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'Everyone has a story.' Growing industry makes memoir-writing more accessible


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

John Yang: What is our legacy? What do we leave behind after we're gone? During the pandemic, many of us pondered these sorts of questions. Now, more and more people are writing their stories passing on legacy -- legacies in the form of memoirs, as Jeffrey Brown tells us, these books, once reserved for the famous are now more accessible than ever.

Jeffrey Brown: Deborah Rugg sure she had a story to tell, or work on pandemics for the United Nations and the Centers for Disease Control, had taken her around the world over four decades.

Deborah Rugg, Author, "Navigating Change": They realized, like others have said and Kirk Guard said, You must live life going forward. But you really can only understand it looking backwards.

Jeffrey Brown: What did you have in mind as readers?

Deborah Rugg: My primary audience, I'd have to say were the young women that I was meeting in my career who's so identified with the struggles and the trials, and I'd been through, because I think young women often struggle to balance family and I had two daughters and career and, and self-confidence. And so I wanted to -- I wanted to share my lessons.

Jeffrey Brown: In the 69-year-old semi-retiree also had her own family in mind, hoping to preserve that legacy as well. She often walked the paths near home outside San Francisco, both for inspiration and when writer's block struck.

Deborah Rugg: I've written hundreds of scientific articles and government reports for the UN or the CDC. And you always have to prove and have evidence for everything you write. So it was really hard for me to do creative nonfiction to write this way. I was second guessing, saying what's my evidence for this? Is this a value of am I advancing knowledge in some way.

Jeffrey Brown: In the end, Rugg turn to the company StoryTerrace to get her book across the finish line.

Deborah Rugg: I'd already written a memoir, it was too long, they could help me polish how to cut it in half, how to make it more readable. And then more importantly, for me, I wanted to get it done. I wanted to hardcopy book, you know, I wanted this book in my hands.

Rutger Bruining, Founder And CEO, StoryTerrace: We want to make it easy to collaborate with your writer and your editor.

Jeffrey Brown: Rutger Bruining came up with the idea for StoryTerrace nearly a decade ago, for a very personal reason.

Rutger Bruining: My grandfather used to tell me lots of stories about the Second World War where he set up a small resistance group in the Netherlands. But after he passed away, those stories faded much quicker than I expected. So ever since that happened, I've been thinking around why we lose the stories of the people we care about.

Jeffrey Brown: StoryTerrace is just one in a proliferation of memoir writing services, now available in a wide spectrum of formats and price points from full ghostwriting costing upwards of $30,000 Tot editorial help.

Man: Everyone has a story worth sharing.

Jeffrey Brown: To services like story worth, which were $100 emails prompt questions once a week for a year.

James Haggerty, Wall Street Journal: People realize that this is one gift they can give to their family that nobody else can get.

Jeffrey Brown: James Haggerty knows a thing or two about telling people's stories. He's an obituary writer for The Wall Street Journal.

James Haggerty: I did a story about a woman who lived 115 and she could tell me more about Warren G. Harding that she could have bought Donald Trump. She had a fascinating story to tell. She nobody had ever heard of her. But when I wrote her obituary, it was one of the most popular things I've ever written, which kind of underlying for me that you don't have to be famous to have a good story to tell.

Jeffrey Brown: And technology is helping open the door to a much wider group of people.

James Haggerty: These apps make it easier for a lot of people to do what would be kind of a daunting task if you had to sit down with an old fashioned typewriter or something and think of every being on your own.

Jeffrey Brown: Gail Trecosta of LifeTime Memoirs and other writing service says the interviewers they hire are integral to the writing process helping unlock stories.

Gail Trecosta, Recruiter, LifeTime Memoir: For not everyone is a natural storyteller. Not everyone, as they're telling their story recognizes the parts of that story that might be very interesting. Not everyone is thinking in terms of how will this story make sense 100 years from now, what part is missing? So that interviewer needs to be very tuned in with what will make that story.

Manisha Macksood, Interviewer, LifeTime Memoirs: I believe listening to people's stories is a way to intertwine your life with others and get that human connection. You proposed to Katherine

Jeffrey Brown: Manisha Macksood is one of the company's many interviewers.

Manisha Macksood: I really believe that it doesn't matter where you come from, or what kind of background you have. There's a story and someone can learn from it, and someone can be inspired from it, and you have something to share.

Deborah Rugg: My hope in writing this book is that you will gain insights from my successes and failures and see that one woman truly can make a difference in this world. And so can you. And many of the places I worked throughout my career, I was also the only woman or one of just a few.

My position as a relative outsider sometimes taught me to be creative and strategic. I gained the wisdom to realize when I'd reached a dead end, which enabled me to back away and had an different, more fruitful direction. Most of all, I learned that a motivated individual could make a lasting impact in this world.

Jeffrey Brown: It took her four years but Deborah Rugg finally finished and published her memoir, Navigating Change in 2022. She dedicated it to her daughters and grandsons. For PBS News Weekend, I'm Jeffrey Brown.

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