Top 5 Free Classes to Help You Write Your Memoir

Occasionally I curate a few excellent resources that I’ve found helpful and highly recommend. If you’re serious about sharing your memoir or family history here’s my top pick of short classes that will give you the necessary tools, confidence, and encouragement to begin telling your unique story. Each of these can help you make amazing progress writing your memoir or family history.  Two of these classes are specifically about writing memoir. The others contain tools and ideas that will help you craft memorable stories, a key element in any writing.  

Best part – you can listen to all of these free for 2 weeks. Take mad notes, listen again, dream big, and take action. Here’s how it works: try all of these premium classes for free for 14 days via Skillshare. If you decide you’re loving the great value this teaching platform provides, you can join for a low annual fee that will pay itself back in value many times over. While you’re trying out the platform explore a few other topics from their extensive offering of over 27,000 premium classes and more than 2,000 free classes. (as of March 2019)

For example, the technique of taking an event from your life and flipping it into a fiction story will give you an entirely new slant on the events. Excellent teacher Adam Janos will walk you through how it’s done with examples that are sure to get your own creative thoughts flowing.

Author Roxanne Gay will show you how to create short memoirs, also known as personal essays. These can stand alone or be part of a larger work but you’ll learn from a pro about what will resonate and how to write it.

Rebecca Livermore will walk your through an encouraging and very doable writing challenge that you can use over and over again to boost your writing sessions. Try her 7 day challenge in conjunction with one of the other classes and just see what kind of progress you can make. I think you’ll be thrilled!

Ready for the nuts and bolts of how to start writing your memoir? Best-selling memoirist Kathy Karr shares “the processes she relies on to write beautiful, visceral scenes.”

How about a jump start on your memoir writing? My own class on how to Quick Start a Memoir will give you a fun, creatively practical project and easy directions to help you begin .

  1. Autobiographical Fiction: Write a Short Story from Personal Experience, by writer/reporter Adam Janos

Adam will teach you to brainstorm ideas from your life, transform yourself into a character, and write details. You’ll learn about conflict and pacing with excellent examples. This class can help memoir writers think beyond their ideas for standard memoir and expand their storytelling skills. Click this link to try the class: https://skl.sh/3ss2WY8

2. Creative Writing: Crafting Personal Essays with Impact, by Roxanne Gay

Roxanne’s course is full of “practical guidance, actionable tactics, and example essays” She’ll lead you through the important step of “finding a specific purpose for telling your story”, then how to “connect your work to a larger theme”, and inspire you with how to use your “personal memories to write your story.” Click this link to take Roxanne’s class:  https://skl.sh/3rhQ9X2

3. 7 Day 15 Minute Writing Challenge by Rebecca Livermore

Developing a daily writing habit, for even just a few minutes at a time, will set you up for success in completing your story. This short challenge can launch you into storytelling productivity with 7 daily writing prompts, help in “setting personalized writing goals”, and tips and tools for writing quickly in short time chunks with minimal distractions. Click here to enjoy Rebecca’s class: https://skl.sh/2QwebRg

4. Writing the Truth, How to Start Writing Your Memoir, Mary Karr

Through a series of memory-focused writing exercises, Mary guides you through a clear, actionable plan to help you write your memoir. She “shares her wisdom and perspective on life, writing as a craft….” Mary’s class will help you develop your personal writing voice and hone your storytelling skills to connect with readers. Don’t miss this class, click here to jump right in: https://skl.sh/3cniCq3

5. It’s Time to Tell Your Story: Quick Start a Memoir, Karen Ray

Yup, this one is mine and I’ve seen these tips, tools, and techniques work wonders! You don’t have to be a “writer” to share your story in a meaningful way. This class will jump start your memoir or family history project, helping you clarify the 5 W’s of your story, the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY. You’ll create a foundational framework to build your personal history project  and have fun in the process. This can even stand alone as a mini-memoir. Click here to make fast progress with your memoir or family history: https://skl.sh/2YUDbkf

Start today — Celebrate your life and begin saving those important family memories!

