Helping someone share their story changes lives. The process of speaking and hearing memories and experiences will transform you both. We have a craving to be heard. This is one of the best gifts I can give people I work with. Yes, it is wonderful to hold your book in your hands and share this tangible expression with those you care about. But the entire process of creating it is validating and honoring.
Think of the stories that have stayed with you over the years. I bet one or two came to mind that have worked themselves down deep into your soul. It may have been an event or a person/relationship that was so transformative that you mark time in your life by referencing it or them. This can be a powerful force for good. Even simple life lessons shared with others have a way of resonating in our minds and hearts long after the conversation or event. Use this to gain momentum in getting started with your memoir. Or use it as a gift you give to someone you cherish—invite them to share their story and really listen.
Short and Sweet Memoir Exercise:
Give yourself 5 minutes:
- Think about some person or event that was a trail marker in your life.
- Write or talk out the basic story — no second guessing about whether it’s important or not. Write or speak everything you can get down in just 5 minutes, then stop.
- Now, spend 10 more minutes, go back and fill in details, just scribble them in the margins.
- Next, set it aside for a day or two.
- Finally, go back and read it again and fill in anything else that you’ve recalled while your story was bubbling away on the back burner of your mind.
My free gift to you— just because October is my birthday month!
Want the above mini-memoir exercise professionally edited? I will be choosing one story (max 3 pages) and up to 3 photos sent in to Karen@rememberingthetime.net and will work with you to edit, polish and make it the best it can be. Whether you do this for yourself or a family member or friend, now’s your chance to craft a beautiful little life story (yes, they can be this short, just a snapshot). My goal is to bring you joy with your story. Do the exercise, send it in to me and I’ll contact you if you’re the winner.
Happy Story Telling!
A Celtic phrase meaning “the essence of true friendship.” Here’s a few that might sound familiar:
David and Jonathan—Bible (Samuel I and II )
Anne and Diane—Anne of Green Gables
Pooh and Piglet—Well, you know
According to Wikipedia (and other more scholarly sources):
Anam Cara or anamchara is an old Gaelic term for “soul friend”; anam meaning “soul” and cara meaning “friend”. The term was popularized by Irish author John O’Donohue….
Our friendships profoundly impact us. True ones that go deep are treasured, uncommon and can be as strong as or stronger than family ties. These are the souls we choose to share our lives with. While writing this I accidentally typed “livers” instead of “lives”. Yes, sometimes folks even share an organ with a friend in need. There’s more than one way to share life.
Give a gratitude shout-out to a dear friend! Just type their 1st name if you’re reading this on social media. Now, call, text, write and let them know one thing you love about them.
If you’re writing your memoir on or interviewing someone else, make sure to ask about their best friend growing up. You can dedicate an entire chapter to exploring this answer. In fact, while working on this section you’ll probably run the gamut from laughter to tears. I’ve done this exercise with young kids and adults, age doesn’t matter. The smiles, chuckles, eye twinkles and sighs show how much these memories shape our hearts and souls. Treasure them.
One of my favorite humor writers is Patrick McManus. His stories of adventures with his childhood best friend will delight you with a hefty dose of belly laughs. Try this one, The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw (my favorite) for a great read and some “good medicine!”
A merry heart does good, like medicine…
(Thank you, Abigail Eiceman, for the great discussion on Anam Cara)
Ok, time to get a little goofy here. I heard a thoughtful question the other day. What detours have led you to your destiny? We often think life’s roadblocks and detours have slowed us down in our mad mad flight to reach what we believe is our “destiny”. I can’t help but giggle whenever I hear this word though as I remember that classic 80s movie Back to the Future—“You are my density!” I still get a kick out of it– Bwwhaaa! Sorry, entirely too amused at simple things.
All kidding aside—here’s the assignment:
Interview your relatives and friends and ask them two questions:
1-“What detour or roadblock did you experience in your life that took you down a different road?”
2- “What did you learn from this?”
Be forewarned, they will usually want to know YOUR answers to the same questions. You will learn so much about those you care about by doing this mini-interview and really listening to the answers.
The legendary Paul Harvey thrilled listeners for years with his radio show The Rest of the Story. The theme of these stories was the often strange turns of events and destinies that led people from one path to another.
