Column: No more excuses, put your story down this summer
Rick Bragg wrote "All Over But the Shoutin'." It's his story about growing up dirt-poor in northeastern Alabama, seemingly destined for the penitentiary, and instead becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. More semesters than not, I have my students respond to excerpts from the soaring memoir, particularly the part where Bragg admits to why he put his story down: "It was my grandmother's idea. She told me, 'People's forgets if it ain't wrote down. People's remembers it if it is.'"
I read Bragg's book clean through a second time on my way back from Houston, last week. I was in Texas attending a conference at Baylor University. The days were long. Humid. One afternoon, I slipped into a side café to meet my husband for lunch. There I saw a fellow classmate, nestled in a far corner of the store, writing. I approached her and asked how she was enjoying the lectures. Apparently, she wasn't there just for schooling, but for her daughter. She'd traveled all the way from Australia with hopes of gathering information about a rare genetic disorder that plagued her youngest child. She'd been intensely journaling about the experience and admitted, "Writing about it lets me stop and smell the roses. Besides, my girl will have it to look back on."
I was blessed from our encounter, listening to her story.
Some may find the phrase trite, but we really do need to "stop and smell the roses." You only have this one life. It's a gift. It's your story! And writing it down for the benefit of others is not only powerful, but can be therapeutic. Consider the following tips and suggestions to begin putting your story down this summer. Make it a family endeavor. No more excuses!
First, talk to someone you trust to help you flesh out your ideas out. Even if you do most of the writing yourself, it's helpful to have a consultant, even a ghost writer, if needed. Then, consider how you will tell your story. One of my happiest discoveries when writing my memoir was that I didn't have to start at the beginning. If it jumpstarts the process to begin with a special recollection, then do so. It's not unusual for writers to work on different parts of their story at different times. This can stimulate the memory, as well as inspire and motivate you.
Most writers also benefit from an outline, or a table of contents, to help decide what they want to write about chapter by chapter. Another great way to organize your thoughts, and get ideas for what to include in your story is to create a memory list. Your goal is to write as many short sentences or phrases about events and life experiences as you can. Don't worry about writing complete sentences or including a lot of detail. A few words will do the trick. For instance, first love. Birth of second child. Told I had cancer. Christmas in Europe.
From your list of memories, sort out the core memories that you think will play key roles in your story. Some of the memories will be combined as you find similarities. Others might stand alone, even become an entire chapter. Some will eventually get discarded, but the more, the better. It will probably take more than one sitting. Be patient with yourself. Sometimes it's painful to revisit ghostly places. Keep your memory list in a notebook, and refer to it regularly, recording more memories as they occur to you. The key to writing your story is consistency and setting aside time each day to write it. I suggest starting with 30 minutes a day at a designated spot. Experience has taught me that the more I write, the more motivated I become to shape the work. Take it slow, and if you're struggling to get started, shoot me a line. I'd love to hear another story, inspirational or not. I'm convinced there's a national bestseller on every block in San Juan County. They're simply yet to be written down.
Aerial Liese has been an educator for more than 15 years. She has three children and is the author of four books. She is an educational doctorate student and teaches at San Juan College. Contact her at 505-258-1029 or go to ajliese.tateauthor.com.