Friday, June 8, 2012

Writing your lifestory: Worksheet 1

Before you decide how to set aside time to write, it often helps to decide what you want to write about.  This helps to prevent that “blank page” syndrome in which we are daunted by the pristine white space before us.  But how to decide?

Selecting the stories you want to tell need not be intimidating.  You can take several tacks to select what you want to tell.  Feel free to refer to my May 30, 2012, blog post to see some of the top experts’ advice on how to set a list of stories.  Below are some of my own ways of making lists that I have found helpful:

Keeping the list—overall hints:
  1. Always keep a pen and paper with you.
  2. When you write, keep an extra sheet of paper to the side.
  3. Attend a group and use it as a deadline.
  4. Whenever you read the stories of others—be they published stories or your colleagues’ work in class—keep that pen and paper beside you.
  5. Any time you get an idea—a memory of your past that you feel is worth passing on—of something that you want to write about, jot down the topic on that paper. 
  6. Find a central place to collect that list—notecards, a document file, a notebook—and make sure that you copy over your smaller lists to that master one.
Starting/organizing the list:
  1. The spider web method
    1. Begin with ANY memory—the very first one that crosses your mind—and write it down quickly.
    2. Think of a memory that spins off of it and write that down.
    3. Repeat step two until you draw a blank.
  2. The chronological method
    1. Separate your life into sections.  You can use set numbers of years (0-5, 6-10, etc.) or general classes of time (preschool, grade school, high school, etc.).
    2. For each group of years, try to come up with 2-3 story ideas.
  3. The topic-related method
    1. What are the big topic areas—things, people, places, ideas—of your life?  Food?  Childhood?  Work?  School?  Your parents, siblings, spouse?  Try to list at least 10.  If you can, list 35.
    2. For each topic area list 3-5 story ideas.
  4. The story arc method:
    1. Is there a lesson that you want to tell with your story?  If so, what is it?
    2. Can you identify a beginning, middle, and end to that story?  What are they?  Mark each one with a concrete story idea.
    3. Flesh out the middle.  What is the climax of the story?  The rising action?  An event that foreshadowed the outcome?  A moment when it seemed all was lost?  A moment that you became determined to see it through?  Set down these ideas and coordinate them along a timeline.
You try it!

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