Why You (Yes, You, 30-, 40-, or 50-Year-Old) Should Write a Memoir
He played Division I college football and had a real shot at the NFL. He entertains me, between sets in the weight room, with stories of hard hits, brushes with greatness, and off-the-field craziness. He analyzes the latest games with a mixture of passion and intelligence that goes way beyond the usual Monday-morning quarterbacking.
“You should write a memoir,” I say, and I mean it.
“I’m not ready to sum up my life yet,” he snorts in mock offense. (At least I hope it’s mock offense). “I’ve still got plenty of years left in me.”
Now, I’m not about to mix it up with a guy who regularly squats over 400 pounds. But I’m dying to tell him that he’s got it wrong.
Why do we assume that writing memoirs is a task reserved for our elders? Is your life really not worth considering just because you’re still in the middle of it?
There’s something to be said for the epic sweep of a whole-life autobiography. My favorite memoir authors—like Frank McCourt and Ruth Reichl—took several volumes each to examine the families and cultures that shaped them.
But I have equal admiration for the writers who distill one period of their lives—whether a day or a decade—into something just as revealing. And some do so at a relatively young age:
In The Art of Vanishing, out just this month, Laura Smith (barely 30) investigates the disappearance of an early-20th-century novelist while exploring her own restlessness as a newlywed.
Bianca Bosker (she’s all of 31) upends her life, quits her job as a tech editor, and takes a deep dive into the world of elite sommeliers in Cork Dork.
Susan Jane Gilman was not yet 40 when she wrote Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, a memoir about “growing up groovy and clueless in New York City.”
Want to get even more focused that that? May I suggest The Players’ Tribune, a website full of sports-related first-person accounts actually written by athletes. (Dude, did you get that? Athletes!) For example:
In a recent post, WNBA standout Angel McCoughtry (age 31) explains—to us and to her grandmother—why she needed to step away from the game.
Patrik Eliáš (age 41), the Czech-born NHL veteran, describes his introduction to American culture (it involves a Garth Brooks concert) at the start of his 20-year career with the New Jersey Devils.
And in a recent New York Times opinion piece, Olympic figure skater Sasha Cohen writes movingly about adjusting to retirement—at the age of 25.
Listen, bro, it’s OK to put down the barbell and pick up a pen (or a laptop), even at a young age. Memoir writing doesn’t have to mean the end of something. Think of it as a different kind of workout.