On Writing Memoir: What It Is And Why Write It

This is the age of people sharing stories.  We have stepped into the place of appreciating the value of the ups and downs of our journey and know that their true blessing is released when the lessons make their way into the lives of others.

When people ask me my preferred genre to write, without missing a beat I will tell them “memoir.”  This is usually followed by the question, “Is that like your autobiography?”

And here’s the answer: No.

Autobiography goes something like this: This happened, then this happened, then this happened, then this happened…and… in 1987… this happened etc.

Memoir goes like this: Hi, my friend.  Come on in.  We’re going to step into my parents’ living room on a sunny Friday afternoon in March 2006.  Sit down on the couch beside me as I sit beside my mom and learn the news that would change all of our lives.  Don’t worry – I’m safe, you’re safe, she’s safe and you will know this by the calm resilience in my voice.  I know this might bring something up for you as well but that’s ok.  This is a healing process.  There.  Now that you can relate to this pivotal moment in my life, let me share with you all the gems I unearthed from it.  Here’s one and here’s another. Beautiful, right?  Let’s go another step further and allow me to show you how these treasures have impacted my life now – 7 years later. Do you see how this magic works?  Can you see how it can work in your life, too?  Here are some tools that I have used to help me get here.  These tools might work for you or you may have another way of getting there.  Either way, you are not alone.  Thank you for listening to my story because you have given purpose and meaning to what I have been through.  

I bolded that last part because I want you to pay attention to it.  This is very important for me and why I share what I do.  It is so rewarding when a reader sends me a message to say they heard my words and it impacted them in some way.  Because really, what was the point of me going through anything difficult if I couldn’t come out the other side with something that could benefit someone else?

You have stories, too and if you have ever wondered if you should share them, the answer is yes.  If you have been wondering if now is the time, the answer is also a resounding YES.  Not sure how to get started?  Drop me a line.

After all, the stories that we share could very well be the only thing we really are.

Four generations of stories and love.
Four generations of stories and love.

5 Steps To Help Your 5 Year Old Write Their Story

In my daughter’s Kindergarten class last year and her Grade One class this year, there is a fabulous program called Readers/Writers Workshop.  Parent volunteers come into the classroom several times a week to listen to the students read individually and help them record and publish their own stories!  Writing and illustrating stories became one of my daughter’s favourite experiences at school last year and this led to a very fun project we did together at home.

She came to me about March last year with a story idea that just screamed “WRITE ME!” and I suggested we work on it together. Meaning, I said, “Holy smokes, that’s an awesome story!!  We have to write this dooowwwwn!”

“Yeaaaahhhh!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands. “I want to give a copy to each of my friends at my birthday party!”  Great, we have till July then!

We had such a great time doing this together and she is extremely proud of the end result.

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Here are the 5 steps we took from inspiration to publication:

1. Have your child tell you the story from start to finish and record everything they say verbatim.  Ok, you can leave out the ums, likes and other fillers…but don’t add any of your own words or stop them in this process even if you notice things don’t ‘work’ with their story. VERY IMPORTANT!

Then, put it away and leave it alone.  This allows the story to just be, the way it is.  And you will probably find you appreciate the actual story more when you pull it out next rather than be tempted to dive in and ‘correct’ it.

2. Pull it out again after a few days when you and your child have some time together.  Put on your encouraging hat.  Keep it on.  (Hey, I’m just telling you things I had to tell myself!)  Read the story back to your child verbatim and only focus on the actual plot.  Right now you want the story to make sense to the reader.

Does the story go from A to B to C etc in a logical order or does it jump around?  Is there an event missing that ties two scenes together, without which the reader is lost?  Is there something the child mentions about the main character later in the story that conflicts with something earlier in the story? Focus on those things and explain to your child why the two of you need to add sentences or switch things around.  This is an excellent learning opportunity which can then be carried over to your next reading session together (when you can point out how one step follows the other etc).  Use praise where the child has expressed something well and especially remark on the idea of the story since that really is the foundation of any creation.

