Reasons to Write About Your Life or Your Family

That’s me, Lynette Benton

Can’t think of reasons why you should you invest the time or effort to write about your life or your family?

Here are just a few reasons to write down stories about your life or your family.

  • To create a record
  • To preserve memories
  • To protect personal and family history from being lost
  • To celebrate accomplishments
  • To educate others (Show others, including future generations, how you or your family overcame obstacles.)
  • To share your take on public events (Show the ways in which the stories behind the headlines affected you or your family.)
  • To share your perspective on family mores and myths. (All families have mores and myths.)
  • To show “how things were” in the past
  • To discover a new take on occurrences in your life. (You’ll be surprised how writing about your life or your family reveals new views of things you’ve taken for granted.)

Don’t know what to write about? These can help.

Supercharge Your Writing With These Ideas

Need resources? Check out the information at these links.

How to Write What Matters

Women Writing on Family

Must-Have Memoir Writing Aids

Another Must-Have Memoir Writing Aid

If I’ve convinced you that writing about your life or your family is worthwhile, but you don’t know how to get started, or continue, get in touch with me. If you’re not sure I can help you, take a look at my Testimonials, then use the Contact tab to tell me about your project.

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Memoirist Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. Wears Many Hats: Part 1

For years, I have admired the work of Linda Joy Myers, prominent author, memoir writing instructor, and founder and president of the National Association of Memoir Writers. She now appears here to share her wisdom and experience with all of you who write and read memoir and family history.

– Lynette

Linda Joy Myers

 All my life, I’ve been a passionate reader of stories—they helped save me. When I write, I enter a creative space to discover and share stories I hope will offer a relatable experience for the reader. As a teacher, I look for the gold in the writers’ stories, and help them dig deep into their creativity, their memories, and their courage. It’s satisfying to help them rise from the archeological dig of memories with meaningful moments that offer wisdom to others.

Based on my passion for stories, I founded the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) to be a place where memoir writers could gather and learn. I wanted them to get the support that I’d needed early in my writing career when there were relatively few memoir writers.

Writing My Memoirs

I learned how writing and creativity help to heal wounds of the heart through journaling, writing poetry, and doing art. The research done by Dr. James Pennebaker, a clinical psychologist, proved that writing the truth about our lives helps us heal physically and emotionally.

Click the cover image to learn more about this book.

I found intense relief in writing Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, a memoir about three generations of mothers who abandoned their daughters. I ended the silence that often accompanies abuse, and my words offered testimony about the tragedy of loss and fragmentation. I began to see myself and our family story through new eyes.

But the characters, especially my mother and grandmother, were not through with me, and another theme emerged. Through the years, I’d gathered stories about the Great Plains, the pioneers, and our family history; in this new memoir, I wanted to capture the essence and power of the plains. Digging deep to find the hidden truths in my family story had a parallel in understanding the history of America, and how our stories can embrace larger universal truths.

In my new memoir, Song of the PlainsA Memoir of Family, Secrets, and SilenceI unearth the story of my mother that she could never tell, and I travel with my grandmother on ships in the 1930s to her beloved England, walking in their shoes and seeing the world through their eyes. I learned that the antidote to the pain of the past is to find our authentic voice, and reveal the truths we discover. We shape that raw material into a story. It’s transformative, and I find a great sense of peace from having written both books.

Don’t miss Part 2 of Linda Joy’s discussion of her extensive work in the memoir field.

Linda Joy Myers is president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and author of the award winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, and two books on craft: The Power of Memoir, and Journey of Memoir.

Her new memoir, Song of the Plains, A Memoir of Family Secrets, and Silence, is about breaking generational patterns through art and self-expression, and how history holds the clue for compassion and forgiveness.

She’s a co-author with Brooke Warner of two books: Breaking Ground on Your Memoir and Magic of Memoir. Myers writes for the Huffington Post, and co-teaches the program Write Your Memoir in Six Months. She has been a therapist for nearly 40 years, where the power of story is part of the healing process. She has been a memoir coach for the last 20 years.

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Memoirist Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. Wears Many Hats: Part 2

In Part 2 of this post by Linda Joy Myers, prominent author, memoir writing instructor, and founder and president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, she continues to describe her wide ranging work in the field of memoir, both for herself and other memoir writers.

