How to Write About Your “WHEN”

Remember when…?

Do your stories often start out, “When I was little…” or “When I traveled to X that summer…” or maybe “When we lived on the ranch…”? Master outdoor humor writer Patrick McManus wrote many books set during the WHEN of his growing up years with his best friend Crazy Eddie. If you haven’t sampled his stories try this one, The Grasshopper Trap.

Your WHEN, like the other memoir keys, will overlap with the other  aspects of your story. However, this one serves as the large, solid master key in jump starting your memoir. You get to decide when to focus your story. Spend time reflecting on the times that have stayed fresh in your memory, what stands out? When does your mind like to travel back to? If you’re not sure, talk it over with friends or family and try to narrow down your story to an impactful time frame. Often when we talk our story out with others or ask them what stories they hear us tell the most, we will find our WHEN. You may be surprised at the feedback  others give you about the stories and events they find most intriguing  in your life.  Remember, the decision is yours but don’t be afraid to explore a bit before you settle on your WHEN.

Memoirs can be narrowly focused on a short time period and be as short as a personal essay or book length. They can also cover an entire life…the choice is up to you. What stands out most to you as you think back over your life and times? Think about where the story lies, what grabs your heart, mind and soul?

Photos are great tool for narrowing down your WHEN. Go through your collection and set aside a few extra photos that illustrate this well for you. It’s good to have choices and your memories will be prompted by different images, see where they take you.

If you’re working on someone else’s story what memories tend to come up repeatedly when you’re talking with them? The answer to this question will help you focus your WHEN. Your chosen time might be dependent upon a memorable historical event or season. For example, the novel The Grapes of Wrath focuses on one family during the Great Depression. The Journals of Lewis and Clark cover one massive exploration event. The Diary of Anne Frank is constrained not only in its “when” but its location.

Look for the key moments and pay attention to what else was going on in the world at that time. This will often help shape the other sections of your memoir, especially the WHY.  Explore  the nature of your story’s WHEN, one story at a time. If you’re working with a grandparent or other elder, or perhaps even someone who’s no longer alive, this technique works well. Good questions to ask might be related to technological advancements like a lunar landing, world shaking events like wars and  natural disasters, or the rise or fall of a world leader. Just as we’re sharing stories of our experiences during this worldwide pandemic, others did the same thing during the 1918 flu epidemic. These are universal human experiences full of story.

If your WHEN covers childhood, mine the events of that time for relevant material, they are some of our favorite recollections. There are countless television shows, movies, and books written about childhood memories. Remember the much-loved Wonder Years television series? Or  The Waltons? These story lines did an amazing job of tying in larger societal events in the context of their impact on the characters. Memoirs work the same way. Your impressions and reactions to the events you witnessed at that specific point in time are unique to you but will resonate with others in the universal human language of emotion.

Perhaps your story will center around  coming-of-age or a season of loving a favorite pet.  The book Rascal, by Sterling North tells the delightful story of one young boy’s pet racoon. Fiction uses the same technique, think about the narrow time setting in To Kill a Mockingbird.

The stories we tell around the family dinner table or at holiday gatherings often start with the phrase “Remember when…?” Revisit these conversations in your mind and as you review your photographs, it will help you define the time setting of your story. Think both broad and narrow; your WHEN might involve personal or family life events that charted the course of your own days. Or historical events you witnessed may call you to share your perspective. You were there, you lived it, share your memories. Brainstorm what you felt, saw and heard. You get the idea, free write everything you can think of.

Remember your first love? That first car or job or when you first moved out on your own? Your wedding day or the birth of your children?  Take your pick, there’s a wealth of memories lying behind the door your WHEN key will unlock. Involve your senses as you take notes and prep for working on this part of your story. What did the flowers look and smell like? How about the food that was served? Maybe the smell of fresh tilled fields always takes you back to that childhood summer on the farm. Do you remember the first time you went to the fair; the smell of corndogs and cotton candy mixed with the livestock barns? Unforgettable! Remember…the smell of a summer rainstorm, walking a favorite dog and hugging his soft side, the taste of Grandma’s fresh chocolate chip cookies, the smell of your great uncle’s pipe tobacco, the stories heard while spending time with a loved grandparent.

Pay attention to what stands out as you write down or record your memories, note the emotions and thoughts that rise up repeatedly. This is most often where your story lies – its the WHEN key under the mat, the sign post for your memoir. Give the future a gift of memories, personal and world history from your perspective.

Spend some time choosing your WHEN, you’ll be glad you did. This key will unlock doors and the stories will come tumbling out.

