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.

Memoir Tip: Two’s Company

The only thing harder than finishing your memoir is starting it. Or more accurately, finding a way to keep going to the finish line once you have started!

If you’ve tried — and failed — to make much progress writing your memoir, here’s a simple tip that can help: find yourself a partner.

Not an editor. Not a critic. Not a parent, and definitely not your spouse (at least if you hope to stay married!)

Find someone you can talk to; someone who supports the best in you. Find someone you can tell your stories to and rest assured they won’t wind up plastered all over Facebook.

Pick a story — any story. One experience in your life that’s still really fresh in your memory. Was there a turning point in your life? A “fork in the road”? Those are great places to start.

Was your life on the line?

Or how about a time when something unexpected happened, or you tried something scary and new. Did you stretch yourself? Was your life on the line?

 

Then make a date. Yes, a “real” date. Put it in your date book. Plaster it on the calendar. Make a time to sit down together with your favorite friend and just talk.

Talking uses different “writing muscles” than sitting in front of a typewriter or computer. We’re less guarded; more open; words flow more freely. We talk all day every day, don’t we?

Talking with a friend is a great way to get a fresh handle on the stories you’ve been meaning to tell in that great memoir. Ask your friend to take notes for you, or jot them down yourself after she leaves. Or buy a digital recorder and just hit “Record” before you start.

Before you know it, your book will be finished!

Voila! You now have a set of notes (or perhaps even a complete recording) — the perfect launching pad for that next chapter in your exciting memoir.

 

Like more tips on memoir-writing? Check out our LifeStory Workbook here!!

Fun tips and exercises to help keep you going.

 

 

Memoir Writing: Getting Unstuck

It happens to every would-be memoir writer: your words somehow just stop flowing. Or maybe, despite good intentions, they never get started.

So you keep telling your kids you’ll get those family stories on paper. You ogle memoir books in the library and your local history museum. But when you sit down in front of that blank piece of paper or computer screen, a dozen urgent tasks popped up to drag you away, every time. Like . . . polishing the top of the fridge.

It’s oh-so-understandable and utterly common! But what do you do about it?! How do you go from “wannabe” memoir writer to “here’s my book”?

Even “bad” times make great memoir fodder!

Let’s start with what not to do:  Don’t kick yourself. Guilt won’t help you get words onto paper.

Here are three tips to try, starting right now, to help get your memoir launched and off to a running start:

(1)  Pull out your calendar.  That’s right — make a date with yourself and pencil “memoir time” in. Pick a day, pick a time, and block out half an hour. Just half an hour is enough to get you off to a rolling start! And here’s the magic kicker: before that first writing session ends, pencil in another date for your very next writing session. Things written down on a calendar tend to “happen,” especially when the commitment isn’t overwhelming (like half an hour). Before you know it, those memoir pages will start to add up!

(2)  Give yourself permission to start in the middle.  Some people had totally fascinating childhoods. But often our memories as a five-year-old aren’t the ones we most want to get down on paper.  Don’t get stuck thinking you have to write about your life chronologically. It’s okay to start with your most interesting stories — the ones you really want to write. You can always go back and fill in the backstory parts later.

Do you have happy memories of someone special?

(3)  Use prompts when you get stuck.  Talking with a friend, relative, or caring acquaintance about your life can often help get memories rolling again. It can also be helpful to hear what someone else wants to learn about. Ask that person to listen and ask you questions. Examples of helpful question “prompts” that can spur your writing on include:

When did you feel most special or proud?

Who was your favorite relative, and what is your happiest memory of them?

What was the first job for which you actually got paid?

What helped you survive the toughest times of your life?

I’d love to hear about your real-life struggles with memoir-writing! Leave me a comment below and I’ll try to include suggestions in future blog posts.