Memoir, Life Story Writing, Family History Survey Results

Willows at Mt. Auburn Cemetery

I hope you all received your free Tip Sheet—the gift for filling out my survey of those who write memoir, stories from their lives, or family history. And I hope you found the advice contained in the tips useful enough to put into practice.

Here’s Who Took The Survey

The overwhelming number of respondents were women. The age of ninety-five percent of all those who responded was 50 or over.

 

Most are currently writing:

  • Short sketches: 70%
  • Book-length memoir: 30%
  • Family history: only 10%

Key Survey Results

Here, without further ado, are the results of the survey—and my interpretation of those results.

Resources

More than 60% of you look to online and paper resources to aid your writing. Most of you use as writing resources this site (Tools and Tactics for Writers—thank you!); books and journals; explanations (when available) from publishers on why a particular work was published or won a contest.

The Biggest Writing Problems

  • Making writing a priority (and finding time to write).
  • Making the writing artistic, rather than just factual and straightforward (like a report).
  • Suppressing the inner critical voice.

Other problems cited were trouble developing writing snippets into publishable work. Getting started on a project, outlining, and choosing an appropriate structure if you are writing a book.

Sources of Feedback on Your Writing

You get feedback from instructors and classmates in your courses; from friends, relatives, writing group members, and experts at conferences.

 One Finding Stood Out

Probably the most important (and among the most surprising) finding: The majority of respondents prefer to get writing guidance through classes (nearly 75%), individual coaching (48%), and paid professionals (probably editors). In other words, not through online info contained in a blog, but through interactions with a person, whether classmates, instructors, or those who coach and edit writers’ work one-on-one. (That’s what I do. Some of you have already worked individually with me. The rest of you should try it!) Don’t be alarmed: Yes, I know who took the survey, but I don’t know what your individual answers were.

Conclusion

I’ll need to digest these findings to determine what they mean for this website as well as for the services I offer. I’ll keep you posted.

And thanks again for participating in the survey!

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Charles Schwab, Poet, Publishes Second Chapbook

Charles Schwab Poet

Charles Schwab, Poet

Charles Schwab has taken creative writing classes with me for about five years, during which I’ve marveled at his incredible ability with words and ideas, as well as his prolific production of work.

I wrote about Charlie here when he published his first collection of poems, Keeping Account. Now, he has self-published a second book, The Act of Free Falling.

His work has been published in the Arlington Advocate; the PKA Advocate; WestWard Quarterly Magazine; and Connotation Press online. His poem, Albinos Need an Azure Sky (And a Touch of Red), which appears in this new volume, took first prize in a local poetry contest.

It’s my pleasure to interview Charlie about this latest collection of poetry and introduce you to more of his work.
Lynette

How did you choose the poems for this volume of poetry?
Of the 150-some poems I had written by end of 2012, I noticed they fell naturally into four groups: animals, seasons, nonsense, and personal life. I arbitrarily picked about 60 that seemed to have been best received by instructors, my classmates, publications, and others.

act of free falling coverThe Act of Free Falling

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

 

What are 3 of your favorite poems in the book?
The Act of Free Falling (picked for book title); Wolfgang; and Tea and Sunbeams.

How did you come to take the photo that appears on the cover of the book? Where is that waterfall located?
I used some of my photos for the interior illustrations, and I found one that seemed to illustrate perfectly the book’s title. I took the photo at Akaka Falls, on the island of Hawaii.

What advice would you have for anyone wanting to publish with CreateSpace?
Prepare your material completely in advance, and do thorough editing and proofing. Select from Createspace’s various options or packages, based on what you need and can afford.

What are you working on now?
I am writing more poems in the hopes of collecting enough for another book.

Is there anything you’d like to tell aspiring writers?
Yes. Get help from writing instructors and their classes. It’s invaluable.

Here are some of my favorites of Charlie’s poems. (I chose short ones so this post wouldn’t get too long.) – Lynette

Fly By Night
Said I to the fly buzzing by, “Why
Do you annoy me so (though I try
To refrain from bothering you, too,
Not even shouting that word, “shoo!”) ?”
Your persistence is such that I really ought
To give you a swat, but then I thought
If I could talk your tongue right now
I’d be able to reason with you somehow.
Well, I tried all the lingoes you might speak—
Mandarin, Arabic, Amharic, and Greek—
To no avail, even tongues which are dead,
‘Til you found me sitting in bed where I’d fled.
I had a date with the sandman to keep,
So I turned off the lamp and fell asleep.
The insight: not me but my reading light
Drew you to my room that night.

Graying
Sadly the years have gone away;
I’ve lived to see my heirs grow gray.
The girls not using any tint,
Now my son with just a hint.
My grandson I’ve seen from when he began,
Slowly, now quickly, becoming a man;
And nearly all from my generation—
A spouse of fifty years or more,
A brother who slipped away before—
Have passed on to that unknown station.
I’d hoped they’d all stay young, but, hey,
I’m alive to see my heirs grow gray.

