Have you ever been bitten by the genealogy bug? Are you trying to make sense of past events in your life? Do you want to leave a written legacy of family history for future generations? For many reasons, we Baby Boomers are increasingly interested in writing our life stories or memoirs. The question is how do you get started?
There is no right way to go about this project. Some start with birth, and write through the calendar. Others dash off piles of vignettes about specific memories. Some write for a set time each day or week, others write when the spirit moves them. Some write a single draft and others polish every word. Your writing style is as unique and personal as your fingerprint, and you’ll do well to find it and go with its flow.
Although it’s fine to just sit down and start writing, in my book, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, I encourage everyone to make a personal timeline early in the game. You can list years on lined paper, use an index card for each year, or set up a table in Word with a row for each year of your life. Make short entries of highlights for each year you can remember. These will include things like the birth of siblings or children, school landmarks, moves to new towns or jobs, major illnesses, vacations, significant relationships, etc.
This project will take some time, and it will help if you’ve hoarded old calendars and journals. Even if you never write a single story, your timeline will be an invaluable reference resource, and I strongly urge you to update it each year.
A list of memories is another key tool. Start by doing a “memory dump” on paper or computer. You’ll add to this list over time. Use it as a springboard for writing individual stories. Believe it or not, that’s enough to get you started. Even if you never get past your first or second story, keep that list, because someday someone will treasure it.
You’ll find hundreds of tips on ways to find and manage memories, cover the basics in each story, deal with difficult memories or alternate views from family members, and much more in my book, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing. Also, you’ll find an overview of everyone’s nightmare --basic grammar and punctuation, along with a step-by-step guide for most formatting and layout elements using Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, or WordPerfect.
However you go about it, and whatever your reason for starting, writing about your life is bound to be rewarding in more ways than you can imagine!
By Sharon Lippincott
Sharon Lippincott leads workshops and presents programs on lifestory writing in Pittsburgh, PA and across the country. She is the author of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, The Albuquerque Years -- a memoir of her years as a preschooler -- and many published stories. Her blog on lifestory writing has been generating comments from around the world for over two years. You can read it at http://heartandcraft.blogspot.com.