Mental Yoga

Starting to write can feel like this. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Totally unfamiliar. And like everyone else is better at this than you.

Just close your eyes and dive in. Remember any words you write can be fixed up, corrected, and changed later. But a blank page can’t be edited.

So pull out a pen. Top off your coffee. Take a deep breath. And begin.

Maybe you already know where you want to start. Maybe you have no idea — you just know you want to write. Start somewhere. Write about how not-knowing feels, if that’s where you are.

Think of facing that blank page as a form of mental yoga. It’s a discipline. It’s a spiritual practice.

And you get better at it as you go along.

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Valentine’s Day Memories

Everyone loves a good love story. And love stories make an especially wonderful addition to a life story or memoir!

  • Maybe it’s that magic moment you first saw your future wife or husband;
  • Or the accidental meeting that brought your parents together.
  • Maybe it’s the high school sweetheart  you loved and lost – but never quite forgot;
  • Or the first time you heard someone breathe: “I love you.”

Everyone has a great love story to tell  – what’s yours?

This Valentine’s Day, add that special love tale to your memoir!

Like more tips, prompts, suggestions and encouragement to fuel your memoir writing? We send out free tips once or twice a month. Just tell us where to send ’em!  here

Memoir Tip – A Funny Thing Happened

Life isn’t humor-free. Don’t forget to capture those silly, awkward, and downright hilarious times in your memoir, too!

  • What pranks did you play on friends and family — or got played on you?
  • What stunts did you pull as a kid? (And did you get away with it, or did you get caught?)

Tales of our days as little angels aren’t nearly as much fun to read as those about the times we were little devils.

Drop a line on Facebook and let me know what funny stories you remember!

 

 

Memoir Tip – Small stuff IS the big stuff

For us memoir writers, the small stuff really is the big stuff. Great stories often spring from really humble things.

  • Mom’s pin-cushion, always at the ready to mend a tear, re-attach a button, or stitch up a hem.
  • The smell of baking bread from the kitchen.
  • The flat stones by the ocean that you learned to skip on the waves.
  • The hayloft where Grandpa caught you reading instead of doing chores. 

What simple things were ever-present in your early life? What stories do they bring to mind?

Drop a line on Facebook and let me know what you remember!

 

 

 

Memoir Tip – Finding Time

How do I find time to write? It’s a dilemma for nearly every memoir writer.

Here’s a fresh thought: instead of fighting the calendar, treat it as your friend. Remember that every day brings you 24 fresh hours. Every week, that’s 168 precious chances to find an hour – just ONE hour! – to write.

Steal five minutes in the grocery line to jot notes. Borrow 15 minutes to scratch out a paragraph while you’re waiting for the rice to boil. Better yet, write your own name in on your calendar for a solid hour sometime in the coming week.

And treat it as precious “reserved” time. Because you deserve it. And your story is precious.

Drop a line and let me know how it goes!

Memoirs: Turning Fear Into Fire

Let’s face it: we memoir writers are a sensitive lot. After all, this is our life we’re writing about!

What if no one likes it? What if someone says my writing’s no good? What if I piss off Great-Aunt Martha or that grumpy uncle who shows up at our house at Christmas? Worse yet, what if I can’t think of anything to say after page one? And besides, no one’s going to want to read it when it’s done. Right??!

It’s so easy to let those fears bring us to a screeching halt, right in our memoir-writing tracks.     

So how do you turn fear into fire? They’re so close, after all! “Fear” and “fire” — just one letter different!

Here’s one simple trick:  Look for the story inside the fear. Worried about whether your writing’s any good? Tell the story of that English teacher who used to torment you. Afraid Great-Aunt Martha will hate your family stories? Write about her fabulous Thanksgiving apple pies. (Trust me, she’ll love it!)

And nervous you’ll run out of stories? Use “nervousness” as a prompt. When have you felt nervous or fearful? When did you manage to overcome those fears? What leaps of faith have you taken? Whether you soared to success or fell flat on your face, those are all great stories!  After all, some of the greatest stories of all are about picking ourselves up and finding the courage to continue our journey.

As for family critics? Remember you can’t please everyone. That grumpy uncle — he doesn’t need a copy.

Look for the story inside
 the fear.

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Here’s more help to take your Memoir from STUCK to FINISHED! Check it out at Amazon.com!

