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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Another Must-Have Memoir Writing Resource

It’s true that my own essay, “No More Secrets and Silence,” appears in the recently released The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey anthology, and that this essay won first prize in the Magic of Memoir contest. But if you write memoir or family history, I’d be urging you to get this book even if that weren’t so.

Why do I think you need this volume? Because it contains essays that shine a light on the processes, angsts, supports, and resources—both human and literary—that other memoirists and family history writers use.

Have you been shying away from writing your memoir?

Unable to do more than just write about the “nice little things” in your life as if your whole life consisted of just those “nice little things?” To write the truth, you’ve got to assemble your strongest inner resources. In her essay, Jill Kandel asserts, “Writing is not for the faint of heart.”

I couldn’t agree with her more.

This is a book for serious writers, who are ready to tackle memoirs or family histories they’ve been putting off or downright avoiding for years. This book will help you get serious if you aren’t already. Kelly Kittel quotes a refrigerator magnet in her essay in The Magic of Memoir. That magnet urges, “be brave and do hard things.”

You won’t find distracting, time-wasting tips in this book.

Or even useful lists of how-to’s. The memoirists whose essays appear in The Magic of Memoir describe how they managed to write about the tragedies in their lives, their relationships with their families (so much of memoir addresses family relationships), their efforts to create meaning out of the tumult of daily existence, and the success of their work, despite their many doubts. Reading about how others coaxed forth their memoirs can have an inspirational effect.

The writers look at whether or not creating memoir heals the memoirist. (In her essay in this volume, Jill Smolowe writes, “I do not find the writing of a memoir cathartic.” What’s your opinion?) And they describe the need to shout demons down in order to tell the truth. In short, they let us see how to kick butt to get our memories of ourselves and/or our families down on paper.

Interviews with Famous Contemporary Memoirists

In addition to the essays, The Magic of Memoir includes interviews with some of the most renowned memoirists of our time, including:

– Cheryl Strayed
– Mary Karr
– Elizabeth Gilbert, and
– Dani Shapiro, to name a few.

This book is so good that even the Introduction, written by the anthology’s editors, Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner, is eye opening and instructive.

Let this book be your companion on your memoir-writing journey. It will make a great holiday gift for a memoirist you know—even if that memoirist is yourself.

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Write That Memoir, Life Story, or Family History. Now.

That's me, Lynette Benton

That’s me, Lynette Benton

Know you should start or finish your memoir, stories from your life, or family history, but can’t seem to get up enough steam for the task?

Ease over to Bookcoaching.com to see the tips I offer in my guest post. They can get you going.

– Lynette

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Talking Memoir with Writing Instructor, Coach, and Publisher Brooke Warner, Part 1

As a memoir writer, as well as a memoir coach myself, I’ve followed Brooke Warner’s work on behalf of memoir and memoir writers for years. It’s a pleasure to welcome her here so you can learn more about her varied work, including publishing.
– Lynette

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

You’re a writing instructor, coach, and publisher. Can you distinguish among those roles?
BW: I teach memoir classes mostly, and sometimes classes on publishing, either online or in-person. As a coach I work with authors one-on-one, both on their writing and the emotional challenges that go along with writing. I’m a teacher, editor, champion, and midwife.

As publisher of She Writes Press, I’m more of a book shepherd than a coach. I still champion our authors, but my role is more directive, because I’m helping them with their books’ covers and positioning. I sometimes feel like more of a bossy older sister than a mother hen in this role.

You have experience in traditional publishing; you’ve been a speaker at writing and publishing conferences, and have expertise particularly in memoir, but also in other genres. What do you tell audiences about publishing?

I tell them that it’s really hard to get a traditional publishing deal these days. I hope I paint a mostly optimistic picture, however, because opportunities abound in the current publishing climate. But the book publishing world looks a lot different than it did even 15 years ago.

I educate aspiring authors about their options and what the different publishing paths might look like. I try to give them a dose of reality without squashing their dreams, because I’m strongly invested in the dream of authorship. I just believe that some authors need to reframe how that’s going to happen.

Please tell us about SheWrites.com and She Writes Press. What is the connection between them?

SheWrites.com is an online community for women writers worldwide. On the site, writers can connect with one another, post articles, and join groups. SheWrites.com was around for a few years before I contacted the cofounder, Kamy Wicoff, about starting She Writes Press. We built the press to complement the online platform. Authors don’t need to be a member of SheWrites.com to publish with us, but the two companies are inextricably linked in terms of their brand and their messaging—which is that they both exist as platforms for women’s voices.

This year’s theme for your collaboration with Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers, seems to be the Magic of Memoir. You’ve sponsored an essay contest, there’s the conference of the same name this month (October, 2016); and you’ve got the Magic of Memoir Anthology coming out in November. How do they fit together?

The contest was for The Magic of Memoir anthology, so those are one and the same. We did an open call for submissions for the anthology, for which you took home first place, Lynette. Congratulations!

Our second annual Magic of Memoir Conference, which took place October 15 – 16, in Oakland, California, makes Magic of Memoir more than a theme for this year. We’re making Magic of Memoir part of our brand.

We have a class called Write Your Memoir in Six Months, but we want to do a lot more around memoir than just our six-month course. The Magic of Memoir conference and website and book are allowing us to move into some more exciting content and ideas beyond our six-month course.

Please describe the Write Your Memoir in Six Months course.

This is our six-month online memoir intensive, which we run twice a year, with one class starting in January and one in June. (The next one begins in January 2017.) It’s blossomed into a lot more than just our six-month course.

Notably we also teach a Best-selling Memoir course each spring and summer. We’ve taught Wild, by Cheryl Strayed; Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert; Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt; The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr; and others. These short courses give writers an opportunity to learn what makes these memoirs work. They’re really fun.

