Examples of Boomers and Seniors Writing About Their Lives

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

When people tell me they have a pressing 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. The short essays were made possible by Grub Street, a prominent Boston writing institution, and the City of Boston. (Note: I have no affiliation with the publishers or writers of this book.)

No matter what age you are, these are stories you’ll enjoy, and what’s more, they can serve as examples for your own writing.

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.

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.

But most of those whose essays appear in the book write about ordinary aspects of their lives: their homes and hometowns, their children, their families, their careers.

If you’re looking for an engaging model for your own writing, consider reading this book. By the way, it’s one of five volumes sponsored by Grub Street and the City of Boston.

If you want to get the stories from your own life down on paper, I hope you’ll find the following posts helpful.

Writing Stories from Your Life
Supercharge Your Life Story with These Ideas
Teaching Creative Writing to Boomers and Seniors, Part 2

You don’t have to be a boomer or senior to join my Memoir Writing or my Writing Stories from Your Life classes. Just keep your eye on the Upcoming Teaching Events tab at the top of this page to see where and when I’ll be holding classes next.

Or, you can work with me privately, as many others have and do. Your choice. Just use the Contact tab at the top of this page to get in touch.

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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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5 Ways Libraries Can Support Local Writers

Adams Free Library

Adams Free Library

Last month I had the honor of participating on a panel at the New England Library Association conference in Portland, Maine. In response to the numerous requests libraries receive from boomers and seniors for memoir writing classes, I’d been invited to talk about my experiences teaching memoir to those populations in libraries and elsewhere.

For that I was happily prepared. But a question posed by the coordinator of my session (Self-Publishing) surprised and stimulated me. She asked:

What can libraries do for writers?

We typically think of libraries as institutions that feed our passions for reading, researching, and learning. The flip side of reading, researching, and learning, however, is writing. Someone writes the books we love. Someone writes the research findings and textbooks we need.

When it comes to creating memoirs and family histories, most individuals have to figure out—without professional guidance—how to tell their stories in writing. Their solitary struggles can delay completion of their work for years; all too often the effort is abandoned altogether.

Some libraries offer free literacy classes. Several in my area, offer journaling, memoir writing, and even writing classes for youngsters.

But could more local libraries become the places where those in our communities go for free writing instruction? In addition to teaching memoir and family history writing classes at the occasional library, I teach talented writers through community education programs, senior centers, and in retirement communities. But I know equally talented writers who cannot afford even the modest cost of those classes.

What Libraries Can Do for Writers
1) Perhaps libraries could avail themselves of grants earmarked for memoir writing classes. It would make sense for libraries, those repositories and consumers of writers’ work, to underwrite writing instruction a couple of times a year.

2) Many libraries host public readings of local writers’ published work. They could also sponsor writing contests and readings of excerpts from works in progress.

3) Libraries could stock the best-written and historically significant memoirs written by residents of the area. My students have written about life in a small Italian village in World War II officially hearing that the war was over when it wasn’t; a dramatic liberation from a German POW camp; life in a 20th century New England orphanage; even a mystery novel loosely based on the author’s experiences.

4) Hosting a series of seminars on self-publishing would be helpful to librarians and writers alike. Some libraries are partnering with Smashwords as a publishing platform. Other companies, such as FastPencil, evidently are getting into the act, as well.

5) Writers who want to self-publish their memoirs and family histories often need computer classes that cover effectively using Google for research; scanning and inserting photos into documents; downloading and saving documents; and formatting their manuscripts for publication.

Writers: Does your library offer memoir or other creative writing classes? Would you take advantage such free classes if your library made them available?

Librarians: I’d be happy to talk with you about short courses for your writer patrons. Please use the Contact tab at the top of this page to get in touch. Thank you.

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What Keeps Me From Writing? The Fire Within, Part 1

That's me—on a cool day

Sitting across from each other in her large, disordered office and wearing almost matching sleeveless dresses, the library director and I ignore the fact that my dress is clinging to my chest and my skin is glazed with perspiration. It’s a breezeless August day, and the air conditioning is on the fritz.

Moisture emerges from my hairline and meanders across my upper lip. The skin on my face is prickly, as if covered by a strange damp stubble. But I continue asking questions and the director answers them, for an article I’m writing for the local newspaper. We both act as if nothing untoward is happening. Actually, for me, this is not remarkable. By my calculations, I’m experiencing my fifteen thousandth hot flash.

Years earlier, when I first reported these steamy soakings to my doctor, she had peered over her glasses at me, then squinted at her computer.

“I promise they won’t remain beyond a few months,” she said in her slightly Slavic accent.

But my almost hourly drenchings persisted for four years, as I became increasingly frustrated by my body’s refusal to conform to the medical timetable.

Should I Take Drugs?
I held off requesting the medication that had freed so many women from this awful upper body heat because it seemed absurd to need drugs to regulate something as ordinary as body temperature.

But, my hot flashes had no intention of leaving without a fight. Eventually, sick of removing and donning my clothes a dozen times a day to cool off, I began hormone replacement therapy—“HRT” to those in the know.

Then medical researchers with nothing better to do than dash the hopes of middle-aged women discovered that the miracle drug could have dangerous effects. So, I stopped taking the meds two and a half years ago. My hot flashes returned, as frequent and intense as they were before I went on HRT.

“Dress in layers,” my husband said.

The difference between the perceived ambient temperature when I’m having a hot flash can feel like 40 or 50 degrees. I have stood hatless in blizzards, snow stinging my face, my down coat wide open, reveling in relief. I have lingered on my back porch in a thin tank top, when the thermostat beside me read 26 degrees. I’d probably be famous by now had I not had to interrupt my writing to strip off my clothes a dozen times a day.

If you’re a hot flash sufferer (or the husband of one), see What Keeps Me From Writing? The Fire Within, Part 2. Feel free to complain about your hot flashes.

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