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It’s not uncommon for your story to feel stuck, or to feel like writing a memoir is a completely impossible task. We have a vision in our minds, but transferring it over to something real and tangible feels overwhelming. We often ask ourselves these three questions:
- Where do I start?
- Will anyone care?
- Is my story enough?
As for answers to questions two and three – yes, yes! Plenty of people will care and your story is enough, no doubt about it. Let’s be honest, what would you give to hear a voice again that has long-since passed? I know for me, it’s absolutely priceless. In the past year we have been digitizing some old family videos. I wasn’t aware my husband was starting the project and I was downstairs. When I came upstairs, and heard my grandpa’s voice for the first time in more than a decade, I almost dropped the laundry I was carrying. It was like manna from heaven. And when we started that task it was for a college project over 20 years ago. We didn’t know the lasting effect it would have. So now it’s up to us to make that same kind of effect for those that follow us.
Where do I start in writing my memoir?
As for question 1, “Where do I start?” can be tricky, but only because we make it so. We spend so much time trying to figure out where to start that we don’t start and we get stuck at the beginning. The short answer: wherever you want. We often think we have to start at the beginning, but that’s not necessarily the case. Oftentimes, we are moved to start writing our story (or someone else’s story) because of a thought or feeling we have. The best suggestion I can offer is this:
Start with whatever moved you to write the story in the first place.
If that’s at the beginning of someone’s life (or yours) that’s okay. If what keeps coming to mind is a really sweet vignette right smack dab in the middle of someone’s life, that’s okay too. It’s about just getting the words down and/or getting the voice recorded.
A Story is Told in Moments
Stories are told in moments, vignettes if you will. I started writing my first memoir last year. Prior to that, I spent my life writing short articles and stories, The idea of writing a memoir pushed me way out of my comfort zone. So instead of trying to eat the whole elephant in one sitting, I took small bites. One night as I was just hemming and hawing about it (perhaps even whining about it) my husband simply asked me: “How many stories have you written in your life?”
“Wow, I have no idea,” came my simple response. “Maybe 1,000.”
We agreed that it was probably well over that number. He gently pointed out that all a memoir was, was a string of short stories weaved together. “Write your memoir one story at a time,” was his advice. Duh. Of course that’s what I needed to do. I knew it in my heart, but I just needed someone to tell me those words. So now here I am giving you the same advice: write the short stories and then weave them together. You will have a beautiful tapestry at the end that will be legacy for years to come.
Specific Questions Yield Great Answers
At RootsTech 2017 I was able to interview Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch. He talked about their specific theme of the conference: food and family recipes. When you think of family recipes, specific stories come to mind, no doubt about it. Before long, the stories start flowing and you want to write them down. It’s like that with any topic. What is a special bond your family shares? Is it food? Music? Sports? Camping? The list could go on and on. The point is, asking specific questions gets specific answers. When you ask someone how their day is, the common response is usually, fine. When you ask someone what they did last night they have to tell you at least one thing they did. It’s the same with interviewing and storytelling.
If you are writing a memoir, practice getting specific
Get specific. It’s more interesting and it is the key to make your story enough. Think your life is mundane? Ask a specific question to yourself about the whys of your faith or even the way you decorate your home and that mundaneness disappears, I promise. And that’s how you know people will care. Specific details of your life are interesting. People love to hear the whys of the choices you make and the things you love and dislike. If you need a little help we have a complete book of questions that are sure to get your creative juices flowing and get whoever your interview is with thinking outside the box.
Do it Now – your story is enough!
If there’s one thing I can’t stress enough – start today! Even if you are starting small, that is so much more than you had yesterday. Record that thought, that small story, record your voice or that of a loved one. It doesn’t have to be Pulitzer Prize winning work. Your family will love it and love you for whatever you give them because it is a piece of you, a piece of your heart – or that other family member you are delving into. This week I was at a family history class where the woman was trying to find to link back just one generation. She had nothing past her grandfather. She is stumped and she is sad. What she wouldn’t give to talk to him for just five minutes to find out why he left his family and came to America – to know who he came with and even who is mother is. If you’ve felt the nudge, it’s for a reason, so act now. You will never regret it.
Rochelle HaleMarch 1, 2022
I can't tell you how many times I have started journals, then let them gather dust. I love making digital photo albums for our family each year, and these have become our memoirs as well, as I highlight key events, people, etc. I have also found the "memories" section of FamilySearch invaluable to record family stories (not the entire elephant) and some sacred experiences. The privacy settings allow me to determine when and with whom to share.
Ken HazelbakerMarch 1, 2022
My wife suggested I just take some islands of time and just list bullets - whenever they occurred. It's the capture that is so important. Another time just take one - put the flesh on that skeleton and at another time, do it again. I can take care of order or other details later. She showed me how my smart phone will convert my talking into text!! Wow, it doesn't get any easier than that! (It took some time to learn how to talk slower for better text conversion accuracy - but what a miracle!)