The whole course of a life can be changed by a fork in the road.
What detour led to your “Rest of the Story?”
I heard this idea from author Dennis Rainey and it’s so good I want to share it–writing a tribute to a parent. Maybe this will be a joyful, a moving gift from your heart. Then again, maybe it would be really tough for you. The interesting thing is, even if you didn’t have a stellar relationship with your parent, you can do this. Although many of us are blessed to have great, warm memories, our humanity leaks out in not so pretty ways sometimes and most relationships hit rough spots.
Rainey’s point is that writing a tribute to your parent and then reading it to them is extremely healing. Sometimes it can even help you turn the corner into a different dynamic in that relationship.
But listen up; this is amazing—
even if your parent has passed away
writing a tribute can bring healing and release.
If you’ve watched the movie I can only Imagine you saw a great illustration of the power of restoration in a difficult relationship. You have everything to gain by writing the tribute. At its best it could start a season of forgiveness, restoration and building new memories for the rest of your story together. At the worst, nothing will change except in your own heart–but YOU will be freer, lighter.
I don’t know about you
but I want to speak
encouragement, healing and life.
Are you up for it? Take the Tribute Challenge!
Write and let me know what happened.
This answers the third Un-Stick Your Memoir question — How to organize your project, from a couple weeks ago. Figuring out how your brain works best with storytelling will save you much wheel spinning frustration later. Trust me on this!
3 Ways to Get it Done:
Chronological—the most popular and for most folks often the easiest way to get started. However, don’t get stuck on this. Start with a key event and build forward and back around it.
Theme— Think about the kinds of stories you like to read or hear, this may help you choose a theme that naturally resonates with you. What you’ve learned in life? Adventures? People who have impacted you? Your faith? Your family?
Timeline—What is a pivotal event in your life? Get a piece of paper, put that event at the top of an “arc” you draw on the page. Then, jot down ideas and experiences about what came before and led up to this. And after, what happened next in the trajectory of your life? Ask yourself:
“Would you be where you are now if that event had happened differently?” these make for good reading and are probably already a part of the way you relate your story.
A word about outlines:
Of course some of you just love outlines—by all means knock yourselves out and outline to your heart’s content! If this is how your brain likes to organize then work with it. If, however, you are a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of person, toss the idea of an outline away, wipe the cold sweat off your brow and work with the method that comes naturally to you.
I believe that even the most dis-organized person has developed ways to organize their life. They cope and compensate, tapping into what works well for them.
Work with your natural bent
and it will keep you from fighting the frustration of trying to adapt
to a method that is foreign to your way of thinking.
Now, here are three ways to approach the nuts and bolts of gathering the pieces of your story. Whether you’re using the oral recording method (click to see last week’s blog) or writing, these will work. I’ll discuss the written method here as I am a visual and tactile learner and need to see my project and touch it. If you thrive on oral, then adapt these methods to the recorder, talking out your story. You can use the containers/folders for storing your photos and memorabilia prompts.
As Kermit says, “What are our choices?” :
Use a large binder and some pocket folders
Set up a file and folders on your computer
Use manila folders or boxes
I’ve personally used all 3 of these methods and they all work. Label whichever version you’ve chosen with general titles. You’ll be surprised how many will later become chapter titles as you think of descriptive phrases or pivotal events for each section.
The key is that when ideas come to you, or you find mementos and photos that go with each piece of your story, you will put them in the folder, box or file they belong in. Countless great writers have grabbed whatever was at hand at the moment and written snippets of a story, or a song lyric or a rough poem idea. Napkins, the back of your hand (a bit hard to file, but you’ll figure it out), a scrap of newspaper.
I do preach always having a pen/pencil
and a notebook with you though—
expecting ideas somehow breeds ideas.
Spend some time letting your thoughts mull and simmer in your conscious as well as your subconscious, and tuck the idea pieces in their “home” like stray puppies as they come to you. Give yourself a limited time as that will encourage you to focus. Say, 2 weeks.
Ideas will flow if you give your brain
a task and a time frame.
