Why You Should Write a Memoir by Evelyn LaTorre (Peru)

 

by Evelyn LaTorre ( Peru 1964-66)

 

Evelyn Kohl LaTorre (Peru 1964-66)

Face it. You’re not getting any younger. Once you’re gone, your stories won’t be there the way only you can tell them—unless they’re written down. Do it now. One never knows when one’s faculties might fade. Write a scene about one of the many tales you’ve often given voice to about the time you “did such-and-such and then …” Those memories are important to put on paper or store in your computer while you can still recall them. Look at a few old photos or listen to music you loved to resurrect forgotten feelings and the memories will come flooding back.

“So who cares about what I have to say?” you may ask. Maybe your family will. Or maybe they won’t. But do it anyway. Leaving a record of your life while you’re still kickin’ will do more than prove you existed. It will teach or inspire someone who’s waiting to receive your message. Find your stories and write them for posterity, your unknown readers, and for yourself.

Do you keep a journal? Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Fredrick Douglass all kept journals. That’s an advantage for recalling details—and for your health. Research by James Pennebaker (Writing to Heal, 2004) has proven that those who write about themselves have stronger immune systems, better sleep, improved mental health, lower blood pressure, and reduced pain.

An effective way to find your voice and help others find theirs is to write honestly about traumas you went through. Expressive writing helps reevaluate life, grief, and distress. Once a traumatic experience is on the page, it has less power in our lives. For years I felt ashamed that I’d become pregnant before marriage—a big “no-no” in the 60s. When I wrote about my situation, guilt lifted from my shoulders. Compassion for the naïve 23-year-old me filled my heart. When women began talking more openly about the sexual harassment and abuse they’d experienced, healing and prosecutions followed.

Writing about one’s own life shows us who we are and opens a different vista for others. People learn from new points of view. Every life is unique. The lessons you learned should be shared with others. Many readers will identify with experiences you’ve had. Reading your words can help them face things they can’t or don’t want to encounter. Fans who’ve read my memoirs tell me that they feel like they’ve traveled to the Andes as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Begin by making a list of the important events in your life. Maybe a letter, a smell, or a garment will produce a memory. Once you begin, forgotten incidents come bubbling up from your unconscious. You might begin with a question: “How did I go from ______to ______?” Or with an anecdote. Plot the turning points of your life, your peak experiences, or any events and activities which have been important to you. After you get a few incidents down, you may notice a theme. Or you might begin with a theme: how your seven divorces came about, the five dogs you’ve raised, or the 10 places where you’ve lived. Regardless of where you begin, trust that whatever rises to the surface is what needs to be examined. But be aware that unresolved issues often show up. If the subject matter is too traumatic, you might need a therapist to help you sort through it. The effort is worthwhile. You’ll be rewarded by ah-ha moments when you recognize the connections between parts of your life. You’ll discover both good and bad qualities about yourself. Progress from anecdotes to an essay to a chapter and end up with an entire manuscript. If you’re still around when your memoir is published, you may be pleasantly surprised by the effect your words have on others.

Writing about your life moves you into a deeper and more authentic sense of self. When the mind is put to creative use, the sensation of freedom can be off the charts. The constraints of what we thought possible evaporate. After two memoirs, I’m now motivated to write a third—this one will be about my travels around the world.

Mark Twain said, “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside the dullest exterior there is a drama, comedy, and a tragedy.”

Write your memoir.

Peace Corps memoir

Evelyn’s first published book, Between Inca Walls, about falling in love while serving in the Peace Corps, was awarded the 2021 Peace Corps Experience prize. Her second memoir, Love in Any Language, has numerous 5-star reviews on Amazon. Evelyn has had numerous pieces published in literary journals and magazines. She is often a featured podcast guest, lecturer, and presenter on topics such as how and why to write your memoir and the ingredients of a long-term marriage. evelynlatorre.com.

 

9 Comments

Leave a comment
  • Evelyn— thank you for the wise and thoughtful advice. You have inspired me to pursue a story of my life blessed in so many ways. I have started with bits and pieces but never stuck to it. Now I shall. Again, thank you

  • Thanks for your encouragement, Evelyn. I’m in the final stages of a book about my two years in Eritrea, Ethiopia in 1962-64. I’m nearly 83, so I want the book published soon. The book has 63,000 words and is being edited now.

    • Glad to hear it Nyle. It was when I was almost in a serious accident that I set out in earnest to finish my memoirs. I thought, “I might not be around to finish writing about my life and no one else can. So better get to writing.” If this is your first book, up to 85,000 words is OK.

  • Evelyn,

    Thanks for that sage advice. There are so many good stories still there among our RPCV friends. I’m still coming up with a few good ones and book number three is coming along, The Guatemala Reader.

  • This is great advice. Thank you for sharing. Our memoirs are all part of history, stories about trying very hard to get along. That is a wonderful example.

  • Lawrence Durrell: “It is not peace we seek but meaning…. / / ….It is not meaning that we need but light.”

    Ann Stanford: “And when the soldiers came to town/ With drums and our flag overhead, / We watched them from the commons lawn/ Until they shot us dead.”

    Theodore Roethke: “I wake to sleep / and take my waking slow./ I learn by going/ where I have to go.”

    (C) Copyright Edward Mycue gathering of quotations in the form of my commonplace book over 60 some years. 1/VI/ 2021 San Francisco

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2022. Peace Corps Worldwide.