Time Out

Notes from a flaming moderate

Do You Want To Leave A Legacy? This Book Tells You How

Evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

I never knew my grandparents. They died before I was born. They left some photographs, their mythical roles in my parents’ childhoods, and family names. I was fortunate to inherit their tradition, religion and values, but never tasted the flavor of their personal lives, as they lived them. 

Each of our lives is a story—many stories—asking to be told. We want to tell the story for ourselves, and for others. We want to tell it to understand ourselves more fully, and to express ourselves.  Significant birthdays and life events may reawaken the wish to write down our lives, but how to begin? We may want to write a memoir, but the challenge of writing our lives can seem daunting. 

Well, daunt no longer. Dr. Roberta Temes has come to the rescue of your unwritten life stories.  In “How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days: Step-by-Step Instructions for Creating and Publishing Your Personal Story.” (White Plains, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest Association, 2013), clinical psychologist and author, Roberta Temes, Ph.D., has written a helpful and very practical guide.

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In straightforward language, with encouragement and direction, Dr. Temes makes the following promise:  If you follow the steps and do the daily assignments, in 30 days you will have a draft of your memoir. 

Before she even gets to day 1, Dr. Temes asks the reader to consider what category of memoir she wants to write. Is it a relationship memoir? That would be a memoir that focuses on a significant relationship, the way it changed through life, and how the writer was changed by it.  Or perhaps it is a call-to-action memoir—aimed at demonstrating the importance of an issue and encouraging the reader to support or oppose a social condition. By raising the question and providing sample categories, Temes guides the reader to think in terms that lead to writing a life.

Take Day 9, for example.  It introduces the issue of values, with questions and lists that encourage the reader to distinguish the unique constellation of values that give meaning and power – and possibly conflict and confusion—to life. Temes’ personal illustrations and sample writings continually bring these lofty issues down to earth…the only place where they can be written.

By day 16 the reader is encouraged to face her demons and write about unpleasant experiences. With tips for circumventing avoidance, Temes educates the reader to recognize that embarrassing or painful memories make the narrative authentic, and more interesting reading. “Write as if no one but you will ever read your words,” she suggests. Good advice for a writer struggling with a critical voice perched on her shoulder.

Research has demonstrated that personal writing has positive therapeutic effects. With the guidance of an experienced therapist and writer like Roberta Temes, a powerful therapeutic effect can be the completion of a memoir, the celebration of a life.

Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D., is affiliated with the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at the George Washington University.

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