Telling your story is like eating an elephant, start with one bite at a time.
Now that you are convinced to write a memoir, where do you begin? How do you recall all those memories?
1. Memory Bank. A three ring binder with pockets is the best way to keep everything together. Begin first by making a memory bank. This is an idea from Lois Daniel’s book, How to Write Your Own Life Story. This is the most helpful book for writing life stories I have found.
Use one page in your binder for each topic—Family, Holidays, School, Homes, Careers, Recipes, Relationships, etc. Individuals will discover topics peculiar to each person such as Military Service and Travel depending on experiences and interests. Write the topic at the upper right hand side of the page. Jot quick notes about each memory related to the topic. You may want to further break down each topic to have a separate sheet on each family member or career. Then when something sparks your memory, note it on the appropriate topic page or start a new one. These ideas will become the basis for your next story. Sometimes when writing about a holiday, a memory of a special dessert your grandmother prepared will come to mind. Write a note about it on your grandmother’s page and on the recipe page.
The first pages of lined paper will become your stories if you wish to handwrite them. If you do use a keyboard, then print them, punch the three holes in, and add them to the binder. (I like to print my stories out so I have a hard copy, just in case technology lets me down.) The pockets will hold photos, articles, memorabilia, flash drive, CDs, and any treasures you gather during the course of your writing.
2. Time Line. Draw a horizontal line on paper to represent your life. Mark off the years beginning with 0, 7, 14, 21, 28, and so forth. Above the line write all the good things that happened to you in these segments e.g. between 14 and 21 driver’s license, engaged to be married. Below the line write the bad things that happened e.g. between 21-28 a car accident, loss of a loved one. One memory will lead to another. Add to this time line during your writing.
3. Life Stages.. Some are more comfortable dividing their lives into different stages of life such as childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood. Note your outstanding memories during these stages.
4. Photos. Looking through photos really brings the past into the present. Seeing the faces of friends and family and the background locations truly spark memories.
5. Writing Prompts. Google “memoir writing prompts” and you will find many sites dedicated to writing memoirs with helpful prompts to trigger your memories.
Writing prompts from Memoirs by Me
Begin with an often told story.
Don’t get overwhelmed with the vast amount of time you have to cover when you see that l-o-n-g time line drawn across the page.
Remember this part began with eating the elephant one bite at a time? Memoirs don’t have to be done in chronological order. In fact they can be a string of vignettes. Write what comes easily at first. We all have those stories we tell every time the family gets together. The kids always want to hear them and stay at the table for stories. Begin by writing that story down. You have told it or heard it many times, so it should be easy. Have fun with it.
I began memoir writing by telling our daughters’ birthday stories. When they were kids they loved hearing about the day they were born so I set it down on paper. They were adults when on their respective birthdays, I slipped the story in their birthday card. They were delighted. As each grandson arrived, finally a granddaughter, I recorded the story of their birthday too.
Share a paragraph with us from your story or writing prompt in the comments section.
J Q Rose is the author of the mystery-light horror novella, Sunshine Boulevard, published by Muse It Up Publishing.