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School Days: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for Memoir Writers

School attendance is a high profile current topic and rightly so. We spend so much of our childhood in school, it has a profound effect on our likes, dislikes, character, love of learning, and friendships. These experiences provide a motherlode of material for memoir writers and family historians.

When I’m doing oral history interviews or memoir coaching, I find that school memories are always a rich source of content. We remember the GOOD, cherish, and laugh about it. We shudder at the BAD and often still carry the scars. We might count the UGLY among our most embarrassing memories, our funniest, or any number of other emotional boxes we shove our stories into.  

Working on your family history or memoir? Think about experiences with teachers and schools, both GOOD and BAD.  I had many great teachers, a few indifferent ones, some who were pretty average, and yes, some who were just bad. But, doesn’t this describe most of us at different times in our career and lives? We might never know the back stories of those whose lives intersect our own, including teachers and schoolmates. So, I have compassion, healthy boundaries, and have tried to learn from each of these educational realities.  

You might have been shamed by a teacher frustrated that you didn’t “get” their favorite subject matter. Geometry anyone? How you handled this, or didn’t, and moved forward is an important part of your story.  Maybe you were encouraged by another teacher who saw something positive and excellent in you? Perhaps it was wordsmithing skills in composition class, or your face lighting up (not literally- that might have been on the BAD list) over a chemistry experiment, an art assignment, building something useful in shop class or having a great understanding of history.   Whatever it was, these experiences shaped you.

I’ve been an educator much of my life and love to see those “aha” moments when an idea becomes real and personal for someone. It happens in workshops, on zoom calls, even in feedback on social media posts. The lovely thing is, I’m always learning right along with you! Think back on your school experiences. There was GOOD, there was BAD, there was UGLY! Each of these is full of story, dig in and write about them.  

Want to join others interested in writing their story? I’ve opened up a new private FaceBook group, Family History & Memoir Writers Fellowship, just for you! We’ll encourage each other in our storytelling journeys, have fun, share stories, crowdsource solutions, and prompt each other with inspiration and great ideas. We’re stronger and more creative together. Click the link above to check it out and I’ll see you on the inside!
Karen
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How to be a Family History Clutter Cutter

family history, memoir writing

A friend posted this statement today in a memoir writing discussion thread:  “Tomorrow is too late, live today” Then she asked, “Would you agree?” Wow! I can’t stop thinking about this, it’s such an interesting thought and question.

Carpe Diem! Seize the Day!

So many people become stuck in the mire of perfection. Someday, when “x” happens, if this is settled, then I’ll…. We’ve all talked this way. But then…decades go by and you’ve missed out on precious time and memories.

While of course it’s wise to plan and implement for today, tomorrow, and the future, there are opportunities and decisions that must be acted on in the moment. Over analyzing can keep us stuck. That said, it is never too late to take the next right step! As for me, I thrive on balanced living in all three time zones, past, present, and future (I do work with memoir, after all). This one life is a priceless gift and I don’t want to waste a minute of it. So today is simple, sweet, and designed to get you future authors and family historians un-stuck.

Here’s one big Seize the Day tip, it’s like a NEON YELLOW easy button, that can help you move forward with writing your memoir or family history:

#1:  REPURPOSE things you’ve already created to get a jumpstart on your memoir content. Can you really do this? Sure thing –  letters, recipes, journal entries, newspaper clippings, even descriptions of gifts you’ve made can form the foundation for a new chapter. You can include them as is, expound on the material, or use them as memory prompts. Create a themed collection if you like and make a simple photo book.

Photo book companies send out frequent discounts and can be an easy way to share the story of your keepsakes. Think beyond just photos, you can add story text, recipes, use your imagination. Try Shutterfly, Blurb, Mixbook, Snapfish, Picaboo to name just a few…search for the sales codes.

Now is the ideal time to begin thinking about a simple project to create as a gift for upcoming holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. Books like these gain instant heirloom status and are the secret sauce in memorable gift-giving.

By sharing the story behind family history keepsakes everyone benefits. No one gains if they stay shoved in a box. It is not the item that is of value but the memories behind it. Are you getting the most mileage from these materials you can? Do a little digging and help your family gain a rich understanding of  their background and history. You’ll have fun in the process.

