Write a Letter Instead of a Memoir

Memoir LetterAre you one of those people who thinks it’s just “too much” to write a memoir? Or maybe you just don’t see yourself as a memoirist. How about writing a letter? Does that seem overwhelming or like something that’s not you? I doubt it. A letter is a manageable project.

Recently in the Critic’s Notebook in the New York Times, Parul Sehgal wrote about the memoir genre, “Lately a new form has begun to cohere, or an old one to return. Call it the epistolary memoir: a life told in the form of a letter…”

For many of us just looking to preserve some of our stories for our families, this may be the easiest way to write a memoir. Start with one letter. Choose a story you wish to write and address it to someone for whom it may be of particular interest. It could be to someone living, someone you’ve lost, or someone yet to come. Each letter may be a mini-memoir, but if you write a dozen and put them together, you may find that writing a memoir was quite manageable.

For years, I’ve been a fan of parents and grandparents writing letters to their children and grandchildren and sharing them when the children come of age. I was reminded of this idea a few weeks ago when I read Suzanne Pettersen’s open letter to her one-year-old son, Herman. It’s the stuff of memoirs.

Suzann Petterson and Annika Sorenstam Solheim Cup 2017I don’t think you need to be a golf fan to appreciate this story or Pettersen’s letter, but let me give a little background…

Suzann Pettersen is a Norwegian golfer who has for the better part of the last two decades, been one of the best players in women’s golf worldwide. In 2018, she and her husband had a son and understandably, her life and her priorities changed significantly. Before and even after her son’s birth, Suzann mostly disappeared from golf and was completely absent from leaderboards.

That’s why it was more than a little controversial when Pettersen was chosen to play on the 2019 European Solheim Cup Team. If you’re not a golf fan, every two years, the Solheim Cup pits 12 of the best players from the United States against the 12 of the best players from Europe in a 3-day team event. It’s a very big deal.

Most team members “earn” their way onto the team via acquiring points for their performances over the preceding two years. Additionally, the team captain gets “Captain’s Picks” to fill out the final spots on the team. Often, those picks lead to controversy with the media and fans. Pettersen had essentially been out of competitive golf for 20 months and her world ranking had fallen nearly off the charts. Although Suzann had an excellent record in Solheim Cup matches, there were serious questions and discussions about whether her game would be ready.

The 2019 Solheim Cup in Gleneagles, Scotland may go down as one of the best in the history of the Cup. After three days of intense competition, the score was even at 13½-13½, and there was only one match that was left to finish. As fate would have it, Suzann Pettersen was in that match that had reached the 18th hole “All Square’ or tied.

To regain the cup from the United States, Pettersen would have to win the hole. The electricity and tension around that 18th green and TV sets across Europe and the U.S. were palpable. When Pettersen stepped up to her final 8-foot putt, you could have heard a pin drop, and when she holed it a few seconds later, you couldn’t hear yourself think for the roars of celebration or shouts of despair.

Although Herman was there to witness this incredible moment, he has no idea what it’s about and of course, he will not remember it. He also didn’t understand that when moments later, his mother announced her retirement from golf, it was because of him.

Fortunately for Herman, there will always be the video of his mother’s victories, but Suzanne has given him something even better. Soon after the Solheim Cup, she wrote an open letter to her son. The letter is touching as she talks about how being a mother has changed her. But it also explains who she was as a golfer – not just the victories, but single-minded focus and sacrifices it took to become her best.

As I read the letter, it occurred to me that it could be the first chapter of her memoir.

After you read Suzann’s letter, think about a letter you could write to share one of your stories. You don’t have to be famous to have someone in your life who now or someday down the road, would love to have a more complete picture of who you are.

Will you sit down today and start your letter? Let us know your thoughts below.

READ: Suzanne Pettersen’s Open Letter to Her Son

Let us know what you think!


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