You can find out more about The Act of Free Falling by clicking on the cover image, above.

See Charlie at Ninety, a beautiful video by Charlie’s filmmaker grandson, Matt Ober.

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Top 3 Reasons Baby Boomers and Seniors Put Off Writing About Their Lives

Are you among those who chide themselves for not doing anything about those anecdotes your friends keep telling you that you should write down? Or maybe it’s those personal memories you feel you ought to share with the world? Or, you might feel weighed down by a nagging desire to preserve the history of your family for future generations?

Well, if you keep procrastinating about writing your stories, you’re not alone. When I give talks about life story writing, I usually face a roomful of folks wearing guilty expressions.

I open with a question for those in attendance.

“What are the differences among biography, autobiography, memoir, genealogy, and life stories?” I ask.

Reason #1
The audience looks perplexed; some individuals shift uncomfortably in their chairs. Someone might murmur a tentative response, but actually, no one’s quite sure what the different terms mean.

“It’s easier to write about your life if you know your options,” I tell them.

(Here are some of the different types of life story writing.)

Reason #2
After I explain the differences, the most frequent remark I hear from the audience is: “How can I start getting my story down on paper? I’m not sure I even remember a lot of what I want to write about.”

Reason #3
And invariably, the next remark is a perfectly valid one: “I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of writing all this stuff down.”

Well, in upcoming posts, I’m going to give you some tricks to get you started on that biography, autobiography, memoir, family history, genealogy, short personal tribute, or story from your life. I’ll also tell you about fabulously helpful resources.

I hope you’ll check back so you can get the “I-should-be-writing-this-down” monkey off your back. If any questions have you stumped, just put them in comment below and I’ll be sure to address them. And you might want to subscribe to future posts so you’ll be notified by email when they are published.

In the meantime, take a look at some of my Family History posts.

I'd love to know the personal histories associated with this building on a Washington, DC corner

I’d love to know the personal histories associated with this building on a Washington, DC corner

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Seniors Write Stories from Their Lives

As I’ve written in other posts here, I teach boomers and seniors to write stories from their lives. Our classes are moving, exciting, suspenseful, and a whole lot of fun—because that’s what the stories the students write are.

My Legacy is Simply This

When new students tell me they have this inexplicable urge to write about their lives, but don’t know what to write about, I suggest they take a look at My Legacy is Simply This, a book of short essays by seniors living in various neighborhoods in Boston.

No matter what age you are, these are stories you’ll enjoy. Among my favorites is the story of his dangerous career, recounted by  William Boyle, a former fire fighter. As a young man, he helped quench the big Hotel Vendome fire, which killed nine Boston fire fighters, in 1972. Even after pulling dead coworkers out from the rubble, he still loved his work, especially because that day, he found his boyhood friend, alive in the debris.

Boyle also describes being overcome by smoke inhalation in one fire, and being asked by his wife, as he lay in the hospital, if he would consider giving up the job. But, as his work was one of the loves of his life (his wife being the other), he told her “No,” and returned to work as soon as he was able. His essay ends with the successful CPR performed on a baby.

Dorothy Parks is a woman who lives each day as if it were her last, as a result of the perils she faced in her travels, whether by train, ship, or air. Her essay is the funniest in the collection, as she recounts an absurd brush with death on an airplane with a wing on fire.

Holiday Gift Recommendation

If you’re looking for an engaging gift this holiday season, consider My Legacy is Simply This. Your gift recipient won’t be disappointed. (Note: I have no affiliation with the publishers or writers of this book.)

And if you’ve been considering writing down the stories from your own life, I hope you’ll find the following posts helpful.

You don’t have to be a senior to join my Writing Stories from Your Life class at the Arlington Center for the Arts. Just browse the winter catalog and check page 6 for a description. You can register online.
For writing tips and resources, follow me on Twitter @lynettebenton.
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Supercharge Your Life Story with These Ideas

That's me, Lynette Benton

That’s me, Lynette Benton

The main branch of my town library invited three instructors to lead creativity workshops for folks 50+ years old. I had the pleasure of running the workshop on memoir and life story writing with three different groups of participants.

I’d worried beforehand that the evening was packing too many activities (drumming, collage making, and writing) into too short an amount of time, that people would be exhausted halfway through the activities, and saunter home to bed before it was over.

But the night crackled with excitement. One man even shouted, when I said we only had a minute to go, “But you promised us 4 more minutes!”

After writing the difference among autobiography, memoir, life stories, family history, and genealogy, on an easel, I handed out prompts to get people writing right there in our section of the children’s library.

Life Story Writing Prompts

Here are a few of the writing suggestions I provided participants. At the end of this list, you’ll see the ones most people chose.