3. Now that the story flows and the reader has all the information they need to follow along, find the natural breaks which will end up being your page breaks.  You will find them more easily than your child because you have more experience with reading, but include them in the process.  Ask them, “Does it sound like you would turn the page after this sentence or that sentence?”

4. Now you have small paragraphs to work with and polish up.  While grammar is important, remember who the author is.  Their voice needs to be heard so I suggest keeping it at the level of a 5 year old which actually is excellent for story telling, but maybe not for a formal research paper.  I mean, look at my title: 5 Steps to help your 5 year old write THEIR story.  I know there’s no agreement there between the singular 5 year old and the plural THEIR, but we’re just chatting here and when I talk, that’s what I say.

What I’m getting at is there is a time and place for being super strict about grammar – and having fun with your 5 year old is not that time. Unless you want a child who will never want to write another story again.

Keep it to the level you expect them to speak.

You can, however, use this opportunity to teach them how to convey messages in words that they know but maybe didn’t use.  For example, if your child says, “She went to her bed,” you can ask him “How did she go to her bed?  Was it a fast movement or did she go slowly?”  If your child says, “Fast,” you can suggest some words for them to choose from: ran, jumped, leapt, scurried, etc.  If the word is new to them you can explain it (yay, new word learned!) but likely these will be words your child knows but didn’t think to use.

5. When the paragraphs are complete, type them up in a Word doc and print them out.  Cut them and paste each paragraph at the bottom (or top, or alternate…whatever your child wants) and have your child illustrate each paragraph.  Make colour copies and staple each book together for an easy self-publication!

**The VERY IMPORTANT thing to remember here is that your child is the author, not you.  You are the Encourager.  Each role is significant, but the author always gets the final say.

If your child doesn’t want something changed in the flow of the story (even if it makes absolutely no sense):

Who cares?  He’s 5.

If your child wants to say ‘went’ instead of ‘scurried’:

Who cares?  He’s 5.

If your child wants to write about a giant booger that fell out of someone’s nose, into the toilet that then overflowed and flooded the town...

He may well be the next Robert Munsch!

So, have fun and drop me a line if you try this or have any questions!

 

What To Do When Inspiration Seems Faaaarrrr Away? Go Fly A Kite!

How many times have you fallen asleep staring at a blank page or been hypnotized by a flashing cursor on an empty screen and thought, “I don’t know what to write about”?  How often have you sat down at your desk, absolutely determined to write a piece of genius, only to have that genius get stuck somewhere between your brain and your arm?

Good news: That is O.K.

You do not have some sort of writer’s dysfunction (i.e. ‘writer’s block’).  You are not failing at your craft.

You are simply at a different stage in the process.  You’re at the get-off-your-butt-and-meet-your-muse stage.  It happens to every good writer, and that’s why every good writer incorporates this into their regular routine.

American author Anais Nin has said, “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living”  (Something to jot down on a Post-It and stick on the edge of your monitor.)

What does that mean to you?  To me that means stepping awaaaaaaay from the computer.  It means a brisk walk in silence.  It means getting into bed before my husband so I can have a dark room to myself in which to breathe.  It means countless things to me and just as many to you, though what’s on my list may not be what’s on your list.  (But I did get 52 ideas down in Tuesday Tasks: 52 Activities Designed for an Entire Year of Creativity that is sure to get you on the right track.)

I know the pressure of wanting to write something amazing.  I did hang up my license in speech-language pathology after several gruelling years of university training and 6 years of practice to pursue this love affair.  I know I have things to say that will spur change in me, in you, and in the world.  And I know you have your story, too.  If you’ve ever had big, fat tears roll down your cheeks on a journey to WhoAmIKidding-ville, know that I have as well.

Here’s what I learned this summer: when the computer makes you feel nauseous, don’t turn it on.  And in doing so, don’t bemoan the fact that you’re not writing.  Go ahead and keep living, or live a little more as the case may be, and find inspiration in this little thing we call Life.

Because here’s the thing: if you don’t experience every juicy detail – the smells, the sounds, the conversation bits, the emotions – you can’t re-create the image on paper for your reader.

