Do you want to write a memoir, but never find the time for such a big project? Or, are you not really used to writing? Do you grapple with the issue of not wanting to ruin any of your relationships, even after you are no longer alive?

I recently had an ‘aha’ moment. What about writing a mini-memoir?

My Idea of a Mini-Memoir

A few weeks ago, I received a memoir written by a contemporary of my grandmother – a woman who grew up in the same town, Lueneburg, Germany.

This short piece was only 17 pages long. Yet, it carried me into the woman’s world and life. It described the people in her world, including my grandmother’s great Aunt Betty, and it totally captivated me. “Wow,” I thought. “This is a great idea.”

Why does a memoir have to be a huge undertaking or a long book? What about a mini-memoir that travels the pathways you traversed in your lifetime, meandering through your world, describing what it felt like at different moments in the context of the political winds and national events?

Even describing the technology as it evolved is fascinating. You know that already if you’ve ever described life before cell phones, YouTube, and navigators to the younger generation. The mini-memoir can be a perfect vehicle.

Wanting to Know More

I am lucky as I have videotaped interviews of both my parents about their lives. My father even wrote his autobiography. But, that only makes me hunger for stories from previous generations.

I would just love to read the story of my German Jewish grandmother who we called Oma. What did the world look like for Oma and her sisters? What was it like to attend Oxford University as a woman in the 20s of a past century and yet become a housewife while her sisters became professionals?

Gertrude, who was the head nurse in a Jewish hospital in Hamburg, babysat for me. Aunt Lottie was our doctor. But they seemed very ancient to me, and I was too young to ask questions. Now I’d like to know: How did it feel for them to come to the US, fleeing Nazi Germany in their 50s?

I don’t know their stories, I have only a few black and white photos of the three sisters traveling to Yellowstone and other National Parks dressed in skirts hanging below their knees and laced ‘grandma’ shoes that Oma always wore.

What Is a Mini-Memoir?

I looked up mini-memoirs on Google and found a slightly different concept than the one I present here. According to the resource I read, to write a mini-memoir you can either take one episode of your life and tell the story, or take a picture from the past and see what memories it sparks for you.

Both are very good ideas – but mine is a bit different. According to my concept, writing a mini-memoir goes as follows:

Step 1:

Make a short sweep over your whole life. Tell about your childhood, teenage years, young adult years, and the next stages of your life as you go from your 30s up through your current age.

Step 2:

Highlight your experiences during those different stages of your life. If you can, tell stories along the way. How were you feeling? What did you learn during that time in your life?

Step 3:

Describe your world, the people you knew along the way, what it looked like in the places you lived. Don’t forget to include the technology.

Step 4:

Give the context in terms of what was going on in the world. How did it affect you?

Step 5:

Share your values, describe what mattered in your life, and speak through the window of your identity as you experience the world now.

My Tips to Writing a Mini-Memoir

To begin, you can:

  • Look at a photograph from a time in your life that serves as a memory for you. Describe the moment, the feelings that come up, and even words that were spoken.
  • Get together with a friend or family member and share some stories, jotting down notes and ideas.

Then:

  • Do an outline or map of your life and place the stories inside it.
  • Good writing includes showing rather than telling. Describe, describe, describe.
  • Share your beliefs in ways that are not preachy.
  • Try not to throw anyone under the bus including yourself (through self-deprecating remarks).

If you are working on a longer memoir, kudos to you. That is a wonderful undertaking and I recommend it. The mini-memoir idea is for the person who feels that they are not ready to take that leap. Or at least, not yet.

Take a minute to consider trying to do the mini-memoir. It may just turn into a longer project, but even if it doesn’t, a mini-memoir has value in its own right – standing for future generations as a way to share your life with people who come after you in its simple 17- to 20-page glory.

What do you think about memoirs? Do you think you could write your own? Does a mini-memoir sound like a good idea? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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