Writing Your Life Story Part 10: Harmony – A Memoir Writing Prompt

Hens and Chicks

Zen Garden © 2012 Bo Mackison

There are times when writing is like singing a favorite song — the pen can barely keep up with the hand as words fly onto the paper.

But at other times, writing is more akin to singing a dirge — thoughts come slowly, none of the words make sense, and the writing rhythm gets lost before the first sentences are recorded. When writing becomes work instead of fun, I often search for a word in the dictionary to get me started – a habit I learned from a high school English teacher.

As I was considering a list of ideas for the Memoir Project, each idea took off but then sputtered to the ground. I decided I needed a prompt to get me started. I looked in the dictionary and chose the word harmony.

Here are a several prompts to prime your writing pump, and start your memories flowing.

  • Albert Einstein is famous for many things, including being the author of many wise words. One of his more famous quotes is:

“There are three rules of work. Out of clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” ~Einstein

Can you recall a time in your life when you were able to find harmony in discord?

  • One often associates the word harmony with music. Music is a wonderful prompter of memories. Think of a popular song from your youth or from the present times. Can you associate any memories with that song?
  • Have you ever sung in a choir? There’s a lot of harmony going on in a choir — and in more ways than just the melody. Experiences where people join together to do what they love often bring about close, lasting relationships. And shared moments, some happy, some poignant, some nerve-wracking, but usually group experiences are filled with life lessons. Do you have a choir story — and a life lesson — worth sharing?
  • When people gather together, even in informal groups, there is often a lot of singing going on. It might not be quite the harmonious singing from an organized musical group, but the lessons learned and the stories shared are no less important. Traditional songs and family favorites are passed on to young children. Older kids and families sing together spontaneously. Teenagers form bands in order to express themselves. On and on through life, we share experiences with other people with song.

Set your timer for ten minutes and compile a list — don’t give it much thought, use a speedy pen.

Keep writing — of times when music played a role in your life, any kind of role. I’ll share the beginnings of my list as an example:

  • Singing in the backyard while I was swinging. I was maybe 8 or 10. Tried to keep the rhythm of my singing even with my swinging. Went to a Catholic grade school – we were practicing hymns for a special concert and for weeks I sang the hymn Ave Maria while swinging. Until I saw the neighbor lady watching me through her curtained window, shaking her head in disbelief at my irreverence. I felt guilty for weeks — until I went to confession and the priest told me “God loves all kinds of singing.”
  • My sister, born when I was nine years old. My grandmother sang lovely German lullabies to her, ones I also wanted to sing, but I couldn’t manage the German words. I pretended instead… and insisted to my friends that I could sing in German. Then the mother of one of my friends spoke to me in fluent German. Oops!
  • Vacation trips with my three kids in the car for weeks at a time. As preteens and young teens, they would get out of sorts when we were heading to a far destination. We made up a game involving singing musicals — any musical counted, from Broadway to Disney. We all took turns, parents played too, or it wasn’t as much fun. Almost any singing counted. A few words and some humming. La la la’a. As long as it was recognizable. We would go ’round and ’round for hours — yes, hours — each taking a turn singing. Lots of laughing, too. Played this game for years. Still play it once in a great while. One of kids’ favorite vacation memories.

Go ahead. Set your timer and give it a try.

If the word harmony doesn’t provide you with the proper inspiration, then do as Sister Mary Gabriel did when I was in high school English class. Pull out a dictionary or other handy book. Open a page. Point to a word. Then start to write, using your dictionary word as a prompt. Ten minutes. No stopping.

You never know when mining for words will provide that perfect start-up for an addition to your Memoir Project.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Word mining….who knew? Oh, you did! This is great, Bo! Many times I feel the need to write – that gentle tugging niggling at the back of your brain with itchy fingers twirling a favorite pen…but the words are bashful. Thanks for giving me a nudge!

  2. Word mining…who knew? Oh! YOU did! There are days I crave to write – all antsy with feelings or thoughts jangling around my head, fingers stroking a favorite pen – but the words are bashful. This post offers some great ideas to help get the creative flowing. Thanks.

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