Sharon Lippincott: Writing a Memoir Overview

Sharon Lippincott
Guest article by Sharon Lippincott

I’m a world-class procrastinator. I've been meaning for about a year to sit down and crank out an overview of my growing up years in Los Alamos as the basis for reorganizing the piles of draft material I’ve written for my Los Alamos Girlhood memoir. I've written stacks and piles of detail, scenes, accounts of events, and musings, but never a concise summary or whirlwind tour of the era. This afternoon I heard that little voice ask, “Why not at least start it NOW?” I’ve learned to listen to that voice.

A plan
Rather than limit the overview to just Los Alamos, I started five years earlier and covered Albuquerque in a way that I didn't do in The Albuquerque Years (my simple memoir of those years), along with a chaotic first-grade year that involved four different schools. I wrote clear through college and the early years of our marriage. I stopped with the birth of my first child, primarily because it was dinner time and I was hungry.

Time investment: about four hours
Word count: 4,935
Pages: 10

I like to keep track of these details. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. The task was not nearly as onerous as I thought, and it wasn't as hard as I imagined to keep the details at a minimum. I included a "Lessons learned" segment for each year or so, sticking to keyword summaries, and an assessment of how I felt about life and self that year. (Invisible. Different. Etc.)

Freewriting in chunks
Although it’s loosely chronological, this new draft jumps around like a robin hunting worms, looping out to include interest areas. It is freewriting, plain and simple. But it covers the primary chunks, and if I reorganize the 3,000 words that address my time in Los Alamos, I'll have a skeleton I can expand with the detailed stories I've already written. Reorganizing 3,000 words is so much easier than 60,000 or more!

My approach of banging out a 5,000-word draft in a single afternoon obviously would not work for everyone. You can certainly write this type of document in more than one sitting. My personality, preferences, and lifestyle support binge writing. Some people are unable to remain focused on anything for longer than an hour or so without a break. Others only dream of having four hours uninterrupted when they aren’t asleep. I mention this to underscore the point I pound on in my book, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing: There is no right way to write. If you can only write for ten minutes at a time every few days, then cherish those ten minutes and don’t beat yourself up for not writing more.

Author, teacher, speaker, and writing coach Sharon Lippincott lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and writes on all aspects of life writing on her blog. She is co-founder of Life Writers Forum.

Photo courtesy Sharon Lippincott. 

Share your tips on how you organize your notes and manage your time writing your life story.

Doris Plaster: Home Sweet Nursing Home

Doris Plaster
Doris Plaster didn’t start out to help the elderly. She didn’t start out to be a writer. And she certainly didn’t start out to write flash nonfiction—she didn’t even know what it was.

“I was raised in a Catholic family in Cali, Colombia. I admired the nuns and their dedication and at one time I wanted to be a nun, but I didn’t pursue it.”

Strong church and family influences fueled her desire to help people. She graduated from Universidad del Valle in Cali with a master’s degree in social work and has spent twenty-one years as a social worker, most recently in nursing homes.

Working with children and youth first

“Cali is a city of 2.5 million people with a lot of social and economic problems. After university, I worked in Cali for twelve years with children and youth in city agencies and community organizations. I didn’t want to work with elderly people because I thought it would be depressing.”

In 1999 she moved to the United States, had her university degree validated, and was designated a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Despite her initial reluctance to work with the elderly, she has been employed in nursing homes for eight years and is enriched by her interactions with residents, caregivers, and families. She currently works at a long term/skilled care facility in Springfield, Missouri.

“A co-worker and I interview each new resident. We evaluate their psychological, physical, and social health to develop a personalized care plan with other team professionals.”

A resident with dementia was a veteran whose nightmares of his war experiences often jolted him from sleep. His nearly nonstop talking was mostly unintelligible. On one occasion, he was sitting in the hall and mumbling.

“I wanted to hear what he was saying, so I went to his side. He reached for me and said, ‘Hold my hand, hold my hand, lady! Let’s get to the highway!’ It appeared he was having a flashback and wanted to take us to a safe place. Later, I thought if I wrote something it would help me see beyond his dementia and maybe understand him better.”

Putting off writing
For two years Doris suppressed the urge to write, convinced she was not a writer. The idea of writing returned intermittently, but she never acted on it until last year when she read the blog of a writer.