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Creative Journaling Tips for Your Remarkable Life

Relationships are top of mind right now, emphasized even due to the social distancing we’re experiencing in the pandemic. This is foreign ground for most of us but will become one for the history books. In the scarcity of human contact we long to connect and are finding creative ways to do it. The silver lining may be an increase in family connectedness and deeper friendships. This is one of the good things to come out of this season of pausing, reflection and in some cases deep loss.

So relationships and how they’ve impacted our lives is the theme for this journaling exercise. Think of it as a creative tool to use in developing your memoir, short or long. It all starts with a few words on a page or spoken into a recorder.

Let’s give it a shot! Review the many relationships in your life; most of us are sons and daughters, parents, friends, spouses, employees, aunts or uncles. Think of the connections you’ve had with others over the years, both personal and professional.

Don’t get stuck, just pick two or three that stand out in your memory.

You can always try this technique with others later.

How have these relationships impacted, molded, changed and directed  the course of your life over the years?

Pick one relationship from childhood, one from youth and one from adulthood. Your choice of how close the relationship was; don’t force it or get stuck with expectations, go with what rises to the top of your thoughts. They don’t even have to all be human.

Many people count a dog or horse among their best friends.

It’s perfectly ok to write about these dear friends too.

Now, for each one I want you to try two approaches:

1—How has this relationship affected your life? Did it inspire you, coach in in a positive way, maybe it deflected you down another path? You can go as deep as you like here. Sometimes even fleeting relationships impact us deeply and change the course of our lives. Other times it may be the long faithfulness of a dear family member or friend.

2—How would your life have been different if you hadn’t known that person? Don’t edit, just write down your thoughts and speculate, follow the rabbit trails, this is just for your own use. A well-known example of this, and one that’s been used in many book and movie plots, is the storyline behind It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey’s angel gives him the opportunity to see what life in Bedford Falls would have been like without him. As Clarence says, “You’ve been given a gift.”

Bonus Tip:

Another tool to use is to take a sheet of paper for each person you want to write about. Now do a mind map or a bubble outline. Write their name in the middle of the page and then, using a timer set for about three minutes, write down everything you can think of that’s associated with this person. Don’t second guess yourself, get it all down. Write each item or phrase on the page radiating out from the central person.  When the timer dings, stop. You can always add more later but these are the top of mind and semi-conscious ideas that come out when you brainstorm like this.

When you’ve finished this exercise you may realize some interesting side notes or even have a great light bulb moment (epiphany for you fellow word nerds). Jot these reflections down too. You now have the makings of a fine chapter or two for your memoir. In fact, you may have even discovered the theme of your lifestory. See where it goes.

All the best to you in your memory journey!

Karen

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Quick Start a Memoir

So—it’s summer, it’s hot and… it’s the perfect time to take action — do something different and good for your soul! A little bit of life history will reap dividends in mental and emotional health as well as pay what you’ve learned forward to the future.

I found this quote from Peter Drucker a few days ago. He’s a business management consultant but his words are applicable to many things in life.

 “There is the risk you cannot afford to take,

and there is the risk you cannot afford not to take”

What about finally saving the stories of someone you love? Or your own? I’ve made it easy for you by creating a Quick Start a Memoir class. And—you can even take it for free using this link that will take you to the class on Skillshare and a free 2 month membership:

https://skl.sh/2YUDbkf

Here’s the class description:

Do you have a parent, grandparent or other relative who has been telling great family stories for decades, but is overwhelmed by the thought of writing them down? Maybe you have been longing to tell your own story. It’s time! Creating a life legacy memoir is a meaningful way to celebrate life. You don’t have to be a “writer” to share your story in a meaningful way. This class will give you a quick start to clarify the 5 W’s of your story, the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY. You’ll create a fun, actionable mind map project that will inspire you to start, give you the framework you need and keep you on track. Start today– let’s begin saving those important family memories and connecting the generations with your story.

Five fabulous reasons why it’s important to share your story:

* Celebrate your life and share your experiences with others

* Preserve important family stories and memories

* Put names and stories with family photos

* Share your wisdom and the life lessons you’ve learned

* Bear witness to the history you’ve lived

The wise Dr. Seuss has this to say:

“Sometimes you will never know the value

of a moment until it becomes a memory”

Have lots of  ideas and memories  but don’t know how to start? Try the class for an instant boost. Or give me a call/fire off an email for a free consult. I’d be delighted to point you in the right direction and give you a couple resources.

Karen

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Contact Me

Please contact me for more information or to to schedule a free consultation. I look forward to visiting with you.






Karen Ray Photo

Karen Ray

Address: 2877 Willow Creek Lane, Las Cruces, NM, 88007

Phone: 575-323-1048


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