Hank Herman and Paul Burger



Hank Herman, author, educator and regular contributor to the Westport News and our own Paul Burger were our speakers last Thursday. Their subject was – memoir writing.

Hank began by reading his column for the next day’s Westport News entitled “Caffeine to the Rescue” and then went on to describe how he approached writing a memoir. One had to choose a subject and then be self confident – if the piece was interesting to the writer it should be interesting to others. He discussed three problems. The first was getting started and the cure was just to throw down 10 to 12 thoughts on a yellow pad. That was enough on which to build the story. Then, in 45 minutes, write a rough draft – 800-1,000 words in a frenzy of creativity. From there – self edit. Was it funny? – Yes/no.   Was it current? Yes/no. Was it interesting or boring? And so on.

The next step was crafting.   Get it into a consistent structure with good grammar and vocabulary. And lastly, fine tune it – add the finishing touches.

The second problem was the act of “writing” itself. You had to enjoy it as an intellectual exercise and you had to have the drive to make it good.

And finally – embarrassment. A memoir was a personal experience shared with others. Was that appropriate? You had to have at least one editor who would also serve as your censor. In his case, it was his family.

He then gave some examples of stories he had written. These included “Little League Revisited” that described the joy of his 10-year old son who was the winning pitcher on his Little League team, noting that detail in the writing was needed to keep it interesting. Another example was a college tour he took with his reluctant 17-year old son. He noted also that a memoir was a single event, not a life history – that was, of course, an autobiography. Don’t be afraid to write about yourself, said Hank, but to avoid the appearance of self importance, use self deprecating humour.

Y’s Man Paul Burger then took up the theme with a Power Point presentation of his book “An Aviator’s Story”.  He asked us to think of his story as a template for our own memoir. He created a photo book, for which he used software called Blurb.com, because he thought that in years to come his grandchildren might become interested in his love affair with flying and he wanted to tell them about it in his own words. He described some of his most memorable experiences including trips with a friend in their private aircraft to places as diverse as Singapore, Russia, Shanghai and, his favorite, a solo business trip around the country in his twin engine Cessna 310.

In Q and A. the following points were made: oral and video family histories were a wonderful idea with modern, good, affordable equipment. Passion in the creation of a memoir was critical, but Hank preferred to avoid this rather overused word. A cross country road trip with a dog for company, in Hank’s case a beagle, was highly recommended. And the use of computer programs such as Nuance to convert the spoken word to text, could be very helpful, especially for those with vision problems.

With that, we can now confidently expect a spate of Y’s Men memoirs all ready for publishing, printing and who knows, maybe regurgitation at a Y’s Men meeting.


Christmas has come and gone but its message is timeless….