– Lynette

 The National Association of Memoir Writers

Every month we offer a free event, the Roundtable Book Discussion, and two member events that provide craft, inspiration, and memoir writing skills. The presenters on our teleseminars are engaged in their own creative processes, and wrestle with the same questions and trials. No matter how experienced we are, each work we undertake asks something new of us, and we’re pressed to solve that problem. On these calls, writers talk with each other about their challenges, comforted by knowing they aren’t alone as they work on their book. We offer free eBooks, discounted courses, and 100 audios of past teleseminars, resources that help memoir writers succeed.

Brooke Warner and I created the Write Your Memoir in Six Months course because we saw how profoundly memoir writers needed support, accountability, and craft. We developed a time frame and a word count goal to help with motivation and deadlines, and a curriculum that covers all aspects of craft in memoir, from beginning idea to structure, scenes, the narrative arc, revision, and publishing. We include the psychology of memoir writing: family, truth, shame, silence, and the inner critic. We’ve had a great response, which tells us that we’re doing something right for memoir writers! It’s inspiring for me as a teacher to be brought into the lives of the writers and help them find their story and guide them toward making their dream of publication come true.

Memoir and Family History Writing Thrives

As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, the interest in memoir and family history grows stronger. Perhaps it’s because our generation began to question the world forty or fifty years ago, and we’re still trying to understand and make meaning from our experiences. Many of this generation of writers want their books to be a legacy of love to their family.

Click the cover image to learn more about this book.

Advice for Writing Your Story to Heal Past Injuries

Make a list of 10-15 significant moments, both the dark and light memories. Choose one of those moments, and start writing. Draw upon photos and other memorabilia to help you remember details. Re-read your journals for clues. If you’re writing about pain, write for no more than 20 minutes to protect yourself from sinking too deeply into the darkness. Remember that you are both a character in the story, and the narrator who understands everything from a later vantage point. These two “I” voices weave together to create a new perspective and layers of insight that were missing when you were younger. Each scene has the potential to shift your point of view and move you forward to a new understanding about your life.

Check out Part 1 of Linda Joy’s discussion of her extensive work in the memoir field.

Linda Joy Myers is president of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and author of the award winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, and two books on craft: The Power of Memoir, and Journey of Memoir.

Her new memoir, Song of the Plains, A Memoir of Family Secrets, and Silence, is about breaking generational patterns through art and self-expression, and how history holds the clue for compassion and forgiveness.

She’s a co-author with Brooke Warner of two books: Breaking Ground on Your Memoir and Magic of Memoir. Myers writes for the Huffington Post, and co-teaches the program Write Your Memoir in Six Months. She has been a therapist for nearly 40 years, where the power of story is part of the healing process. She has been a memoir coach for the last 20 years.

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!

Hello Again, Memoir and Family History Writers

New posts have been few and far between around here lately, but there are some good reasons for that.

First, I’ve been working with a talented copywriter to expand this website to function as more than a blog. With my webmaster, we’re revamping the entire site and making changes based on what memoir and family history writers (as well as sincere wannabes) have told us they want and need.

Second, I’ve been focusing on writing personal essays. As a memoir and family history writer, I’ve learned it can be useful to start small. As in, with an essay.

That means you don’t have to think in terms of writing an entire memoir or history of your family. You can break your project into small parts by writing individual essays. For example, you can write a short piece about:

• The jobs you’ve held,
• The houses you’ve lived in, or even
• The pets you’ve loved.

Of course you can write short but challenging essays, such as:

• What you wish you’d told your parents when you were a kid,
• Why you chose the wrong career, or
• The reasons an important relationship failed.

For more prompts to get you writing short pieces—personal essays—take a look at: Supercharge Your Life Writing With These Ideas.

For a sample essay about family see, On Family, Chosen Family, and Sisterhood.

If you need help getting started on your memoir, essays, or family history, check out what others say about working with me, and get in touch.

And subscribe to this website to be notified of new posts to help you in your memoir, essay, or family history writing. They’re on their way.

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!

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.

Having trouble getting your writing off the ground? Check out my Testimonials, and get in touch with me. I can help you out.

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

Click the cover image to learn more about the book.

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 Writing 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.

 

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!