|Stylized theater masks |
for comedy and tragedy
Each student in my monthly writing classes brings something different while having other things in common. This different-but-same framework creates new dynamics with each class. Students are male and female, younger and older; married and single; experienced writers, new writers, and would-be writers. Often, they come to class with preconceived ideas—obstacles that keep them from starting to write their memoirs, life stories, or family histories. They say things like:
“I don’t know where to begin.”
“I’m not a writer.”
“My family and friends will think I’m conceited.”
“Nobody is interested in what I’ve done.”
“There is too much hurt for me to write.”
“I can’t reveal family secrets.”
Motivation is the key
As we work through techniques to help them overcome these obstacles, I impress upon them the most important aspect of writing their life stories—grasping motivation. I tell them, “When you know why you want to write your story, then you will be able to write your story.
Common motivations include: leaving a family legacy, celebrating charitable or public service, going from rags to riches, witnessing to a life of faith (or struggling to find faith), surviving a loss or lessons learned from a health tragedy, distilling business advice based on experience, healing wounds, sharing stories of romances won and lost or just-for-fun travel experiences.
Budding memoirist Kathleen Pooler says: “My intention in writing my memoir is not to seek revenge or disparage anyone. But in order to bring my story alive, I have to expose my experiences, my vulnerabilities, my feelings, my truth despite the repercussions from others, at least in my first draft. I can change names, identifying features at the end. But I can’t change my own truth.”
Your story belongs to you, not anyone else. You own it. You will remember differently, feel differently, and change differently than those who enter and exit your story. Give yourself permission to write your story your way.
Novelist, nonfiction writer, and College of Charleston professor Bret Lott advises his students to write “from your own chair.” They have deep wells of materials from their own viewpoints and their own experiences and their own stories. And so do you.
Why life stories are valuable
Author and memoir-writing instructor Linda Thomas says life stories are valuable because they:
Are among God’s most powerful and effective tools.
Bridge gaps between past and future generations.
Fortify timid hearts and soften hard hearts.
Help solve problems.
Inspire readers to make sense of their lives and plan for the future.
Guide, persuade, and influence.
Share wisdom, hope, and faith.
Help readers comprehend and remember more readily than do facts, figures, rules, lectures, or sermons.
Help readers make important decisions.
Help readers discover God’s purposes for their lives.
Make a difference.
Can change individuals, families, communities, towns, nations—and even the world!
Can change lives for eternity.
Your life story is valuable. Decide now to put it into writing for your family and friends.
Kathleen Pooler is a retired family nurse practitioner writing a memoir about extraordinary events in her life through her faith in God. She blogs at Memoir Writer’s Journey.
Linda Thomas worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators for eleven years in South America and Africa. Her memoir, Grandma's Letters from Africa, is about her first four years in Africa.“Stories are valuable” adapted from her spiritualmemoirs101.com.
Image courtesy www.angelfire.com. Artist unknown.
What obstacles have you faced in starting to write your memoir, life story, or family history? What specifically have you done to overcome the obstacles?