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Writing your memoirs

May 20, 1999|By KATE COLEMAN

In "Angela's Ashes," Frank McCourt tells the story of his "miserable Irish Catholic childhood." The best-selling book won a Pulitzer.

Fortunately, most childhoods are not that miserable. Unfortunately, most of us don't have McCourt's award-winning storytelling gift.

But that shouldn't stop us from telling our stories.

[cont. from lifestyle]

"It's a very rewarding thing to do," says Myrtle Long Haldeman, whose memoirs, "Thy Kingdom Come: A Journey of Faith" were published this year. Haldeman has taught four semesters of "Writing Your Personal Memoirs and Experiences," a class in Hagerstown Community College's Institute for Learning in Retirement.

Jane Amero completed the second part of Haldeman's class this spring, and she's glad she did. Writing her personal memoirs is kind of an outgrowth of her interest in genealogy. The Falling Waters, W.Va., resident is gathering her memories for her children and grandchildren. A native of Massachusetts, Amero taught elementary school near San Francisco. Now retired, she recently wrote her memories of a little house on Cape Cod where she spent a great deal of time. Her kids still go every summer. Amero has no plans to publish her stories, but you never know, she says.

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The text for the class is "Turning Memories Into Memoirs/A Handbook for Writing Lifestories" by Denis Ledoux. Haldeman doesn't check students' homework, but they read their stories in class, she says.

Anne Myers, HCC program coordinator, has sat in on some of the sessions. A lot of people have written personal stories, but it's a great opportunity for people to come together as a community and share them, she believes.

An award-winning writer, Ledoux did a reading for some foster grandparents. They loved it and shared their stories. He organized his presentation and has done it in many parts of the country and has trained 100 people to present it, as well. "Everywhere, people want to write their stories," he says.

There are several reasons, according to Ledoux: Telling a story is a pleasure, there's a human compulsion to record the past, many people feel a need to find the meaning in life, and it's a way of celebrating your life.

In an online interview on his Web site at www.turning memories.com, Ledoux provides some practical advice for writing a life story, including the following:

* Make a "lifelist" - a list of all relationships and events in your life. Choose the 10 most important things. Write three- to five-page stories about each of them. Don't worry about chronological order.

* You don't have to be a good writer. "Your kids don't care." Practice and rewriting make perfect.

* To jog your memory, look at family photos, historical photos and paintings of the time; refer to journals, yearbooks, newspapers; make lists about yourself and family members - favorite foods, songs, sayings; talk about the past with people who were there; read a book or see a film of that time.

Ledoux's advice for people who think they might like to write their life stories is don't think about it, don't talk about it. Do it.

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