Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Your Story Matters-Segment 8

Your Story Matters!
Memoir Writing Instructor Answers Your Questions

Every life is made up of stories—some are deliriously happy tales, others are devastatingly sad, and our life experiences represent every imaginable kind of emotion in between. We all have family history and  life stories, and the sad truth is that if we do not preserve them, they are permanently gone. There is no rewind. There is no going back to capture them.

Q8. I have started my memoirs so many times and get bogged down at about age 11. I feel overwhelmed when I think about the scope of this project spanning so many years. Do you have any tips on how to proceed and help me not want to stuff into a drawer what I have written and just give up?

A8. THE MEMORY LIST-Okay, this is a basic, essential step. When I studied memoir writing under Denis Ledoux’s teaching-see http://www.thememoirnetwork.com, one of the first important tools he told us about was creating the Memory List. This is where you start with a piece of lined paper and begin to jot down any memories that come to mind—not paragraphs, not even whole sentences—just enough to remind you later of what you were thinking about. It is not in chronological order, but just any highlights that you can recall that you may like to write about—it does not even mean that you HAVE to write about every item, but this is a great start. And you continue adding to the list any time you think of more events, people and places from your journey through life.

The memory list is a brilliant idea from a renowned memoir expert, but I humbly decided to take it one step further. I found that some people (including me) prefer to sort of compartmentalize their thoughts. So I came up with what I call the Decades from the Memory Bank Lists.

·         Start with one sheet of lined paper for every decade that you have been alive.

·         Sheet 1 will have the heading: Years 0-9 and add what those years were

·         Sheet 2 will be Years 10-19 and add what those years were

·         Sheet 3 will be Years 20-29 and add what those years were

And so on until you have a separate sheet for each decade of your life including the current one.

As you sit down to think about your memories, jot down what enters your mind, writing on the appropriate sheet for the decade of that memory. Within each sheet, you do not need to put the items in chronological order—they just need to be shown within the correct decade.

You will find that one memory definitely leads to another, and as you start jotting down memories, sometimes the thoughts will enter your mind faster than you can write down the key words.  Just take your time, and do not feel rushed or pressured.

Your objective is to recall as many pertinent events, feelings, people, places and situations that had an impact on your life as you possibly can.

Examples from my lists are:

Years 0-9 1952-1961:

Thought Aunt Sis (MY MOM’S AUNT) was actually a witch because I saw her with her hair down, and it was very long and gray. At age eight, I had only previously seen her hair tightly twirled into a neatly bobby pinned bun.

First time I saw the Pacific Ocean in Southern California-completely mesmerized

Years 10-19 1962-1971:

Favorite teacher of all time-Mr. Don Myers-5th & 6th grades

Another great teacher-Mr. Robert Brimhall-11th & 12th grade English

Wild and crazy experience at Fillmore West in San Francisco in 1969

Years 20-29 1972-1981:

First job in Albany, NY

Birth of son, Kenneth Scott-God’s gift to me

Think about stories that represent lessons learned, turning points, significant influences.   If you get stuck, try writing this on a separate sheet of paper:

If _________________had not occurred, I would never have _______________. This is another tool to get the memory juices flowing.

Just keep adding, adding, adding to your Decades from the Memory Bank Lists, and this will be your resource material from which you will write many stories. When you are comfortably settled in to write, you can refer to these lists, choose one of the entries and allow the words to flow onto the paper or through your fingers on the keyboard. 

Even if you are not sure you want to share a particular story, you can still jot it down on your List. You can even write the story, but whether or not you choose to include it in your final product is up to you in the end.

If you go blank when you are working on your memory list, write on each decade sheet where you lived during those years. Try to visualize the residences. What was happening in your life at that time?

Think about this question: How has your life been blessed?  Or perhaps you feel just the opposite—how has your life been cursed? Write about your feelings on this topic. Again, you may not end up sharing all of it in your final product, but they prompt a reflection of memories.

You do not want to try to complete all sheets in one writing session. That could prove to be really stressful.  These lists will take shape over time, so patiently keep adding to them as you think of more memories. It is also a good idea to keep a small note pad handy—even on your nightstand. You never know when a memory will enter your mind. It could be in the waiting room at the dentist’s office or when you have just crawled into your cozy bed at night.

Try to visualize your great, great-grandchildren reading the stories you have written. Remember that this is the only way they will ever know who you really were.

Take a few moments and start your memory lists. You will be amazed at the ideas generated. 

A very special thank you to Denis Ledoux for this incredibly beneficial step. His program offers methods of digging under the soil through the many existing layers and unearthing our memories during the writing process.

Remember-Your stories are a priceless legacy!

Mary Anne Benedetto is the owner of A Writer’s Presence, LLC, a writer, speaker, blogger, Certified Lifewriting Instructor, and an affiliate teacher with the The Memoir Network.  Author of  7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, she offers beneficial tips, hints and critical steps in memoir writing in order to remove the “overwhelmed” factor in memoir projects.

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