COLLECT YOUR IMPORTANT STORIES: As you work on your timeline, personal events and stories will come to mind that you may not have thought about in a very long time. Make a list of them. These are treasures to be explored and perhaps shared. The timeline will help you write your narrative, but your stories will illustrate the various seasons of your life and make the characters come alive to the reader. They are as valuable as photographs.

Near the end of my father’s life, his brother came from southern California for a rare visit. My siblings and our spouses all gathered together to give Dad and Uncle Jerry an entertaining evening together. After a lasagna dinner, we congregated in the living room, and the stories began. Uncle Jerry had heard none of them, and Dad had forgotten many—so we kids had a ripe audience. My brothers are great storytellers, and I got in a few myself. I can still hear the laughter in my heart. As that very  special evening concluded, Uncle Jerry turned to my dad and said, Bernie, I can tell your family loves you, and you’ve had a good life. On his way home, my 87 year old father said with a big smile, I had forgotten how much fun we’ve had. Your family anecdotes add greatly to the richness of each individual’s life. Now is the time to collect them and weave them together into a tale only you can tell.

Some of our stories are quite personal, and we question sharing them. In contrast, you may find yourself telling a certain story yet again and your spouse gets up to do the dishes. Spare your family. Add it to your list. Some stories are more significant to us than anyone else. We will keep telling them until we figure them out, so let’s decipher. Others are entertaining and connect people. This type of story is often more fun to tell than to write. You might consider videotaping some of your favorite tales. If not, write and re-write it until you’ve captured it for the next generation.  

JOIN A CRITIQUE GROUP: A critique group can be a memoir writer’s best friend. Look for a friendly group that is not competitive but united in their efforts to do well and help one another. I found such a class through an adult education program that was a community college spin-off. Since no credit was given for the class, academic requirements were non-existent. Contrary to some expectations concerning memoirs, not one single participant was famous! The funny, sad, and heartwarming stories we heard read aloud each week came from every walk of life. It was a delightful mix of life experience and writing ability.

One outstanding benefit of attending a critique group is their scheduled meeting times. Regular class times made me sit down at the keyboard, organize my thoughts, and actually write! Of course, the instructor gave many suggestions and answered our questions about grammar. However, I found the feedback from fellow class members was even more valuable. Did they get my point? laugh unexpectedly? sense my heart? or even tear up? Although we exchanged much encouragement, we were honest when we were puzzled or unable to follow each other’s story line. Such feedback improves everyone’s writing—dramatically. As helpful as it can be to hear the reactions of others, each memoir writer has the final say over their own material. It is YOUR story.