brain by stimulating the memory; gives one a greater sense of self; and it can be a low cost, high enjoyment pastime involving the whole family. You can ask your children and grandchildren to participate and make it a fun, collaborative project?

I wrote a memoir spanning sixty years of my life, but I didn’t intentionally set out to do this – it just happened by accident as a result of keeping a journal that my daughter gave me when I came out of retirement and went to live in a remote community with a small band of First Nations people in Canada’s Northwest Territories. When I left the north, I took the journals and put them into Microsoft Word to make them into a complete story, strictly for the benefit of my immediate family. But as I worked with the script I began to realize how much I had changed over the two years that I was there. And that got me to thinking about how we all change over time as a reaction to various factors in our lives. Everything is interconnected – cause and effect. We all get up every day and charge ahead with the day’s activities: doing, planning, thinking and seldom stop to reflect on the journey that we have taken in life. And usually, when we do remember, it’s just fleeting: a visual snap shot perhaps, or a sound bite or a smell remembered. But when you take the time to reflect on your life’s journey and dwell on your memories, it’s like creating dots on the linear line of your life, as it were, and when you connect the dots you begin to more clearly see who you are, why you are and where you’ve been.

Life is a journey from birth to death and everything in it is interconnected. For every effect there is a cause, but most of us don’t think too earnestly about this. Reflecting and thinking about our past reveals the causes, effects and outcomes that shaped our lives. In my case, my childhood was most impacted by two factors: my parent’s strict Victorian code of behaviour for children and a heavy religious schooling that resulted in me being shy, insecure and confused by the time I was a teenager. And when I reflected upon my time in the north with the dene I saw that I had metamorphosed from a cold-hearted businessman to a warm-hearted advocate for people’s rights. Had I not embarked upon writing my memoir I would not have the mental clarity and the understanding of myself that I have today. And nor would my children have an account of their father’s life that they can hand down to successive generations.

Alastair Henry was born in Glasgow and grew up in Lancashire, England. He emigrated to Canada by himself when he was nineteen, had a family, and worked in the corporate sector before branching out on his own. He retired at fifty seven, but disillusioned with the passivity of retirement, he returned to the workforce in search of adventure and a deeper meaning to life by going to live and work with a small First Nations band in Canada’s North. You can learn more about Alastair and his memoir on his Author Central page.

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33 thoughts on “A Gift to Give: Writing Your Memoir”

  1. Alastair, great post and a wonderful reminder. My father wrote his autobiography in 4 parts over the last 20 years of his life and after his death I scanned them into Word and published them, populating it first with plenty of pictures. What a treasure that has been! And the surprising thing is, more people than just family buy the book! I love the fact that his story is there for me or anyone else who wants to read about his life over 90 years. I fully intend to add my story on to his, and I’d love it if my son would add his to mine. Thanks so much for getting the word out and nudging folks to write their stories down. It’s a legacy like no other.

    1. Thank you for commenting Melissa. What a wonderful way for your father to immortalise his life and his very essence for your family. When you think about it, it was next to impossible for the average Joe to do this as recently as thirty or forty years ago -they didn’t have the technology to do it -computers, Word.docs, but today it is a different story. We are living longer, have the time, the mental clarity and the technology. I have a sense writing memoirs might become a popular mainstream activity for many retirees in the future, Thanks again for taking the time to read my post.

  2. Having kicked off my writing career with a memoir, I thoroughly agree with you, Alastair. Writing ‘Surviving the Battleground of Childhood’ was a wholly cathartic experience for me. Writing about something I knew intensely also helped me learn my chops.

    Nice article, Alastair.