  • the first house you lived in, as a child
  • something you’ve struggled with for years
  • myths prevalent in your family, for example, “She’s the pretty one, he’s the smart one, this other one is the athletic one.”
  • what your birth order meant in your family
  • your favorite jokes, and why you love them
  • a near miss in your life
  • a time when someone didn’t stand up for you
  • a secret you discovered
  • Complete the phrase: “I thought I would be more (or less) _____________by now.”

Of these, most people wrote about their first house, something they’ve struggled with, their favorite jokes, or “I thought I would be more (or less) __________ by now.” The birth order prompt generated intense, and even hilarious, discussion when those who wrote on that topic read their pieces to the group.

Participants also wrote about:

  • an accomplishment they were proud of
  • a trip they took that revealed something, and
  • why they love writing—or hate it

Subscribe to this blog to be notified when I discuss “a secret you discovered” in a post about writing family histories.

Get inspired by excerpts from life stories by Boston seniors.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Writing Stories from Your Life.

Maybe you’ve got the stories, but you’re not sure how to begin or continue. Get in touch with me. I’m experienced and easy to work with. If you’re not sure, take a look at the Testimonials tab on this website, then get in touch.

 

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Writing Stories from Your Life

I teach memoir and life story writing. Reading my students’ stories has given me a peek into the lives of those who’ve fought in wars or made ends meet on the home front; and of little girls who wandered along wooden floors in an old dime store, accompanied by the slightly sour aroma that emanated from the lunch counter on one side of the store.

My students have written of childhood dinners with the famous, or how they overcame a complex challenge. I learned about the life of a devastating, giant Boston fire through the life of a trolley driver, in a tribute written by his daughter.  In these classes, I get to experience the richness of life behind the headlines, and believe me, that’s the most riveting view.

Leaving a Legacy

Life stories are among the most significant legacies anyone can leave to their children and grandchildren. I wish my deceased relatives had written down the events and circumstances of their lives: what it was like when their home was moved from the quiet Florida neighborhood they’d lived in for half a century to make way for a broad, new highway. Or, how they treated certain illnesses. They certainly didn’t visit doctors as often as we do these days.

We’re Not Talking Autobiographies—Necessarily

Autobiographies begin the day you were born (or close to it) and continue up to the present. Memoirs cover a chronological period in your life, like your teen years, or a subject, like all the jobs you’ve held. Life stories are more like little true tales (although some can run for many pages).

You’ve Got Stories to Tell

Everyone’s got good stories. They’re the anecdotes you’ve told friends, who’ve said, “Wow. You should write that down.” They’re those jokes a relative told at Thanksgiving that made you laugh till you almost upset the green bean casserole.

They’re about the houses you’ve lived in or the pets you’ve loved.

Stories from your life can be about the spot-on advice you got when you desperately needed it. Or about the lousy advice you had the good sense to ignore. Your stories can be humorous. They can be prose or poetry—or even fictionalized. (One of my students is completing a mystery novel based on his work as a security guard.)

Your stories can retell incidents from your past that you’ll never forget, or slices of your family’s history.

My Legacy is Simply This is an engrossing collection of life stories written by Boston-area seniors. (Note: I have no connection with the book or any of its contributors. I have just found the book useful and inspiring in the memoir writing classes I teach.) See portraits of some of the writers.

Subscribe to this blog to be notified when I post provocative ideas you can explore in writing stories from your own life.

For more tips, follow me on Twitter @lynettebenton

Join one of my lively memoir and life story writing classes. I’m always posting additional classes, so check back soon. Or just email me at Relief11@verizon.net.

Here are a few testimonials.

 

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Think You’re Too Old—or Too Young—to Start Writing?

Winter sunset across from my house

No matter how old you are, you can become a writer, if that’s what you really want.

One of my students wrote his first poem at the age of 87 and has had his work published numerous times since. Two of my students, who are probably in their eighties, are completing gripping mystery novels. A third, also in her seventies, writes and publishes intriguing personal essays in her local newspaper on a regular basis. Another is a genealogy expert. In addition to the joy she gets from sharing her work with family members, she’s had her work published and won awards.

Some of my students have full-time jobs. Others have children and/or parents to care for. Yet they have always wanted to write, and that’s exactly what they’re doing now!

One of my newest students—a man in his seventies—read a life story he’s working on to our class. He’s never written before. The class was absolutely silent. His storytelling talent is phenomenal. And what drives that talent is his passion to tell his story.

I want others to tell theirs!

I teach creative writing to teens at my local library. The teens, too young to be timid about expressing themselves, blow me away with the range of their ideas, their ability to describe the world around them and the worlds that they create. At a memoir class I took a few years ago, two young women, still in their teens, were standout writers—among a class full of extremely good writers.

So, don’t let your age, whatever it is, get in the way of pursuing your writing dreams. If you’re longing to write and not sure how to begin or continue, get contact me. I’m experienced and easy to work with. If you’re not sure, take a look at the Testimonials tab on this website, then get in touch.

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!