Sometimes you just have to take a day at the beach and fly a kite for the first time to really know what it feels like at the end of the string, feeling the tugs and dips of the kite and your heart.  The experience may remind you of a time passed, or have you dreaming about future possibilities.

In any case, it’s so much better than wishing you were at another stage in your writing, when this stage – this here, this now – is ready for you to embrace.

 

So the next time you find yourself pulling your hair out about ‘writer’s block’, just remember, not every stage of a masterpiece involves writing – a fair dose of it is living.

Grab Their Attention By Creating A Scene (In Your Writing!) And Two Exercises To Try

How many times have you picked up a book that just seemed to drag?  And how quickly did you end up putting that book down?! Whether you are writing a piece of fiction that just popped into your head or you are penning your life stories, you want to keep the reader engaged.  A great way to do this is to keep the story moving!

Here’s the inside scoop to ensuring your readers devour your work, and turn the pages so fast they get paper cuts!  (No, I’m kidding – a paper cut should not be wished upon anyone!)

So, how do you keep the story moving?  One way is by creating a scene.

Scene gives you a close up of what’s happening; imagine looking through a camera lens and zooooooom in until you are right in the room with the folks on whom you are eavesdropping.  Scene captures the dialogue, the facial expressions, the gestures, the peeling wallpaper in the kitchen, the sound of the motorcycle through the open window, and the smell of last night’s fish dinner.  It’s a virtual sense-feast.  You can even get so close to the characters that you can hear their thoughts!

Now, be careful.  You don’t want to describe everything to death (a sure way to get a reader to put down your book!)  Consider the background details to be like the fuzzier part of the picture, slightly out of focus, so that the attention remains on the very important interaction happening between the characters.  Don’t lose the story in the red and white checker print of the tablecloth with the orangey stain at the head of the table where Grandpa Joe ate his last meal of chicken parmesan just before his 82nd birthday the year before…yawn.  Who cares?  Unless the story is about how he choked on that piece of chicken, it’s really not adding to the story.  Just the word count.

Even though the background is slightly out of focus, we can 'hear' the traffic in the distance, but the focus is that drippy ice cream cone and my little girl's joy!
Even though the background is slightly out of focus, we can ‘hear’ the traffic in the distance, but the focus is that drippy ice cream cone and my little girl’s joy!

Here’s a little exercise:

Pick up the book you are currently reading, or one you have lying around.  (You do have a book next to you, right?  Remember, the two things a good writer does: write a lot and read a lot.)  Find a page with a scene and see if you can identify how the author draws you in, makes you feel close to the story.

Here’s another little exercise:

Think back on an interaction you had today.  Write a few paragraphs depicting the scene as though you are looking through a lens, shooting a movie.  Write down what you see.

When you are done, leave a comment and let me know how it went!

 

“Before I Die I Want To…”

“Before I Die, I Want To…” is the title of a beautiful TED Talk by Candy Chang from New Orleans.  It’s a short 6 minute window into the beautiful heart and mind of a young woman who understands the power of community, communication and the gift of life.  Watch the video and then come back – I’m going to share with you my thoughts on this topic.  I hope you share in the comments some of yours.

There were 3 points that Ms. Chang made that resonated with me:

1.  That it’s easy to get caught up in our daily lives – our schedules, our routines, our autopilot behaviour – and forget what is really important.  Occasionally, we have wake-up moments.  Maybe a death, an illness, or some other sort of trauma will give us a shake and remind us of the fragility of life and the importance of using our time in big and amazing ways.  And then time goes by, we go back to work, back to our responsibilities and fall asleep again, so to speak.

In my own experience, I see how this happened to me though I can’t actually pinpoint timeline.  In high school, I was well aware of the work that I could do in this world to serve others.  I had plans to raise awareness of issues that mattered to me.  I wanted hands-on experiences changing lives and bettering the world.  And then I went to University and all I could focus on was not failing my classes!  And I couldn’t figure out how to make a viable career or secure life by doing the things I initially knew were important to me, so I forgot about them and got swept away by the current of the mainstream.

When my mom died at the age of 55 in 2009, something inside me went OH MY GOODNESS…the clock is ticking and I can’t put my life on hold anymore.  I had already started journalling again months prior to her death but afterward, my writing became a platform for who I truly was inside to leap up and say, “I’m here!  And on purpose!” 

