Thursday, January 10

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, January 10, 2019 No comments
Hello, friends. It's a new year, and high time I return to my neglected blog. To help me get over my inertia, I thought I'd respond to questions I've been asked that are writing process-oriented rather than editing-related, and offer some online writing coaching.

Dear Coach Laurel,

I'm looking to write a mini history of growing up. Something to keep memories alive and to share with my mom.  But I can't seem to get started. Any tips or techniques?



That sounds cool, and I applaud you. Not many ever take the time, and their life stories are thus forever lost.

I completely understand being daunted by the task. Many people get discouraged about writing, thinking there has to be some secret technique. But beginning an informal memoir project like this is really quite simple. 

Start by considering your most powerful memories--the ones you most want your loved ones to know--and make a list of them. I'd recommend using the jot technique, putting a sentence or two on an index card. You can later sort the cards into chronological order or thematic categories. 

(If you find yourself getting stuck after the first dozen ideas, consider working with prompts like "59 memoir ideas," "drawing from a well of experience," "NYT 500 prompts for narrative and personal writng.")

Next, begin to work your way through your jot-prompts, writing out that memory. Start with whichever memory floods back the most fully when you view your jotted note. Keep in mind that we all gravitate toward problem-oriented stories--what went horribly wrong and how that hardship was coped with.

Tell the story as if you had a kid on your knee, or an old friend across the table, eager to hear about what you did, and what happened next. You absolutely should do that quite literally and record yourself, if that's easiest. Then transcribe your recording. Or just imagine that audience of one as you write, to help you make decisions about what details would appeal most to that person. 

This draft doesn't have to be perfect or even terribly coherent. It's better to write a lot and sloppily than be cramped up with fear about doing it perfectly. My mantra is "You can always fix it later!" Be brave enough to write a super rough draft, let it cool off, then come back to it at a later point and revise. 

Once you have a lot of material, then decide how you want to shape it. Strict chronology is perfectly fine as an organizing principle, though consider grouping material thematically. 

If your goal is simply to preserve family stories for the next generation, don't worry too much about creating a very literary or very sensational manuscript to hook a publisher. (They're mostly interested in celebrities anyway.) Simply tell your experiences as you remember them, with as much detail, humor or wisdom as you can. 

Thanks to print-on-demand technology, it's easy to turn your musings and memories into an attractive book your can pass along to loved ones. 

Q4U: What are some of your favorite memoirs? What might motivate you to preserve your life stories?


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