The New Year is hours away and many people are busy making resolutions. I’ve never been much of a resolution maker. But I do believe that it’s helpful to set some objectives and to work toward achieving them.
If you’ve been wanting to get your life story written, then why not make it happen in 2009! Here’s one of the best approaches I’ve found for tackling big projects. I learned it from David Allen’s fantastic book, Getting Things Done . If you haven’t read it, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy. I won’t go into the whole system Allen has developed but you can get a summary of it here. He rightly points out that when we are faced with something huge to do we become overwhelmed and either avoid work on it or start and stop in an erratic and demoralized fashion.
For most of us, writing our life story can seem a daunting task. Where to begin? What Allen suggests, is that you break down a project into small manageable tasks called actions. You know – it’s like the old joke, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! ” Yuk! Yuk!
But seriously folks….here’s what I’d suggest. Begin by making a list of tasks you need to do to get your book launched. Start with the first thing you need to do followed by the next logical step or action. For example, a possible list of your Next Actions could look like this:
- Research and find several book titles about writing a life story.
- Go to the local library or bookstore.
- Select at least two books on writing a life story.
- Read two chapters of Book One every day until completed.
- Read Book Two committing to two chapters a day until completed.
- Purchase a 7 x 10 lined notebook in which to write draft.
- Determine a time and place to do writing.
- Begin writing by answering the following, “What are my earliest childhood memories?”
I’m not saying that this is what your list should look like. You may have a quite different set of actions and that’s just fine. The important point is to keep each of your steps simple and in a logical order. If you find that one of your Next Actions contains several steps, then break it down again until you have a series of simple manageable actions. Warning: don’t try to organize your whole book writing project from beginning to end in one sitting. You’ll be overwhelmed. I’d recommend that you stop your planning when you get to the point where you’re uncertain what Next Action you should take. Once you work through your Next Actions list it will become clearer what you need to do next.
Good luck and Happy New Year!
Photo by Dan Foy
Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.
Margaret J. Wheatley, is a writer and management consultant who studies organizational behavior.
I’ve mentioned before that one of the advantages of working on one’s life story is that it provides an opportunity for reflection. I find the end of the year is a natural time for reflection. I block out some quiet time and look back on the past twelve months. These are some of the questions I ponder. What has worked for me? What hasn’t? What goals did I achieve? What am I the proudest of? What regrets do I have? What do I need to do more of?
Photo by hobvias sudoneighm
In a previous post I wrote about the power of our senses to bring back past memories. I was reading our local newspaper yesterday and came upon a fascinating article entitled, Christmases past live on with plants as reminders by Helen Chesnut. I hadn’t thought about plants as a way to bring back memories but reading her article made me think. And you know she has a point. Bringing home a fresh Christmas tree always brings back childhood memories for me. When I was a child, we lived for many years on a rugged island off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Long before Christmas I would have found the perfect tree. Then a week before Christmas I would haul my mother off into the bush with axe in hand to chop down the tree and haul it home. It’s still a vivid and happy memory for me.
Do you have any plants that bring back memories of Christmases past?
Photo by Randen Pederson
Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836
This is a wonderful time of year for reflection and reminiscing about past holidays. Why not write down a favorite Christmas memory and share it with a loved one. It could become a new holiday tradition.
Photo by Kris de Curtis
Warmest wishes to all my Jewish friends and viewers. This is a wonderful time to reminisce about past holidays. A tradition of National Public Radio for nearly two decades, Hanukkah Lights presents brand new fiction to celebrate and illuminate the holiday season — moving tales of discovery and reconciliation, the persistence of hope and the promise of undimmed light — read by Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz. You can treat yourself to some wonderful stories by clicking here.
Photo by Nancy
The following poem, whose author is unknown, speaks to the fate of all of us if we don’t take the time to tell the stories behind our photographs.
Strangers In A Box
Come, look with me inside this drawer,
In this box I’ve often seen,
At the pictures, black and white,
Faces proud, still, and serene.
I wish I knew the people,
These strangers in the box,
Their names and all their memories,
Are lost among my socks.
I wonder what their lives were like,
How did they spend their days?
What about their special times?
I’ll never know their ways.
If only someone had taken time,
To tell, who, what, where, and when,
These faces of my heritage,
Would come to life again.
Could this become the fate,
Of the pictures we take today?
The faces and the memories,
Someday to be passed away?
Take time to save your stories,
Seize the opportunity when it knocks,
Or someday you and yours,
Could be strangers in the box.
It’s unusually cold here in Victoria, British Columbia this week – freezing winds, ice and snow. Our winters in the Pacific Northwest are for the most part wet and mild, so people are a little shocked and in disbelief. It got me thinking how much weather plays a part in our life stories. And yet we often forget to include these details when we sit down to write our personal history. My mother still vividly recalls how it was pouring rain when she got married in the tiny hamlet of Alert Bay, British Columbia. And I remember one Christmas when I was all of eight years old. My family lived on an isolated island near the northwest tip of Vancouver Island. Rarely did we get snow at Christmas. That year it started snowing after supper on Christmas Eve. I was delighted and so excited that I staid up all night looking out my bedroom window as my little part of the world turned white. It was one of my most memorable Christmases.