  3. Great reminder of the importance of everyone’s story. Real life can be so much stranger than fiction too, so many tales to be treasured. Off to check out your book now… 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading my post Carolyn and for taking the time to write a comment. Everyone’s life is unique and a story unto itself, but most people don’t realize this -they don’t stop and reflect deep enough on their particular life journey. Our stories only emerge when we take the time to reflect upon how our life unfolded the way it did and why. In addition, writing my memoir was cathartic on many levels. I know you will get a lot out of reading my memoir – would like to hear from you after you have read it. Thanks again

  4. A great reminder, Alastair. I tried to talk my mother into doing an oral history project for me before she died. She grew up in the Depression and lived to see the age of the Internet (not that she ever really got what it was all about). I bought a ton of cassette tapes and brought over a tape recorder, and she wouldn’t do it. 🙁 Oh well. I suppose I should start writing my own autobiography…

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Lynne. Sad that you didn’t get to record your mother’s oral testimony but maybe you will do yours. I hope so. Its a great pastime and you might be greatly surprised at what you will learn about yourself that you didn’t know before. That was my experience.

    1. Thanks for reading my guest post Lorraine and for taking the time to add a comment, and best wishes for much enjoyment and enlightenment in writing your own memoir. I am excited for you because I have a sense that you of all people, being a writer, will find the whole experience deeply gratifying and pleasurable. I hope you do a guest post after you have finished writing, on what you learned about yourself etc.

          1. Well, I plan on self-publishing book one of my true memoir series in 2014, and didn’t know how to get involved here. I know Melissa Bowersock, a contributor and author, but wasn’t sure if I had to join a specific club… LOL She just suggested I follow this blog, and so I am. 😉

            I may query about a guest post in the future, and then maybe some promotion for my book.

            I’m not finished it yet, though.

            Thanks to both of you for helping this “newbie” out! 🙂

          2. I self published my memoir in September 2013 with assistance from Friesen Press (Cdn producer in BC) – they helped with cover design etc and they print on demand whatever copies are ordered from the on-line retailers. If you have any questions just ask

          3. Thank you for the offer. I’m not sure where I should be publishing it or how much assistance I will need. I’ve heard so many different opinions that I’m more confused than ever!

            iUniverse, Smashwords, Lightning Source, CreateSpace, Amazon, etc… Which is the best?

            Kindle, mobi, epub? The lingo is killing me.


          4. Lorraine, I recommend you do a search here on Indies Unlimited. We have a bunch of tutorials here which will show you how to do it all yourself as well as articles explaining which platforms benefit authors the most.

          5. Thanks, K.S.

            I appreciate your help.

            I’m curious about one thing in particular, at this moment. How important is having a blog and lots of comments to a writer’s success? Reason I ask: I started blogging almost a year ago, and got sidetracked with blogging. I’m now thinking of changing my schedule from posting twice per week to once every two weeks, just to make more time for my writing projects.


          6. Here’s the thing. I have done this backa$$wards. I bought a laptop, joined a ton of social media sites, built a small following, and feel like I am getting nowhere.


            I inadvertently created an ebook for bloggers but it is more like a blog post.

            Not sure where to go next….

            And yes, I read your advice on the link.

            I feel like I’m wasting time on my blog, on others’ blogs, and should be concentrating more on getting my two books-in-progress DONE.

            But, now I’m in knee-deep and there are certain expectations from others. Sigh.

            I’m likely not the only one in my predicament, am I?

            And I don’t think Alistair will mind that you and I are connecting right now. He seems like a good guy. No Sam, but a good guy. 😉

          7. I’m not sure that’s backwards, Lorraine. You need to build your following before you publish, because that way you’re building relationships with people instead of just splamming at them about your book. It takes time and dedication, but if you get to the point that you feel it is interfering with your writing, you need to take a step back and decide what you need to do. Cut back on your blog, and on other blogs if those blogs aren’t helping you. The thing I try to explain to unpublished authors is that it is important to at least be subscribed to Indies Unlimited to receive the daily digest emails. That way you can peruse the subjects and decide which articles pertain to you and read only those. That helps you maintain a connection to the author culture which I believe is truly important as being an author can be extremely isolating. We all go through what you’re going through now.

  5. What a great gift for yourself and your family, Alastair. Some 30 years back, my father interviewed his parents and gave my brothers and I copies of the recordings. It’s like treasure. With that in mind, I interviewed my grandmother at 90-something, and with my mother chiming in, it became a great story of what each of them remembered. (And often it conflicted!) I don’t see memoir coming out of this right now, but who knows?

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