Writing Your Life Story Part 7: Jump Start Your Memoir

Benches in a Formal Garden © 2010 Bo Mackison

Action does not always require a large commitment.

It doesn’t need a complicated plan or a large chunk of your time. Many things, including adding daily writing to your day, can be done in small steps. Carve fifteen minutes out of your morning to write a hundred words and in a month you will have accumulated 3,000 words.

A few minutes of daily writing turns a few dozen sentences into a wealth of memories and information.

Here are three writing actions that can be done in 15 minutes segments of time. If the prompts lead you on a path you decide not to follow, then you have only invested a few minutes. Stop. Try a different prompt or technique. Not every prompt works for every writer. But if you strike a rich writing vein, you can always write longer than planned.

The words will add up quickly, and you will have stories, free-flowing thoughts, ideas, glimpses of the past, snippets of descriptions — all inspiration to add to your life story project.

Pick an action and start writing today.

Action #1. Write for 15 minutes describing what you and your immediate family were doing when you heard about or experienced a newsworthy event. Pick one that affected a large number of people in the world. Perhaps you watched a global event on television, like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall or when man first walked on the moon.

Action #2. Write about an event that affected only a few people on a personal level. Perhaps it was the birth of a long-awaited baby, a move to a new home, or the loss of a job. Or write about an event that happened in your hometown or the death of a person in your community that affected you deeply.

Action #3. Another technique for zeroing in on a specific event, and then expanding on its effect, is to do short interviews – only one to three questions in length – with several people who experienced the same event. Asking people of different ages and stages in life can highlight the similarities and differences that an event had not only you, but on other people in your life. This exercise adds meaning and depth when viewed from several perspectives.

An example: putting Action #3 into action.

I choose a difficult topic for Action # 3. I asked family members questions about 9/11, the World Trade Center tragedy in New York City that occurred over a decade ago. I asked them to recall their memories of that day. I purposely chose family members from three generations.

When the event happened in 2001, the family members I interviewed were: a 76-year-old woman living in a small town in the Midwest; a 46-year-old businessman who was working in a downtown Chicago skyscraper when the event happened; a 20-year-old college junior studying at the University of Michigan; and a 13-year-old living at home and in middle school.

I asked two questions.

First, a personal question: “What were you doing when you first heard about the 9/11 tragedy?”

Second, a perspective question: “How did you think this event would affect you, your family, and/or your country?”

Here are a few excerpts from the interviews:

“…didn’t even know about it til the evening news. I’d been in the garden…never in my life we ever have such an enemy on American soil…I thought maybe soldiers would be coming, maybe we’d have a war…”

“…was working on the 45th floor of the Sears Tower, one of Chicago’s skyscrapers…we had to evacuate. Walk down the stairs, take nothing with us except our briefcases. Stopped traffic jammed the streets and people crowded the sidewalks. When I reached the train station, the trains weren’t running…I was in a park-and-drive 40 miles from the station…I was 150 miles away from my home and family…desperate to get home. I figured it would be better once we were all together.”

“I was getting ready to go to class and I saw a bunch of kids crowded around the TV in our lounge. I stopped to see what they were looking at. While I watched the TV, I saw the second plane…I didn’t understand. Then I was in shock. We all were. None of us went to class after that…we watched the TV all day and all night.”

“I remember I was in eighth grade. My teachers kept whispering in the hallways all day and kept saying “don’t worry.” Except we didn’t know what we weren’t supposed to worry about, so we worried a lot…parents started coming and taking  kids out of school… during my last class of the day, my history teacher brought a TV into class and finally told us. We talked about what happened… I didn’t get it. I didn’t have a clue until I went home and talked to my Mom. But I still didn’t really understand.”

With the experiences of others added to my interpretation of the day’s events, it presents a vivid picture of that time in history from different perspectives. It adds depth to the story and helps ground the events in real time.

Try one or more of the above prompts. Set your timer and start writing. Or  do an impromptu interview.

Next: Part 8, Memoir and Photography

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.

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