How to capture your parent’s memoir in Singapore

written by John Lim | Writing

June 27, 2024

Recently, we met a publisher with a heartwarming story. She shared about how a contractor’s son had come to them, asking for them to help with publishing his dad’s story. He wanted his dad to be meaningfully occupied, after his dad had recently retired.

His dad was initially resistant.

But later, after meeting with the publisher, he decided to go ahead with the story.

Later, that evening, and over the course of the next few months writing the story, his dad started excitedly telling him about the progress of the book. He started asking different questions.

And he slowly came alive again.

Here’s how to start writing, if you really want to
Here’s how to start writing, if you really want to

It’s an exercise in remembering

Wanting to capture the memoir of your parents is a vital exercise that can help you to better remember your parents. Because one day, your parents will be gone.

And whilst the general public may think that books are dead, let’s look at some statistics on book sales.

Just look at how much book sales have grown over the years.

You would see here that the sale of books have actually grown massively over the years.

I would hazard a guess why. Because in a world that’s increasingly digital, the book offers a way to disengage from the online world, and to engage more meaningfully with the world around us.

Is it worth writing?

I’m going to say something that might be painful to hear.

But not all memoirs are worth writing.

You might think that your parent’s memoir is worth writing, but in our experience reviewing manuscripts, (and seeing our own rejected), we’ve seen that you need to think about the reader, and what will help them.

Your parents might have one or two nuggets of wisdom. In that case, it might be worthwhile to just collate a small collection of their quotes, or wise words.

Your parents might have had certain nuggets of wisdom that allowed them to conquer difficulties. What were they?
Your parents might have had certain nuggets of wisdom that allowed them to conquer difficulties. What were they?

That might be all that’s needed.

A checklist of questions to consider if it’s worth writing the memoir:

  • What’s one thing your parent has done that’s contrarian, and has worked out phenomenally well?
  • What are inspiring stories that your parents can share?
  • What is the value to the reader? Why would your family members read this, or bother with it?

But if you’d like to do their whole life story, you need to know the difficulties involved.

We get it. You love your parent. But that doesn’t automatically mean all memoirs need to be published.
We get it. You love your parent. But that doesn’t automatically mean all memoirs need to be published.

The difficulty in interviewing

You can see here the steps laid out. But as we’ve done more of these memoirs for older people, we slowly recognise that there are few key issues.

The process of writing your parent’s memoir
The process of writing your parent’s memoir

Memoirs generally proceed in this way:

  1. Data gathering
    1. Subject (in this case, your parent) shares the key events in a timeline
    2. Subject finds the pictures that describe those key events
    3. Interview the subject, and the key people in the subject’s life (such as partner/children)
  2. Writing
  3. Publishing
    1. Layout
    2. Cover design
  4. Printing

Singaporeans, and Asians are generally conservative and do not usually blow their own trumpet. Therefore, in celebrating your parent’s achievements, they might find it discomforting. Asking them to take you through the process through which they accomplished that may be even more difficult.

You might find them tight-lipped, or often not being able to piece together the process through which they made a particular decision.

For example, when we were writing the story of an elderly man who had recovered from prostate cancer, we found it hard when we probed him on how exactly he had overcome the disease.

Questions such as:

  1. Was it his children who helped? His wife?
  2. How did they help?
  3. How did you help yourself?

These were all significant questions that he could not answer easily.

But beyond the interviews, you would also have to think about who the person writing is.

Don’t just love your parent but show some love to the reader who will be spending precious time reading.
Don’t just love your parent but show some love to the reader who will be spending precious time reading.

Who writes?

Parent writes You (child) writes Professional (Ghostwriter) writes
Time taken 6 – 12 months 12 – 18 months 3 – 6 months
Quality of writing May vary, depending on how experienced your parent is at writing books This may be longer because you have your own work and commitments The professional delivers expert quality
Cost Free
Printing costs of about $2000
Free
Printing costs of about $2000
$3000 for a 10k word manuscript, $2000 for layout and printing

You may think that writing just involves typing words on a page… but if you’ve ever read an email from your boss, and you still aren’t sure what he’s talking about after re-reading that email for the third time, you know why not everyone can write.

Writers can often seem like a luxury only the rich can afford. And yes, we know you aren’t sure if this is something worth investing in. You might not want to pull out your credit card to pay for this, but sometimes, it might be worth it.

You might also think that it’s an unnecessary expense given that you too, can write. After all, you’ve written essays in school, scored an A at your A-Levels GP exam, so it doesn’t seem that tough after all.

It is.

As much as you might think you’re able to write, there’s a reason why people say books often take years to produce.

There’s 3 reasons why it is.

The discipline required for project managing

That’s because of the sheer depth of discipline you need to craft a book from start to end, and to help yourself to be able to do justice to your parent’s story.

When I wrote my first book, it was a simple text of 24 pages. It had about 500 words. It was a simple collection of quotes. But it still took me 6 months to work with the designer to come out with a thoughtful cover, design and layout that would do justice to the words in the book.

What’s difficult about producing your parent’s memoir is often the project management.

The writing is easy. But as you approach the finishing date, you would come to see that there are dozens of items you need to coordinate.

That’s why some people use professionals.

The coherence of the book

It’s not just placing the transcript of your parent’s interview into the book. Rather, it’s about shaping the book so that it is a coherent whole, rather than it sounding like a jumbled mashing up of different parts.

Putting the book together is going to require lots of thinking.
Putting the book together is going to require lots of thinking.

If you find yourself struggling to piece together the different parts of your parent’s life into a coherent narrative, forgive yourself. It’s not an easy piece of work to be able to fit everything into a tight storyline.

You will only do this once

Whenever people ask us why they should bother doing this, we will tell them that it’s because they will only get 1 chance to let their parent’s story leave a legacy.

Your parents will have worked hard to grit through life in Singapore, and some of those character traits that you’ve admired from afar might be worth sharing with others.

If you think someone else might be as impacted as you were by your parent’s teaching, it might be worthwhile to craft a memoir for them.

You will only do this once, so do it beautifully
You will only do this once, so do it beautifully

And if that happens, you could always speak to us to write it with you, for your parent.


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