If you’re interested in making weather a part of your life story – I’ve discovered a great resource. It’s called the Weather Warehouse. You can get direct on line access to the most comprehensive historical weather database in existence. It provides United States weather details going back as far as 1902. You can also access international data off line starting from 1973. So let’s say you wanted to know what the weather was like when your Aunt Beatrice emigrated to New York on July 18, 1922. You can find out at Weather Warehouse. There is a charge for the service starting for as little as US$4.95.
Do you have a memorable weather story to tell? Why not share it with us.
Photo by Paul Keleher
The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing? Think about those once in a while and watch your answers change.
Richard Bach, an American writer
Whether you’re writing your own life story or someone else’s, Bach’s advice is dead on. Our stories are more than a chronological telling of places, people and events. We need to incorporate the emotional content of our personal history as well.
Photo by Ethan Lofton
Enthusiasm for writing your memoir may soon be replaced by a sinking feeling when you realize that you don’t know where to start and how to proceed. Memoirs are considered to be somewhat different from autobiographies. Brian A. Klems, the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, points out:
In some general contexts, memoir and autobiography can be used interchangeably. In fact, Amazon.com puts them in the same category. But there’s a key difference that publishers use to define each—the timeline covered in the writing.
An autobiography focuses on the chronology of the writer’s entire life while a memoir covers one specific aspect of the writer’s life. So, if I chose to write about my complete life up to this point—including growing up in Cincinnati, my time in New York, the few years I spent in Chicago and eventually landing at Writer’s Digest—I’d write an autobiography. If wrote a book about the winter of my sophomore year in high school where I got my tongue stuck to an icy pole, I’d write a memoir
If it’s a memoir you’re writing, then a great way to get started is to take a course. In many communities you can find workshops and courses on memoir writing. If you’d rather do it from the comfort of your home, I’ve assembled a list of four online memoir writing courses. I can’t vouch for any of these because I haven’t used them but check them out. I’m sure you’ll find a course that fits your needs.
- The Story Circle Network has been offering classes, workshops, conferences, writing and reading circles, and online programs—all designed for women—since 1997.
- Memoir: The “Eye” and the “I”. Stanford Continuing Studies. “In this course you will learn how to unearth significant material and bring your memories to life on the page.”
- Online Memoir Writing Classes. Gotham Writer’s Workshop. “You will learn how to focus your life stories, give them literary purpose, and apply such craft elements as character, plot, description, dialogue, setting, pacing, and theme. You will also learn how and where to market your work.”
Photo by F. Delventhal
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The holiday season and gift giving will soon be upon us. This year many of us will be looking for inexpensive but meaningful ways we can express our love for family and friends. The gift ideas I’m suggesting will cost little or nothing but they will involve some investment of your time. Have fun!
- A Memory Box or Jar. Find a medium size jar that has a large enough opening that you can put your hand into it. If you can’t find a jar, get a small box that you can cover in attractive gift wrap. Now find some different colored sheets of writing paper and cut them into 3×5 inch rectangles. Make sure you have a varied assortment of colors. On each piece of paper write a brief, happy and memorable event that you and your gift recipient shared. Fold the paper in half and drop it into your container. Keep going until you’ve almost filled the jar or box. Tie a large ribbon around the container and add a tag that says either “Memory Jar” or “Memory Box”.
- A Gratitude Letter. Draft a letter of gratitude to someone who is special in your life. Be specific. If you’re grateful for a friend’s thoughtfulness, then not only say that but also give examples when the thoughtfulness made a difference in your life. It’s really important that you not use vague sentiments like “I’m grateful for your love”. Instead, write about all the ways that their love is manifested. Once you have a draft that you’re happy with, get a couple of sheets of good quality writing paper. Now using pen and ink, transfer your draft to the good paper. Even if your writing looks like chicken scratches, it’s important that it be handwritten because it personalizes your letter. Once completed, roll the letter up and tie a beautiful ribbon around it.
- A Photo Sorting Certificate. Go to your computer and make up a gift certificate or have a friend make up one for you. You could also do one by hand on a good piece of paper. Write something like the following: This certificate entitles the bearer to use the services of ____(Add your name)___to sort and organize a photo collection. This could be quite a large project involving a considerable amount of your time, so be cautious. Only offer this if you know you can afford the time.
That’s it. Do you have some no cost or low cost gift ideas you could share? I’m thinking specifically of gifts that relate to life stories and personal histories. I’d love to hear from you.
Photo by Saquan Stimpson
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