And then one day in early 2010, a situation came to my mind that I was dealing with that made me crazy angry.  Because I was pregnant and concerned about the baby’s reaction to my anger, I knew I had to take a step back and remember what was truly important to me.  And that same night, when I found myself journalling about serving the world, I was brought back to my Centre.

It’s important to me to share that with you because it was an exercise and an experience in snapping out of something that was leading nowhere and remembering what my purpose was here.  And purpose is so much more healthy than falling asleep at the wheel.

2.  Ms. Chang talked about how her fill-in-the-blank wall was filled up by the next day; her neighbours and passers-by were so eager to share with the world what they wanted before they died.  That told me how much every one of us wants our voice heard.  Everyone has something to say.  Everyone has something that they want before they die…and when they are asked what that is, most people will actually think about it and share it.

I’ve asked you to look at your death here.  Not to be morbid, not to put fear in you.  Let’s face it, none of us gets out of this life alive.  The question isn’t “Am I really going to die?”  The question, I think, is “Am I really going to live?”  And how?   When you are 90 something years old, warm in your bed, what are you going to wish you had done?  What would you regret not doing?  And why aren’t you doing it?

3.  Ms. Chang talked about the two most important things we have being time and our relationships with others.  I completely agree.  Time is obvious – when it runs out, so do our opportunities.  Relationships with others, I think, tends to slip down the priority list these days.  Everyone’s idea of what it takes to cultivate a relationship is different.  Whose idea are you living by?  Are you doing everything you want to be doing with the people who you truly care about?  These are important questions and not just to be evaluated at those wake-up moments that I described earlier.

If you have a response to Ms. Chang’s TED Talk, or if you’d like to fill in the blank: Before I die, I want to…, please leave it in a comment here.  I totally agree that getting to know each other in public spaces helps reduce distance between us and can bring about opportunities to help one another and ourselves.

 

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It Was A Summer Of Dreams

There were some dreams planted, some dreams realized…and some dreams vaporised.  In fact, I feel as though I am still waking up and am pinned in that space between what I thought was real and what lies before me.

I haven’t been here on Let ME Out!! in what feels like ages.  There were many reasons for that and at this point, I can only say that the details are yet to come.  For now, I want to share my experience in coming back to this space: this place where I have met so many like-minded people from across the world.  This blog is a piece of me; it holds my convictions, the wisdom I have gained and the questions I still have.  And coming back here, after this summer, has been a lesson in itself.

I am reminded why writing has been my life line.  Coming back here and being able to read words that have flown off my fingertips in moments of connectedness has been invaluable today.  In this post, I wrote about events in my life that “totally knocked me off my feet – only to give me wings to fly.”  Those words breathed out of me when I wasn’t even consciously looking for them; I remember that.  I remember writing that and going, “Wow, I didn’t even know that I knew that.”  And today, it’s those very words that are helping me, and even more so because they came from that place, that heartmind, that just knows.  So, even if today I have questions and struggles, I can find some peace knowing that I have been here before and I have also been to that place where I know I am infinitely loved.  And that everything will be OK.

Writing is now such a strong part of my identity that no matter what I am faced with, I seem to hear its whispers.  Even at 3 am.  Or, I should say, especially at 3 am.  I have had many pre-dawn moments engaged in an inner dialogue and I am comforted by the voice that answers back.  I give it all the crap I want, and still it loves me.  I really think my writing has been a huge part of this.  Its established a connection that I hope I can hold on to for the rest of my life.

This is why starting Let ME Out!! Releasing Your Creative Self was a project of purpose and passion for me.  I believe we all have that special something in our lives that connects us to our Self, and when we are not in sync with that part of us, it makes it more challenging to navigate the twists and turns.  What do YOU think?  Does any of this resonate with you? 

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or through personal emails.  I want to thank those of you who sent me messages to find out why I hadn’t been blogging.  It was nice to know you are as much a part of this as I am.  Trust that I never really went away.  Thanks for sticking by me and I appreciate you allowing me to ease my way back into this.