Bonus tip: Bet you thought of at least a couple items in your family history collection that you can do this with. Now, go and IMMEDIATELY APPLY these ideas to your treasures while the thought is fresh. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write out everything that comes to mind. Organize it later!

Need help? Feel free to contact me anytime and we’ll brainstorm some options. I’d love to hear from you!

Karen

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Got Memories but Feel Overwhelmed with How to Share Them?

memoirs, family history, genealogy, writing, editing, coaching

P.S. I’m opening up 1:1 coaching (10 spots left)

This coaching is for family history or memoir writers who know they want to share their story but are overwhelmed or stuck with how to get it done. You have the stories and memories in your head, but struggle with getting them down on paper.

Ready to kick the overwhelm to the curb? I got you!

Three months, one goal to jumpstart your memoir, me by your side to help you every step of the way.

We will be looking at:

  • * What you want to accomplish with your story during these 3 months, as well as going forward.
  • * Where you’re stuck or limiting yourself.
  • * What are your goals for your story and what do you need to bring them to vibrant life?
  • * Weekly concrete steps to achieve forward movement toward your goals.
  • * What tactics and tools to use to make your story shine.
  • * Figuring out together the best storytelling strategy for you and your unique story.
  • * How to make everything we accomplish during our three months of 1:1 work last BEYOND and help you continue forward.

Basically, this coaching if for you if you’ve known you want to share your story (or that of a family member) but have become stuck with the size of the goal or the sheer quantity of material to work with. We handle all kinds of stuck, so let’s talk about it!

You will set your goal with my guidance and I’ll be beside you every step of the way over a period of three months to help you achieve it.

How it works:

  • * We’ll talk once a week on Zoom for an in-depth 1 hour session.
  • * You’ll have email access to me between sessions, including for critiques and questions.
  • * You’ll have phone access to me for a 15 minute check in between sessions should you need it.
  • * I will review whatever material you have and give a professional editorial evaluation, looking for strengths and weaknesses that we can address in relation to your goal. We’ll talk through any fixes or improvements that can help you tell your story in a way you can be proud of.

How to sign up:

Since 1:1 work is a big commitment for both of us, let’s make sure we’re on the same page and that there’s a good personality fit. If you’re interested in working with me, shoot me an email at karen@rememberingthetime.net and let me know what you’d like to achieve in a three month memoir coaching jumpstart. If I believe I can help you, we’ll set up a time to chat over the phone or Zoom call and I’ll send you a detailed overview of the Life Legacy Signature Coaching  program.

I’m looking forward to visiting with you about your story!

Karen

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What’s in a Name? Marvelous Funny Monikers

Birth, death, and taxes are inevitable, so this seems like the perfect time to focus on new life and inject a little needed humor into your day. Family history and memoir work can be rich in name mining.

Soon to be parents are up to their necks in baby name books. To prime the thought process, here are some choices you may NOT want to consider, but they’ll keep you laughing. If your grandmother or grandad sported one of these monikers my apologies in advance, I hope you’ll take this in the spirit of fun!

Check out this collection of 1918 Extinct Names that Sound Hilarious Today collected from Nameberry.com:

Can I hear it for Lurline: 58 girls  or Roswell: 45 boys ? Or how about the twins:

Dicy: 11 girls

Nicie: 11 girls

Boys named Dude: 8 boys today might be whipping around every time someone under the age of 30 calls out to a friend.

For you genealogy and family history buffs, laugh your way through the funny genealogical records at Legacy Tree.com.

In American colonial times, names often reflected qualities or characteristics that parents wanted their children to emulate, like Charity, Patience, or Virtue. Preserved was a name associated with salvation – preserved from sin, death, or destruction. However, Thomas and Mercy Fish should probably have given a little more thought to the burden their son would be forced to bear when they named him Preserved Fish.

If Mr. Preserved Fish could time travel from 1731 to today I wonder what names he might find bizarre or humorous? Portobella? Baby? Hashtag? Any name spelled backwards – just – no.

