Survey results

In 2022 we ran a survey that asked various questions about the writing of life stories, and the value you may or may not place in them. If you were part of that survey, thank you – we’re so grateful for the insights and ideas you generously shared with us.

We had 148 people respond in total, giving us a rich variety of answers to our questions.

Here we’ve collated the results to discover how many of you are interested in writing a memoir, why you’re interested, the barriers to writing your story, and what support you need to overcome these obstacles.

Let’s dive in! First, we look at the makeup of the respondents.

Demographics at a glance: Who are the people behind the survey?

When it comes to age, the largest group was age 35-54 with 39.5%* and the second largest group was aged 65+ with 28%*.

The overwhelming majority of respondents (76%) identify as she/her. From the extended answers, we know that many of you work full-time and are parents which means you lead busy lives.

142 respondents use English as their main language and 63 live in Auckland. We had some international respondents too – one from the USA, three from the UK and five from Australia. Of the 131 people that said they live in New Zealand, 114 are from the North Island.

* (rounded to the nearest 0.5%)

Why write your memoir: What’s important to you and how does this influence why we write memoirs?

Next, we asked our respondents to rate how important certain statements were to them on a scale of one to ten (1 = not important at all, 10 = highly important).

The factor that rated the highest was:
I want to share the stories of my ancestors with my children and grandchildren
This scored an average 7.70 (rounded to the nearest 0.01%).

The second most important factor was:
Those who have come before me are part of who I am
This scored an average 7.65 (rounded to the nearest 0.01%).

The statement rated the least important in the survey was:
I would have a greater understanding of myself if I knew more about my heritage
This still had some importance though – scoring an average of 6.29% (rounded to the nearest 0.01%).

  • “Everyone’s existence contributes to the wellbeing of future generations. All stories about our existence are important and valuable.”
  • “It’s not about a financial venture but leaving a legacy for my kids and grandkids so that they can know me as they grow older.”

What stage are you at with writing your life story?

A significant proportion (around 41%) of respondents replied that they have thought about writing their memoir but not started yet or are not ready to start. This was closely followed by: never thought about it/I am too young (around 38%). However, a sizeable amount of people skipped this question altogether (22 people).

  • “Maybe in 30 years when I’m retired. :-)”
  • “I feel like I’m not ready yet. Would like my parents to do theirs though!”

What’s stopping you? Common obstacles that are holding you back from writing your memoir:

The top three obstacles in the survey were time (around 48%), followed by no obstacles (36%) and then lacking confidence in writing abilities (25%).
We gave you space to elaborate on your obstacles and suggest other factors that are holding you back.

  • “Having a 9 to 5 job.”
  • “Overcoming procrastination and making time.”
  • “Writing style – mine is too Dickensian.”

Worried about the impact of your words

A recurring theme came up was about not hurting the people in your life, opening up childhood wounds, or feeling afraid of making parts of your story public:

  • “The reaction and implications for those I love, based on the stories and insights I have to share. I don’t want to be one of those ‘hurt people who hurt people’.”
  • “Painful memories.”
  • “Some memories of my childhood are sad.”
  • “Potentially not wanting parts of it to become public.”
  • “Not sure my perceptions can be fairly expressed or without hurt to other parties. Maybe best to let it be.”
  • “Worry about my privacy.”

Not convinced your story is worth sharing

Others said that you weren’t convinced your story was interesting enough:

  • “Don’t think anyone would care.”
  • “Nothing worth writing about.”
  • “Feeling like my life-story is too boring or too mundane.”
  • “My life isn’t interesting enough.”
  • “The sense that my story isn’t important enough to share.”

The following quote also appeared at the end of the survey when we asked you if there was anything else to share: “Nothing in my life is worth writing down – having been raised within a safe/loving family and now living in relative comfort there have been no major struggles or conflict – I am blessed.”

This idea was particularly eye opening to us – a sense that a story is not worth reading if it doesn’t have a lot of dramatic peaks and troughs or trauma and struggles. (We think every story is important.)

Don’t have the tools or the motivation

For others it came down to the tools or skills you have available, or feeling unsure if you have the willpower to complete a memoir.

What would be the most helpful thing for you to complete your memoir?

Next, we asked what would help you overcome these obstacles. A significant chunk of people chose to skip this question (46 people) but we still heard a useful variety of ideas. Here are some of the common threads:

Trusted support & tools

  • “Trusted ghost writer.”
  • “If there is any service to help to write, it would be great.”
  • “Maybe getting someone to look over it for me.”
  • “Have a mentor to direct me.”
  • “Waiting on an app to be developed to record my life story.”
  • “A tool that would help me keep note of memories/events as they come to me; a sense of what the purpose of recording my story is.”
  • “Someone to touch base every so often to probe what I’ve written – ‘did this happen before or after that?’ etc. – details that I might not have thought to write.”
  • “Maybe a template with some prompts.”

Time: including having enough undistracted quiet time to write, time management, priorities and a sense of urgency

  • “Overcoming procrastination and making time.”
  • “Adding a schedule – it seems a little ‘no deadline’ as yet.”
  • “More time for me to write.”
  • “A bit of urgency.”

More research/information about your heritage and ancestors

  • “Make time to research more family history.”
  • “Speaking openly with whānau helps me greatly.”
  • “Knowing my family history.”

Overcoming emotional barriers

  • “A bit more distance between writing it down and publishing it. When something is too raw, I find it hard not to get emotional. Having some distance between getting it out of my system and then sharing is important…”

What else came up for you? Faith, whakapapa and our relationship with the past

As we expected, talking about memoirs is an emotional topic and brought up some good and painful memories. The survey asked you to reflect on what your ancestry and family means to you, your relationship with your past and the parts of your life story you are ready to share or would prefer to keep to yourself. Some of you talked about your faith, being adopted, immigrating to New Zealand and more.

  • “Some of my life story isn’t nice to read, some family don’t even know parts of what has happened to me.”
  • “I don’t think our lives are determined by our past.”
  • “I enjoy reading about my ancestors and have updated a book written by someone else about one side of my family. I have acquired books about my and my husband’s ancestors and about other topics regarding our heritage.”

What’s next?

The results of this survey have given us insights into common perceptions of the importance of life stories, and what barriers there are to writing or recording them. We will use this information to develop products and services that will assist people along the life story journey, with the aim of seeing more people, from diverse backgrounds, telling and retaining their stories for future generations. Watch this space!