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7 Top Quotes from “Writing a Memoir: From Stuck to Finished!”

A memoir leaves a legacy like nothing else. We’ve helped produce dozens of oral histories. But we wanted a way to help people eager to write their own memoir — or perhaps finish one that’s been languishing in a box or a desk drawer!

And voila, our latest book was born.

Writing a Memoir: From Stuck to Finished!” by Karen Dustman is filled with practical tips, helpful exercises and suggestions, warm encouragement, and most of all, the voice of experience from someone who’s “been there and done that.” The goal is simple: to help you finish that oral history or memoir you’ve been dreaming of!

Here are 7 Top Quotes from the book:

  • “That time, that place, those people all were magical in some way. And sad but true: unless you take steps to preserve the story that’s tugging at your heartstrings, it will be lost. And that’s why recording it is so important.”
  • “Your magnum opus probably won’t come out sounding like Hemingway wrote it. And for some people, that’s a huge discouragement. They want whatever they produce to be “good,” to be “right,” to be “perfect” writing, in some abstract way. “I’m not a writer,” they tell themself. “I’m not a Hemingway.” Actually, I hope whatever you write doesn’t come out sounding like Hemingway! Because it wouldn’t be your voice if it did. And it’s your voice people want to hear.”
  • “Please ditch the notion that you can  ̶  or should   ̶  write an excellent, charming, and thoughtful memoir “quickly.” Thirty days? Nuh-uh. Won’t happen. Sixty? Ditto: please forget it. How about finishing a memoir in 365 days  ̶  a full year? Now we’re getting a little warmer. But why create an artificial deadline only to torture yourself?” 
  • “Stop waiting for perfect. See each of those hurdles (and pretty much any other ones) for just what they really are. Usually, it’s only fear talking.”
  • “Stuck in ‘I can’t think of a thing to say’ writer’s block? Try a work-around instead: find another spot in your story that sparks your excitement and jump in there, even if it isn’t chronological. Let the sticking point continue to percolate in the back of your head and come back to it later.”
  • “The most important ingredient in all of this? You! Only you have lived your special life. Only you can share tell your story the way you want it to be told.”
  • “If your head is filled with your dream – if your gut is aflame with desire – and if you’ve grabbed a healthy dose of patience in both fists, I’m confident you CAN reach the finish line and hold a memoir in your hands! (And oh, that fabulous end result!)”

Coming soon from Amazon.com!

Tips for Writing Your Memoir

Looking for some great tips to help you write your Life Story or Memoir?

Try these six tips from the summer issue of Calaveras County Genealogical Society’s newsletter!

LifeStory tips – Froghorn Summer 2018

Everyone has a great story (or three) to tell!

And for more in-depth help, check out our new ebook, “Writing a Memoir: From Stuck to Finished” on Kindle!

Memoir Writers: How to Create a Get-Organized Tool Kit

Writing a memoir or oral history? You’ll find it helpful to put together a Memoir Writer’s Tool Kit ahead of time! What to include??

Here is a list of tools in my own kit: things I’ve found especially helpful for memoirs/oral histories. And the good news: they’re all small enough to keep in a handy tote-along bag!

Camera – Today’s small-but-sophisticated cameras make it easy to capture not only your subject but also places and things that will illustrate their story. Perhaps it’s a shot of the house where they grew up. Or maybe they make beautiful quilts, baby clothes, or baskets. These all make great illustrations for a life story. And small cameras tend to be less-intrusive than giant ones, and are often more usable in any light!

Hand-scanner – One of the greatest innovations in recent years for genealogists and memoir writers is the introduction of small, portable scanners. With these you can easily copy old newspapers clippings, handwritten manuscripts, and other documents. They even do a darn fine job of copying old photos! (I have a VuPoint Magic Wand and love it!) Here’s an example:

Digital microphone – If you want to be certain you get a subject’s words exactly right, ask if you can record your conversation. Small digital microphones are great if your subject is willing to be recorded. (The one I use is a Sony).

Spiral-bound notepads – I’m a huge fan of small pads of paper — and I leave the *everywhere* to capture notes and ideas! (purse; bedside table; car). A great, simple way to record notes about ideas, stories, formatting. They don’t have to be fancy; just something like this:

Business cards – yes, you need a business card. Even if you’re not selling your history-writing skills, it’s the simplest, easiest way to share your email address and phone number. (Have you ever struggled to make out someone’s handwriting or couldn’t tell if that was a “3” or an “8” in their number? ‘Nuff said!) Helpful tip: make sure the font size on your card is large enough to be read by most people without searching for their glasses!