Glance through the hilarious collection of unbelievable actual names at TheBump.com. Here’s a sample:

“Apparently there’s a family at my gym with the last name Bean. They have girls who are named after different types of beans, like October, Boston and Seven. Seriously.” — shadow

Number 16 from Parentology.com’s list of 20 weirdest baby names is memorable but I’m pretty sure this gal will have to spell it out for the rest of her life.

16. Zephyrine
“Zephyr” is the ancient Greek term for the west wind. Zephyrine is a feminized version.

Both my daughter and daughter in law sport lovely derivatives of the classic name Alexandra. This is sometimes confusing when speaking in a hurry as all of us have tripped over the similar names more than once. So far, the ladies have kept a great sense of humor. In our modern age of that ever-present digital boss lady who shall remain nameless here, an entire new past time has arisen of head-whipping “What?” when someone calls “A….!” in their home. I find myself snickering a bit evilly when this happens. I grew up in the era of Karens and sat through my entire school career with at least one other like-named lass in every classroom. And now there’s a meme about us, oy!

Then, there’s the classic Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue. I remember singing this, loudly and badly, with my dad on road trips. Now, that’s a good memory! The song reads like a how-to manual for bad parenting but we loved Cash’s sense of humor and grit. I’d love to know how he got the idea for this song.

What funny or unusual names are hiding in your family history? I’d love to hear them with a photo of their proud owner. Share them on our social media pages on Facebook and Instagram and tell us the backstory! (Makes a great story for your memoir too)

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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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Not Crafty? 5 Ways to Make Vision Boards Work for You

Mind Maps or Vision Boards for your memoir or writing project are a tool to help you focus on what’s important. They can be a tremendous help in finding your theme and direction.

How you create your mind map or what it looks like aesthetically doesn’t have any bearing on how well it will work. Use whatever technique makes sense to you!

Want to find out more? Take a look at this post to find out how boards can help you:

IF you have the Martha Stewart crafty gene in you, make your vision board as pretty as can be. Add pieces of fabric, paint an abstract background with your favorite colors, or dig out your long lost scrapbook supplies and utilize those beautiful printed papers and fun stickers.

However, if you don’t have a crafty gene nor have the desire to develop  a crafty side

or if you’re male and want a more masculine look – have no fear: you can still make a no-frills mind map or vision board that suits your style and that will work!

1. Bulletin board. Buy an inexpensive cork board and use thumbtacks to attach your photos. Using tacks makes it especially easy to move your photos around or to take some off after you’ve settled in on your theme or reached specific goals.

2. Vision books. If you have multiple goals for different parts of your project, then creating a vision book keeps all those goals on separate pages but still together in the same book. A simple journal or a larger scrapbook serves the purpose. However, to keep the creativity flowing be sure to keep it out where you can see it and look at your book every day.

3. Digital vision boards. For those who can whiz around the internet at the speed of light, digital vision boards are time savers. Search for a free template or use Canva’s grid template.

Simply upload your photos and quotes to your chosen template and save. Save it as your wallpaper on your computer and phone. This can prompt great ideas and help you use down time to add to your project. You can use a note taking app or good old pencil and paper to capture those ideas before they’re gone. Go one step further and have your vision board professionally printed on photo paper at your local photo shop. Post it up at home to remind you of your project goals. Here’s an example to get you started:

4. Hang a single photo. Hang a photo that inspires you, that’s your project “why” or one that perfectly illustrates your theme where you can see it every day. Keep that goal at the back of your mind, it will simmer away in your subconscious and help you come up with creative ideas and clarity.

What photo inspires you?

5. Write a vision statement. For those who are born wordsmiths, forget about the pretty pictures and write out your goals instead. However, write it as a letter to yourself, 10 years into the future. Describe what you’re doing and where you’re living, among other things, as if you’ve been living that life for 10 years and are giving an update to your long lost friend.

Creating a non-traditional mind map or vision board or writing a vision statement is just as powerful as a traditional outline. Maybe more so! The most important point is voicing your goals and taking action to achieve those goals. How you package up your vision is completely arbitrary. Have some fun and make it work for you!

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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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