|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!
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
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.
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!
1—Everyone loves a celebration. What better event to celebrate than the basic fact of being alive? Whether you’ve had 70 years on the planet or want to celebrate the life of your 5-year-old, it’s a great time to break out the cake and surprise your loved one with a story all their own. Celebrate the events and people that have made your life experience uniquely your own. Looking back over your life will help remind you of the victories, the accomplishments, the overcoming, the kindnesses great and small that have come together in your unique heart and soul to knit together your life. Your story matters and you are important!
2—Experience personal growth and insight. You may have had years to contemplate the why’s and wherefores’ of your life story. Now is the perfect time to consider what you’ve learned, process it, maybe even re-frame your responses in memory to help you heal and move forward in a healthy way.
Where have you struggled? How did you overcome? What would you want your children and grandchildren to know from your hard-won experience? You have a responsibility to pass it on.
The Rev. Berndt of the Good Samaritan Society says:
“It is an incredible gift to be the recipient of someone’s legacy. It can be life transforming. However, I have also learned that the opportunity to leave a legacy isn’t something that only other people do. As I grow older, I am more and more convinced of the importance of asking myself, “What legacy from the wisdom of lifelong experience am I …sharing with others?” You see, this is the two-way blessing of legacies. Our lives can be shaped by the legacies that others share with us, but in turn, we have a responsibility and a challenge to share the wisdom …“and experience we have gathered over the years.”
Perhaps other forces shaped your life? Do you have an immigrant story or a war-time experience, poverty or wealth, a disability or just making something precious out of the ordinary?
Science has shown that the health benefits of journaling and sharing your story are enormous
In her blog ”Heart and Craft of Lifewriting” writer Sharon Lippincott comments on a memoir entitled Growing Old, by Swiss psychoanalyst Danielle Quinodoz: “The book focuses on the enormous value elderly people derive from reviewing their memories and attaining an integrated overview of their lives, …People who are able to view their lives in this meaningful way experience more joy in living…They tend to approach aging more actively, retaining curiosity and involvement with life and the people around them….”
3—Pass along a lifetime of learned wisdom and life skills. Whether it’s your approach to living on a budget, handling life events, recovering from tragedy, the importance of your faith or simply your best tips for leading the good life, your family needs to know this. Think of the many articles (share link) where elders have been interviewed about what they’ve learned over their life, those in your circle of influence crave this same information.
Think of the inspiration others have poured into your life and how you’ve been able to pay it forward to future generations. Connect the past and the present and be inspired to do good!
4—Share your family’s origin story. Where did you come from? How did you get to where you are now? What traditions, customs, food and wisdom were Handed down by your ancestors? Mentoring, life skills, carpentry, music, jewelry making, craftsmanship, farming and ranching, your life experience and family history is uniquely your own.
5—We are inspired by photographs of people place and events. Dig out those boxes of family pics and put provenance with them. Just the process of asking questions from family members about events and people depicted will unearth a great number of stories you probably haven’t even heard yet. Or will add details to those long familiar events.
Preserve your family’s memories of important family stories. Each photo can be used to prompt the story behind it, what was going on in the world, the people’s lives in the picture. What happened before and after? The stories behind the faces in the photos are precious. It might even illuminate world events, think of collections of pioneer letters that let us know what life was like on a wagon train or collections of WWII letters. Take a look at this example, Dear Sis…WWII Letters:
“…letters were written by ordinary young men who answered the call to duty and honor to protect their country and their families. Compiled into a narrative, the letters give a snapshot of life and events both on the war front and at home.”
Your life story is a gift from you to the future, from your generation to the next one. It may be one of the most important things you share with those who come after you. Leave a legacy, a life legacy.
Remember, not only is your story a gift, each day of life is also, unwrap daily!
Let me know if you need help sharing your story, I’d love to visit with you!
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.”
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!