WRITING YOUR WAY TO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF YOURSELF & YOUR FAMILY
Writing Approaching Neverland, A Memoir of Epic Tragedy & Happily Ever After, was incredibly therapeutic and allowed me to see my mother's mental illness in a new light. Because if I wanted my book to be any good, I had to look at the characters - my mom, dad, siblings and even myself - with new eyes and an open mind. The following tips have been generously provided by Denis Ledoux, co-founder of Soleil Lifestory Network, who helped me navigate through the process of writing my family's story. Here's wishing you all the best along your writing journey.
FOLLOW THESE STEPS TO LIFEWRITING SUCCESS
Relax. Writing your life stories will not be as hard as you may be afraid of and the process will bring you great satisfaction. You'll celebrate and honor the life you have lived as you come to new understandings about who you are. Here are suggestions for making your writing go smoothly and be more fun.
1. First, make a Lifelist.
It's a list of every important event, influence, and relationship in your life or in any particular era. It can be hundreds of items long! Why bother with this pre-writing task? Because it's such a handy resource when you do write. Having a Lifelist to refer to will help you focus on the highlights - the stories most deserving of your effort. Detailed information will let you tell the whole story as you truly want it told.
2. Write the most important stories first.
Resist the urge to write from the beginning. Start anywhere! The most important step is to start writing. Concentrate on single stories instead of on your life as a whole. It's discouraging to think of writing 200 pages, but everyone can write one three-page story.
3. Double check your memories.
Memory can be false, flattering, and defensive. Interview people who were there and crosscheck your details. Use all the props available: letters, diaries, obituaries, photos, certificates, newspaper articles, etc. Research your locality, your region, the era, history,
etc. to give authenticity and context to your personal story.
4. Tell the truth as much as you can.
You and your roots are okay no matter what. You don't need to alter your story to prove your worth or to conceal your past. Use Lifewriting as an exploration and a celebration, not an occasion to settle old scores. And remember: you have a right to privacy. While it may be growthful to write certain stories, you only have to share what, when, and with whom you want to.
5. Be specific.
Use proper names, give dates, describe in detail. You almost cannot give too many details. Don't be vague or general. Use all five senses.
6. Explore the myths in your family stories.
What did the people around you want to believe about them? Every family tells stories about itself that cloud the truth. Try going beyond the official family "line".
7. Avoid using cliches and stereotypes.
Personalize and particularize. Let your own voice do the talking. Simplicity is always best. After nine words start to think of ending that sentence. After 15, end it. Always let your first draft be a rough draft. Don't make yourself get it perfect before going on. Polishing your text is a later step.
8. Set up a schedule for yourself.
Honor your writing time as you would any important appointment. Ask your family and friends for their support in making time for this commitment. Writing regularly is more important than writing for long periods of time. Be patient and enjoy yourself. Lifewriting can bring you great pleasures.
9. Start a lifewriting group with friends.
For encouragement and support, it's great to share with others. But beware of two opposite but equally discouraging reactions: "Isn't that lovely, dear. Everything you do is wonderful!" or "What a waste of time-all that old stuff?!" You need and deserve kind but
constructive criticism. Share with those who will honor your effort and challenge you to do your best.
10. Be a show off!
Share your stories with friends and family and accept their praise and appreciation for your accomplishment. Putting your lifestories in writing is a valuable gift to give yourself and to all after you.
"A LOT OF PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WRITING. THE SECRET IS TO WRITE, NOT TALK." Jackie Collins
copyright Denis Ledoux 2006
Additional Resources for lifewriters:
Turning Memories Into Memoirs, a Handbook for Writing Lifestories, $24.95
288 pages of how-to information-everything you need to remember, record and write your memoirs-helpful exercises, accounts of workshop experiences, excerpts from workshoppers' lifestories, and 60+ evocative historical photos.
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