Pens – everyone has a favorite ink pen. Keep plenty of yours on hand.

Calendar or planner – whether you’re jotting down your next appointment or penciling in a target deadline or completion date, a good calendar is a must!

Consent form for oral history – It’s always a good idea to be sure you and your subject are on the same page. (There’s a sample form in my LifeStory Workbook.)

Laptop or iPad – If you’re a fast-fingered typist, note-taking can be a breeze on these portable devices. I love my iPad and it’s easy to add a wireless keyboard.

Extra batteries for any devices. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been grateful for this “extra batteries” advice! I keep extras with me for my hand-scanner and microphone. And be sure your camera, phone and tablet/laptop are charged up before you head out the door!

Magnifying glass – You never know when you’re going to want to scrutinize a faded handwritten letter or study a hard-to-make-out postmark. Bring a magnifier that will sharpen the details — preferably one with a light.

Sticky notes – You can’t have too many sticky notes. Big, little, or in-between, just make sure you keep some with you! They’re great for marking things to follow up on, jotting questions, and just keeping your life stories organized.

List of interview questions – Another important “keep yourself organized” tip: jot down the question you want to be sure you don’t forget before you go! (Helpful samples are also in the LifeStory Workbook)

Tote bag – And to keep everything together and ready to go out the door, pick up a fun tote bag. Look for one with zippered compartments like this one, so things won’t fall out. And for plain canvas, try adding your choice of an iron-on transfer for some extra fun.

 

Bonus List for Cemeteries:  Checking out cemeteries as part of your family research? In addition to a good camera (of course), be sure to pack along:

  • Whisk broom with soft bristles and a long handle to gently removes leaves and debris from gravestones without bending over, for photographs;
  • Spray bottle filled with water – a quick spritz with water helps with contrast in hard-to-photograph stones;
  • Tripod to keep your camera steady; and
  • Pocket rain poncho – Voice of experience here: you never know when Mother Nature is going to have her own ideas about the weather! Keep a cheap plastic rain poncho handy (the kind that folds up and can fit in your glove box or pocket)!

Hope you find these suggestions helpful for creating your own memoir or life story kit. Please let me know if you have other great ideas to add!

Looking for even more in-depth tips to help with memoir-writing? Check out our helpful new book!

Now available from Kindle!

Memoir Tips: 3 Places To Start

A student in my Memoir class recently asked for some tips before interviewing her parent for a family history. It’s a common dilemma: “Where do I start??”

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, of course. But here are the suggestions I sent her – I hope they help you, too!

(1)  People: One easy place to begin is to ask the person to describe people who were important in their life. (Typically you’ll hear about a parent, a grandparent, or a teacher — someone your subject was especially fond of, or who influenced his/her life. Be sure to ask what that special person looked like, and what their personality was like. Is there a particular event your subject especially remembers that involved this special person in their life? One story here often triggers another!)

(2)  Places:  Ask about a place that was especially memorable when the person was growing up. (You might hear, for example, about their first house; a swimming hole; their grade school. Or you might prompt stories about a special vacation, a grandparent’s farm, or even a favorite ice cream parlor. Often it’s easiest to start talking about a happy spot — perhaps a treehouse where the local kids used to gather! Ask them to describe whatever they most remember about that place.)

This charming flapper boasted not only great clothes but also a great ukelele!

(3)  Historic Context:  Our life stories don’t take place in a vacuum. Ask about the time period when your interviewee was growing up. What was going on in the world, and how did that affect their own life? (You might hear tales about the desperation of job-seekers during the Depression; the lack of sugar during World War II; air raid drills in school during the Cold War; or long gas lines during the ’70s. Find out what movies and movie stars were their favorites, and which songs were most popular. See if he/she has an old photo showing them wearing the latest fashion of the day!)

All of those topics make great places to start. But listen and go with the flow of the conversation. Sometimes even basic openers like “Where were you born? Who were your parents?” will trigger a flood of stories! So don’t cut that off if it happens.

Then just keep collecting: those little vignettes will eventually tie together into a whole life’s story!

Like more memoir-writing tips? Check out our fun 28-page LifeStory Workbook here.

A workbook can help keep you going.