What's the "Right" Age to Write a Memoir?

A recent article in the New York Times, in critiquing a Washington Post book review, settled on this question as its title: “Should There Be a Minimum Age for Writing a Memoir?”

It’s a fair question. Part of what makes the genre so interesting is that time has passed and authors can view their lives from a distance. Retrospection allows us to see things with a fresh eye. Grown adults judge their parents more kindly than teenagers. Failed marriages look differently 10 or 20 years later than they do in the court house. With time, we make sense of our relationships, our successes, and our failures.

There is validity to that argument.

The Washington Post, however, took this point to an extreme in a Fall 2014 book review: “We really do not need yet another memoir by a person too young to have undergone any genuinely interesting and instructive experiences—or, having had such experiences, too young to know what to make of them—and too self-involved to have any genuine empathy for those whose paths he crosses….”

I have issue with this argument—as does the New York Times—because there is another fact that trumps all:

People of all ages have incredible stories and with maturity and insight, these stories can and should be told.

No one would argue against the publication of Anne Frank’s beloved classic, The Diary of a Young Girl. I am Malala—published when the Pakistani girl was just 16—became an immediate bestseller. Michael J. Fox reached millions with his memoir about being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29.

As a personal historian, I’ve worked with 36-year-olds and 94-year-olds. Even my six-year-old son took a stab at writing his life story. We all have something to share and we all reap huge rewards when we share it.

And the argument for waiting until old age to write a memoir begs another question: When is our story “done?” When I recently presented my 94-year-old client with her final, printed book, she said, “But I have more to say. Maybe I’ll add more later.”

In short, there’s no minimum age. There’s no maximum age.

It’s your story and it’s your timetable.

Let me know if I can help.