“I sent her an email and was thrilled she wrote back with encouragement and tips. She told me I didn’t have to be ‘a writer;’ to just write, and that if God wants me to write I will be able to do it.”

She started a blog. Her first story was about why she became a social worker. Then, she wrote about some of her nursing home residents, using only first names, changing the names and genders, and making some characters composites. The stories are poignant vignettes of the lives of nursing home residents. Her U.S.- born husband checks her spelling and grammar.

Her hundreds of blog followers include professional writers, would-be writers, and non-writers who are moved by her sensitivity that brings new levels of compassion to the craft of storytelling. She says her writing is therapy for her and she hopes it helps others.

“I try to be inspirational and to see past the physical challenges of the residents.”

Flash nonfiction leads to her book
She didn’t realize her blog stories were flash nonfiction, often defined as fifty to 1,000 words; she just wrote what she felt it took to tell the stories. Then she came across a blog of fifty-word stories.

“My jaw dropped. I was amazed the stories were so complete and compelling. I accepted the challenge of the blogger to write one fifty-word story per day for a month, starting the title of each story with a different letter of the alphabet, until I finished twenty-six stories. It was so satisfying.”

Her husband encouraged her to publish the stories in a book. The result was Home Sweet Nursing Home: An A to Z Collection of 50-word Stories on Aging and Healthcare, published this year. It is moving and insightful. She deftly weaves beginning, middle, and ending into her stories, often obtaining drama with an unlikely hero and villain.

Doris is doing what many professionals advise new writers: write about what you know.   

Doris may be reached at Hold My Hand, A Social Worker’s Blog.  

Photo courtesy Doris Plaster.

What have been your experiences with flash nonfiction? How has that format helped your writing?

Robert Louis Stevenson and other Writers’ Quotes to Enjoy and Learn From

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

I know. The title of this post ends with a preposition.

Winston Churchill (nobody quotes him anymore) said: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

For me, quotes from writers can be insightful, motivating, and fun. They give me a quick boost of energy and inspiration. Too many times, though, shortly after the boost, I go back to my old habits, like a sinner who knows what to do to set things right and decides not to, but keeps trying.

My favorite quote is by Robert Louis Stevenson: “It is not enough that we write to be understood. We must write so we cannot possibly be misunderstood.” I’ve missed doing that too many times.

One definition of success—used without attribution in many writings—is that successful people are willing to do what unsuccessful people are not. I don’t know the original source. The quotes below won’t make you successful. I offer them in the hope you will be inspired to develop your own quest to become more successful, at the best level possible for your purposes.

What better way to start than from the best-selling book of all time? Nonfiction, of course.

Bible  – O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! Job 19:23, 24 NRSV

Annis Cassells  –
Does my behavior match my goal?
Lorna Kelly –
Success isn’t measured in how many books I’ve sold. It’s measured in the delight I got in producing something really wonderful. 

Joe Kita –
99.9 percent of people lead boring lives. But every single one of them is trying to make some sense out of his or her existence, to find some meaning in the world, and therein lies the value and opportunity of memoir.

John Lanchester – The story of our lives is not the same as the story we tell about our lives.

C.S. Lewis – Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers "Please will you do the job for me."

Sharon Lippincott –
My stories have taken a number of forms. Some are primarily documentary in nature, recording various details of life and the times for posterity. Others are quite personal, and may not be finished or shared for decades yet. My favorites, the ones that are the most fun to write, are vignettes of specific times, occasions or topics.

Dinty W. Moore –
I misperceived it with my own eyes.

Carolyn Oravitz –
Using fiction techniques will make your memoir a more interesting read. Your memoir may take on a narrative structure, including many of the usual elements of storytelling such as setting, plot development, imagery, conflict, characterization, and flashback.

Sue William Silverman – Don’t just state your story—reveal your story. If I simply said I once struggled with sex addiction, you wouldn’t feel my words emotionally. But, if I described a seedy hotel room where I met a dangerous man, I would be trying to fully reveal the darkness of the addiction.

Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith –
There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

Linda Thomas – Invest in your grandchildren’s future now by writing your memoir.

Jerry Waxler – I suspect many siblings have greatly differing views about the family. And there are many other examples of the disagreement of "truth." In fact, I think memoirs turn us into philosophers, because by writing a memoir, we are taking a stand about our version of the truth.