At first it might seem nothing is coming to you, but wait for it! Once having given your brain its main job, you will come up with ideas— in the shower, walking the dog, mowing the grass, tucking your little one into bed or hearing your mom or dad tell that same story ( I know you love it) again. Relax, it will happen!
Pull everything together at the end of that time and start filling out the gaps. Pick a section, folder, box and focus just on that till you have everything down that you can remember pertaining to that topic or time. This is just brain dump time. No editing yet!
If you’ve made it this far and are still stuck, give me a call and let me help you get back on track and moving forward. I’d love to hear what steps you’ve taken and what is working for you.
“I hate to write, how can I do this?” As I mentioned last week, this is a sticking point for some folks. They’re great oral storytellers but the thought of writing those stories and memories down gives them “test anxiety” at the least and “the screaming mimi’s” at the worst. Never fear-there are a few different ways to handle this, don’t let it stop you!
Solution 1—Talk out your story into a voice recorder
With the help of a handy little voice recorder you can just tell your story. Carry it with you, turn it on, record, pause or turn off till you’re ready to tell your next story, or continue with your thoughts. You can collect memories in a stretch of reminiscing over photos or with family. Or maybe just relate brief thoughts or impressions as they come to you throughout the day. Don’t worry that they’re not in order. That is the beauty of digital recording and computers. While it will save you some time and help you focus if you have a plan and go through your life story memories somewhat chronologically, it isn’t critical. Thanks to the beauty of downloading and cut and paste, your lovely, moving or humorous stories can be rearranged into whatever order you choose later.
Here’s how it works:
Purchase an inexpensive digital voice recorder. I have used an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder very similar to this one for years (some links on this site are affiliate links–I only recommend items that I either use myself or strongly believe to be helpful):
I show this tiny workhorse at workshops and folks repeatedly ask what model it is and where they can get one. There are many different brands out there in a range of prices. The Olympus model has been a great fit for my work and has had excellent reviews on quality, clarity and ease of use. It also lets me record in different files to keep projects separate. This makes downloading to separate computer folders even easier. The recorder runs on a two AAA batteries and has great battery life. I have found that Procell by Duracell batteries have excellent performance and reliability and have switched to using them exclusively in my work.
Another top rated recorder option is this one: SONY ICD PX333 Digital Voice Recorder
Both are high quality items that will do the job and serve you well. Whichever one you choose, based on features or price, they all work pretty much the same and will make telling your story easy and fun.
Keep the recorder with you, it will serve as your ever-ready personal assistant. Starting with the technique in the last blog post, go ahead and brainstorm your memories and story ideas into the recorder. Then, when thoughts come to you or you want to expand on some stories or reminiscence over visual prompts such as photographs, you’ll just talk your story out into the recorder. A recorder such as the Olympus holds about 24 hours worth of audio recording. I use mine regularly for interviewing and as an extra note-taker when I’m at meetings and need to be able to go back and fact check or review content. It will help you focus on the story and not on trying to write your notes legibly, a challenge for me, that’s for sure!
Later, when you’re ready to download your stories, just plug the recorder into your computer, transfer the files and you now have your oral history recording in a format that can be easily transcribed into written form. Voila, “test anxiety” gone!
Solution 2 – Team up with a friend to record each other’s stories.
Again, this taps into the power of oral story telling. It also adds in the fun of having a buddy to tackle the project together. Find a friend who is either interested in also telling their own story or is intrigued with you and yours. Remember, this is not a never ending time commitment nor a long term project. Getting these stories down will take a focused-10-12 hours of recording time, spread out over a handful of sessions. I’d recommend setting aside time once or twice a week for about a month. Of course, the beauty of this is that you can work around your own schedules.
Then, either use the voice recorder (I do recommend this as it helps you go back at your leisure and capture the full nuance of the story. For family members and friends, having a recording of your voice is a priceless addition to your story—why not do it?) Or, you can take turns with your friend, interviewing each other and taking notes on each other’s stories. This takes away your fear of a blank piece of paper, you just tell the other person’s story.
The fun of the buddy system will keep you both on track and accountable. A multi- strand cord is stronger, tag-teaming with a friend or another family member will help you both to succeed.
Thanks and Happy Story Telling!
(Karen Ray is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.)