Finally, we’ve been teaching a Mastering Memoir course once a year, which is a ten-week online course that’s faster-paced than Write Your Memoir in Six Months and exclusively focused on craft. The next one is starting in February 2017. So we feel that Write Your Memoir Six Months is the foundation for lots of other work we’re doing in memoir.

Note from Lynette:
Be sure you don’t miss Part 2 of this informative interview for all writers interested in starting, improving, or publishing their manuscripts.

See the list of authors who will be included in the Magic of Memoir anthology, which is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. The anthology will also feature interviews with best selling memoirists. Find out who they are here.
__________________

Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir, and co-editor of The Magic of Memoir Anthology. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com. Brooke lives and works in Berkeley, California.

Visit Brooke at www.brookewarner.com

Connect with Brooke on Social Media:
http://twitter.com/brooke_warner
http://facebook.com/warnercoaching
https://www.linkedin.com/in/warnercoaching
https://www.pinterest.com/warnercoaching
https://www.youtube.com/warnercoaching

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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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Free Memoir and Family History Writing Talk

Interested in writing memoir, stories from your life, or family history?

I’ll be presenting a free (and lively) talk on Tuesday 7/12 at Robbins Library, in Arlington, Mass. at 1:00. I hope you’ll join us. This talk could help you get started or work your way to the finish line!

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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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The Perceptive Poetry of Charles R. Schwab

Even though he’s a writing student of mine, I can’t take complete credit for Charlie Schwab’s success. When I met him, Charlie was 89 years old, the active and knowledgeable Business Manager of our local Senior Center. Having only recently started writing poetry, he had already given a couple of public readings of his work.

Keeping Account, by Charles R. Schwab

Keeping Account, by Charles R. Schwab

What I can (and do) take credit for is having successfully nagged him to submit his writing for publication and to make his poems available to the public. Now, his work has been published in the Arlington Advocate, the PKA Advocate of Prattsville, N. Y. (“Graying”); WestWard Quarterly Magazine of Hamilton, Ill.(“Tea and Sunbeams” and “Requiem”); and Connotation Press online (“Reflections of a Nonagenerian”).

J.P. Reese of Connotation Press wrote about Charlie’s work “..Insightful, fresh and humorous (in a slightly grim and pragmatic way).”

I wrote the introduction to Charlie’s first collection of poetry, Keeping Account. Now he’s about to publish his second book of poetry, The Act of Free Falling.

Below is what Charlie says about his work. The poem at the end is one of my very favorites.
– Lynette

I find poetry writing rewarding because it enables me to express my thoughts about and reaction to the human/natural world, from news reports to animal behavior and the changing seasons. Many of these ideas are not fully formed unless I write them down.

Secondly, I like working out the rhythm, rhyme, alliteration and word play involved. And, finally, I value the satisfaction I get from working intensely at a craft.

I suppose I’m trying to comment on my life and human life in general, especially daily happenings, from the vantage point of a long and varied life. I would hope that readers of my poems might grasp some of the humor and irony in them.

To others who want to try their hands at writing poetry I’d say, “Find your own interest and style, possibly through joining a poetry or creative writing class. At any rate, sit down and do it.”
– C. Schwab

Keeping Account
by Charles Schwab

In the work I did I kept account
Of balances that fall and mount,
But counting comes in many guises –
Each time I count the number rises.

In Concord they’re counting the butterflies;
How much does it count if a species dies?
We are apt to count sheep if unable to sleep;
The awake shepherd dog knows to count his keep.
Counting on fingers was how we were taught;
Computers are now counted on for the lot.
Astronomers strain to count the stars;
Four-star generals generally count in wars.
The Challenger was poised for a lift-off count down,
As the champion, down for the count, lost a crown.
A bard of love wished to count the ways,
While servicemen’s loved-ones count the days.
Every vote counts, the national pols claim,
But when the vote’s counted, they’re not all the same.

Count your calories and you might live longer;
Counting your blessings may make you stronger.
Long, long ago I stopped counting each year;
Not to have my life count is what I now fear.

See more of Charlie’s poems on his website.

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If the World Were About to End

Grounds of a Sculpture Park

If my husband learned the world was about to end, or that he only had a short time to live, he’d stuff some chocolate in his mouth. Then he’d assemble all the sweets we have in the house and go out and stock up on some more.

Under similar circumstances, though, I’d hasten to get my hot (and I do mean “hot”) hands on just one little item: a prescription. I’d march into my HMO and accost the first person I came across, and demand to to see my grim primary care doctor.

“I want a prescription.”
“For what?”
“Prempro.”
“Prempro? But . . .”
“Prempro. Now.”

For you fortunate ones who have no idea what Prempro is or does, and no need to know, it’s the drug that offers miracle relief to women like me. It makes us cool. And comfortable. It eliminates hot flashes and night sweats. It eliminates the need to adjust the thermostat in my husband’s car every few minutes, depending on whether or not the sun is shining through the windows on me, or don or remove a sweater each time I move from room to room in our 80-year-old, unevenly-heated house.

Prempro says to my faulty temperature-regulating hypothalamus, “Everything’s fine. There’s no need to flood her with perspiration to cool her, when she’s standing outside in 30 degree weather in a tank top. No need to soak her short, sleeveless cotton night gown when it’s 60 degrees inside. Turn off the body heat.”

So, if you hear the world’s about to end, run to the candy store with my husband, if you want. Just please don’t get in my way. I wouldn’t want to step on you on my way to get that big, fat dose of delicious Prempro.

If you have hot flashes, or know someone who does, you might enjoy “What Keeps Me From Writing? The Fire Within.” Part 1 and Part 2.

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