Tobias Wolff – Memory has its own story to tell.

William Zinsser – There are many good reasons for writing that have nothing to do with being published.

What other writing quotes do you like and how have they influenced your writing? I’ll add them to my collection for another post.

Photo: Knox Series of postcards. Photographer unknown.

Denise Wakeman: Self-Publish Your Ebook on's Kindle

Denise Wakeman
Guest article by Denise Wakeman

You know that Visibility = Opportunity and what could be better than being visible on one of the biggest sites on the web? Wouldn't you like to get your content published on You can; it's easy to do.

I recently hosted a webinar with Daniel Hall of Real Fast Book. He presented a step-by-step tutorial on how to publish your ebooks on Amazon's Kindle platform. He did not leave anything out and by the end of the webinar anyone could publish their content. In fact one of my clients posted a note on Facebook the following day letting me know in fact she had done just that.

I talked with Daniel and he has agreed to let me share the webinar replay with you. Yes, there is a pitch for his Real Fast Book program at the end. But there is no obligation to join and you're going to have all the info you need to get published on Kindle at the end of the presentation. The webinar is about 70 minutes.

You'll learn the exact steps to submit your ebook and what you need to prep before you submit your content. You'll also learn:
  • Tips about preparing your content
  • Where to find images for your ebook cover
  • How to make a cover image (this is so simple, I couldn't believe it)
  • Tips about rights and pricing
If you want to create additional streams of income and get some visibility on a massive website, block off 70 minutes to watch and study this webinar. (There is no charge or opt-in required to watch the presentation.)

Check out my ebooks for Kindle!

Denise Wakeman is an online marketing advisor and founder of The Blog Squad. She works with entrepreneurs and business professionals to leverage blogs and social media tools to boost online visibility to get more traffic, leads, customers and opportunities.

Photo courtesy Denise Wakeman.

Have you published on Kindle? Let us know your tips on what to do best and what to avoid.

Dagnabbit, Roy, the Winners are . . .

Gabby Hayes (1885-1969)
My super thanks to those who entered last week’s fun contest to identify the actor who often used dagnabbit (also dagnabit) in his movie roles. Acceptable responses were: Gabby Hayes, Andy Devine, Slim Pickens, Walter Brennan, Deputy Dawg, Elmer Fudd, and Yosemite Sam. I know, some of these are from television and some are cartoon characters. I was okay with that. Call me generous.

Gabby Hayes is my favorite cowboy sidekick, a role that disappeared from Westerns. He was crowned King of the Cowboy Comics by his biographers Bobby J. Copeland and Richard B. Smith III.

About Gabby Hayes
Here is a dagnabbit line from his 1942 movie, Sunset on the Desert, starring Roy Rogers. Play audio.

Check out this three-minute video of some of his sayings. Notice his fancy gun handling in the train clip. It’s so casual—if you blink you’ll miss it. Play video.

His cowboy slang and fake cussing included: "consarn it," "yer durn tootin," "dadgumit," “didly dadburn it,” “durn persnickety female," and "young whippersnapper.”  Hayes appeared in more than 200 movies and television shows, including host of a TV series. Most of his roles were in Westerns. He was sidekick to Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, John Wayne, and Randolph Scott (remove hat and place over heart).

Gabby Hayes’ real name was George Francis Hayes. Unlike his cantankerous screen character, in real life he was well-groomed, articulate, and intelligent; he wore expensive clothes and drove expensive cars. He also was a wise investor. After a career in vaudeville, he retired at age forty-three in 1928 and then lost everything in the 1929 stock-market crash. He returned to acting, this time in movies.

Dagnabbit, Roy, the winners are . . .
Missourians responded about as quickly as movie fast-draw experts. Congratulations and thanks to the first five respondents with correct answers:
     Joyce Brooks, Springfield, Missouri – Elmer Fudd
     Mary Hertslet, Boyds, Maryland – Walter Brennan
     Joe Levanti, Mount Vernon, Missouri – Gabby Hayes
     Jackie Mountcastle, Springfield, Missouri – Deputy Dawg
     John R. Zweig, Springfield, Missouri – Gabby Hayes

Photo and audio courtesy
Video courtesy YouTube.

What are your memories of Western movies? How have they influenced your writing?