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Writing a Mini-Memoir: Sharing Your Abundant Life with the Future Generation

By Becki Cohn-Vargas October 12, 2022 Lifestyle

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?

What about writing a mini-memoir?

My Idea of a Mini-Memoir

A few years 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.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

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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Toni Stritzke

Thank you for sharing these ideas. The structure you’ve laid out makes a somewhat, where do I start? exercise, seem quite manageable.

Elizabeth

I am of Asian origin, an 81 year old Educator from an Early childhood,to Elementary grades teacher, to mentoring / consulting 72 ECE Directors on achieving highest quality programs using the 10 NAEYC Standards of Delivering Excellence.(National Education of Young Children.) I was still working until pandemic (Covid 19)
I am going back to my country in 8 days for “Me Time”. My middle son 58, just had a kidney transplant of which Mom was the only primary caregiver. His 2 boys who are nurses live in Canada and North Carolina. My son is divorced; the wife is in Colorado with a new partner. My oldest son who has a disability is coming home wth me. I love him so dearly; everyone in the family (making sure I know)has limited time to care for him. My youngest girl, 53, a nurse with 2 grown boys.
I started a “My Story”. I promised myself to finish this 2023. I froze. I am anxious for the next steps. I will offend “people”on the way.😏

Becki Cohn-Vargas

Elizabeth, Just the little bit you wrote here shows you will have a powerful memoir. I know there is always an issue of offending others. I think you can write your truth and later review it to think about who will be offended and if you want to leave it in. I know that I have mixed feelings when I think that something I might write will hurt someone when I am no longer able to explain or heal it. We all have to make choices as we decide what to include. Good luck on your trip back home.

J Bowes

Hi ! I really appreciate your article!
I have been playing with my memoir for five years ..and needless to say it’s in pieces !—-meaning Tupperware boxes , notes here and there photographs,memories ..quite a story…articles like this encourage us to tell our story while we still can . At times I think that nobody would care as I have no children but yet I’ve had quite complex fascinating life and feel a need to tell it still!

Christina A. Comer

I have made a lot of notes and writings ✍️ over my 72 years of life. I would love to put it all together the way you described. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

The Author

Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D, has been blogging regularly for Sixty and Me since 2015. She is a retired educator and independent consultant. She's the co-author of three books on identity safe schools where students of all backgrounds flourish. Becki and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have three adult children and one grandchild. You can connect with her at the links below.

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