Who Am I To Write a Memoir?

write a memoir

I’ve met hundreds of people who have been through, learned, and discovered things that could change the world, and many ask, “Who am I to write a memoir?”

Most people won’t seriously consider writing a memoir because they don’t think they have an interesting story to tell. We are so accustomed to living our lives and dealing with our personal day-to-day that we lose sight of how interesting and inspirational our struggles, accomplishments, and experiences might be to others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Who am I to write a memoir?”

I’d like to share a story of a remarkable man named Bill who had never considered writing a memoir. When I first met him, we were sitting at a tiny round table in an ice cream parlor, enjoying our blended frozen desserts. I had just started dating my husband, and Bill was his friend. They had worked together several years prior, which was all I knew about Bill, except for the fact that he is blind.

In truth, I had never known a blind person, so I didn’t know what to expect. He got around remarkably well on his own, though in certain shops and stores, he needed a guiding hand to help him get to the counter, place his order, and get to his seat. Once seated, you might not have even noticed he was blind. He didn’t wear dark glasses, and he made eye contact and tracked whomever was speaking with his eyes, which fascinated me. If you hadn’t seen him come in and be seated, you’d never know he was blind.

I asked Bill about his time working with Tom.

“We worked together,” said Bill, “but we worked in different business units. I was a consultant, and he was a tax guy.”

“Consulting can be rough on the home life,” I said. “You probably traveled a lot. Out Monday mornings and home on Thursday nights, right?”

“I lived that way for years,” he said. “That is, until I got shot.”

“Until what?” I asked.

“That’s why Bill is blind,” my husband Tom explained. “He was in Atlanta, and when he came out of the MARTA station with his boss and a customer, some deranged guy jumped out and shot all three of them. Bill’s bullet entered and exited through his temples, and it severed his optic nerve. He’s been blind ever since. The other two guys died. It was weird. I was watching the news and a story came on about two St. Louis people who had been shot in Atlanta. Then they mentioned Bill Johnson and Tony Lake. I couldn’t believe it. I’d just seen Bill the day before he left.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s terrible.”

I’ll admit, I didn’t realize there were public shootings in 1991. I thought that was a recent thing.

“What happened next?” I asked. “Obviously you went back to work at some point.” Bill had recently retired, so I knew he had finished his career.

“It was an adjustment,” he said. “But it wasn’t really that big of a deal. I realized, ‘This is the way my life is now, so I may as well get on with it.’ And I did.”

“It wasn’t that big of a deal? How can you say that?” I asked.

“It just wasn’t,” Bill replied. “I made up my mind to get back to doing the things I loved as soon as I could. It didn’t make any sense to sit around feeling sorry for myself.”

“Get this,” Tom interjected. “He really did get back to the things he loved. Six months later he was snow skiing.”

“What?” I asked. “How?”

“It wasn’t that complicated,” Bill said. “I just hired a guide and he talked me down the slopes. We communicated through a microphone, and it was really fun. I love to ski and didn’t want to give it up.”

“That’s amazing, Bill. Really inspirational. Have you ever thought to write a memoir?” I asked.

“A memoir?” he snorted. “What would I write about? I wouldn’t have anything to say. I just took things one day at a time and got back to being me. That’s not very interesting. I can’t imagine anybody would want to read about that.” He shook his head, rejecting the idea.

If not a blind skier, who should be writing a memoir?

I think Bill’s story is incredibly interesting, amazing, inspiring, and unusual. I wanted to learn how Bill was able to just accept that he was now blind and needed to carry on. I wanted to know what he did to reenter life and his job, and I wanted to know what allowed him to even think he could snow ski again. Surely he had to deal with all the can’ts: you can’t drive a car, you can’t travel, you can’t work, you can’t go out by yourself… and you certainly can’t ever snow ski. That part of your life is over. You will be in the dark forever.

But Bill didn’t think those things. He put one foot in front of the other and lived what he considered an unremarkable story – which in itself is remarkable, right?

The point is, I was full of questions and hungry for more of his story. He already had me hooked. If I were to read a synopsis of his story, I would definitely buy that book.

Bill isn’t unusual. I’ve met hundreds of people who have been through, learned, discovered, and developed things that can truly change the world – if the world only knew about them. But there’s a nagging voice in their head that tells them they don’t have anything to say, nobody would care about their story, it’s not a big deal, and they have no business writing a book when in fact, the opposite is true. Fortunately Bill is writing his book, and it will be released in June 2017.

So if you ever find yourself saying “Who am I to write a memoir?” remember that you, too, have a remarkable story. You don’t have to be a victim of a shooting or blind. You just have to be you, have lived your life, and learned a few things people ought to know. There’s nothing average about that.

This blog was originally published on The Book Professor Blog. Republished with permission.

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  1. I too am doing a book -My life from birth to marriage. With pictures and places where we lived and schools attended The school days helped to keep me straight and the years my siblings were born too-. I’m next to the oldest of 12 and we moved a lot. Dad (a drinker) was a farmer and rancher in the good ol days. Mom was a cafe cook . Met my hubby of 53 years in one where we all worked. Oklahoma. A lot of different things happened in those good ol days–kids born ,some getting hurt, running away,working in the fields , learning how to do without,Christmas ,and birthdays. Its all how you want to start your memoir.So far nearly 200 pages . I do family search for us and man that’s another book maybe 3 . All I had to do was start with words like Dog, work with parents, schools, dance, friend (best) boyfriend,broken arms,..then Start writing about those words. as you write read book about writing add to the word list carry it with you and write words down. Make a time for relaxing to write. GO FOR IT.

  2. I wondered about what you address – who would be interested in reading about part of my life – even tho it was unique?
    I went ahead and wrote what is described below then submitted to several friends as Beta readers. Comments were – “Wow, I didn’t know you did all that.” and “I’ve known you all my life, but haven’t really known you until now.” and “I loved the history and the adventure.” Etc. My memoir is now a mid-sized E-book, published by BookBaby, available online through the normal sources.

    ‘Sahara Sands’ takes place during 1958 to 1962 – a brief four-year period in which I transitioned from a naive college kid to a proven self-dependent adventurer. My story begins with my first serious job as a photo analyst on Polaris Missile testing in Washington D.C. and moves rapidly on to aerial geophysical survey work in North Africa and an oceanography survey in the Persian Gulf. Those peaceful years contrast sharply with the Moslem chaos and tragedies of the same areas today. My observations and experiences are told throughout my travels including a few brief love affairs and what may be the only practical history of how aerial surveys were conducted prior to satellite technology. The company I worked for, Fairchild Aerial Surveys, essentially first helped map the world.
    Dan Feltham, Author

  3. OK, not a lot of us go blind. That’s “unusual” right there. Bonus points for losing it to a bullet, as opposed to–I dunno– macular degeneration. And being able to compare a sighted life to an blind one certainly gives a way to appreciate exactly what does and doesn’t get lost. Even fewer blind people bother to ski.

    But what if your life isn’t that unusual. Or worse, it’s unusual BECAUSE of something that people repeatedly dismiss and ignore. If they dismiss and ignore the most fundamental part of you, why would they care to read about it?

  4. If not a blind skier, who should be writing a memoir?

    That’s inspirational…about Bill….

    Larry winfield pelley


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