Condensing a lifetime into 120 pages isn’t easy, and many people stop, pen poised, on a memoir’s first page. But if your mind works well with images or lists, there’s a solution: the timeline. Writing memoir is different from autobiography, wherein research is extremely important and everything is told. Memoirs work with the themes of your life. Many find the process turning them into a split personality: ruthless editor and probing psychologist. Others just tell the story. Starting with a timeline works for both attitudes.
List or sketch your key events, then put them in order, attaching estimated dates. Here’s an example list: birth, kindergarten lets out for Kennedy’s death, my 4th grade poem is published in the high school newspaper, my parents announce impending divorce, meeting my first boyfriend (and breaking up!), first job waitressing and buying the ’66 VW with Dad. See how easy that is? These happen to be in order, but if your list is not, just rearrange it by chronology or by topic. Then begin writing, one little story at a time. Enjoy writing these significant stories, put them together, and you have written your memoir!
You’ll need encouragement in the super-solo process of writing your life story. The Tennessee Historical Society is offering a members-only, $25 3-hour Writing Memoir Workshop from Perfect Memoirs. Membership is $35 annually and includes monthly lectures about local history, many by authors. Make an investment in the past for your future!
January 21, 9-noon / ice date Jan. 28, Nashville
Life is a story in chapters. We must embrace it!
– Jennifer of the Nashville Zoo
I divided mine into two books: Sarah’s Story … Once Upon A Time There Was a Little Girl . . .
Second was: Sarah’s Journey . . . Through the Years.
I like your concept and titles, Sarah.
Deb, I always draw up a timeline for each client and then superimpose it on a world, national and state calendar of events, because no-one lived in a bubble. These events also help me with interview questions, e.g Tell me about how your parents managed with 6 children during the Great Depression. I have used this system since 1988 when I first started writing personal histories of everyday Australians.