I have already taken deeper breaths writing this than I have in the last little while.  That’s a blessing.

 

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P.S.  Speaking of connecting with your Soul – my friend, Jodi Chapman from Soul Speak, has developed an amazing 6 week e-course to help you do just that.  The curriculum is invaluable and I really think it’s a steal with great content and fabulous contributors.  Free gifts, too!  Click on this link to learn more about the Coming Back to Life e-course.

 

Try-This Tuesday: Listen ‘Exquisitely’

This task is inspired by a most wonderful public speaking coaching session my co-authors of Heartmind Wisdom and I had yesterday with the amazing Ray Helm.

This wasn’t just any kind of public speaking coaching session; we went way beyond the typical speaking slowly into the microphone.  We went straight for connecting in relational presence and allowing the words to flow from the heartmind.  (What’s the heartmind?  It’s that love centre from which Life’s wisdom flows in and out and through us.)

Before we actually said a word in front of each other, we were taught to ‘listen exquisitely’.  This means remaining open, loving and receiving; it means not judging the content coming from the speaker (not even with a nod). 

What does listening have to do with speaking?  Everything.  Listening in this way, with undivided attention, and maintaining eye contact, creates a fertile environment for a relationship to grow.

By the way, this was the most difficult part for me!  Give me the microphone and I’ll tell you a story – but ask me to sit quietly while someone is talking and NOT respond?  I’m one of those crazy nodders when I’m totally with a speaker.  I “mmmhmmmm” out loud, too!  And if you’re saying anything that triggers the slightest excitement in me, depending on our relationship, I will cut you off to blurt it out.  (My husband is always asking me, “Can you let me finish?”)

At best, I will remain quiet on the outside but be formulating my response while you’re still talking.  Yes, I admit it!  What I learned yesterday was an excellent reminder of how important the listener’s role is in communicating, no matter what the relationship: parent-child, spouse-spouse, friend-friend etc.

And then when we practiced that – when we each stood at the front and had our turns at the microphone and as listeners – we were able to create this sticky, sweet space of mutual Love.  We were simultaneously a captivating audience and a scintillating speaker.  It’s the strangest phenomenon to try to describe – you need to practice it to really understand it.

So, how do you do that?  I’m going to tell you and I’m going to ask you to try it.  And if you have any inkling to share your story publicly or improve your communication skills, I would strongly recommend contacting Ray Helm at Speaking with Ease.

Grab a partner and sit on chairs facing each other, knee-to-knee.  Take turns as Person A and Person B.  Person A will speak first while Person B listens exquisitely, for three minutes.  Person A can speak or not speak (you can choose to just be in each other’s presence – but no making faces at each other…it’s not that kind of game!) while Person B simply receives.  Switch after three minutes.

Keep practicing it over a period of some time.  Once you get over the weirdness of being fully present with an honest-to-goodness human being (versus your smartphone, computer or what have you), you will discover how breath-taking it is to be One, with no end and no beginning.

 

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P.S. If you are interested in reading about relational presence, Ray recommended Be Heard Now by Lee Glickstein.  You can find it on Page 4 of the Inspirational/Healing/Educational section of my Amazon-powered bookstore by clicking here.

Try-This Tuesday: Find That Pause

How’s your day?  Busy?  Crazy?  (Those are usually the two answers I get from my husband…sometimes, it’s just one answer as in “Craaaazzzzyyy busy!”)  The busier it is, the crazier it is, the more you need to find time to do this:

 

It’s easy to get caught up in the to-do list, the ticking clock, the looming deadline…but what if I told you it’s just as easy to take a break, take a breath, among it all?

Here are a couple things you may want to try:

1.  Close the door.  Close your eyes.  Breathe in deeply.  Exhale fully.  Repeat.  Repeat again.  Repeat one more time just because it feels so darn good you won’t be able to help yourself.

2.  Take one of those activities you absolutely must do and turn it into a spiritual practice.  That’s right.  Who says you can’t om your way through the dishes?  Who says that drinking your tea can’t be an opportunity to express gratitude?  Rumi said, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”  I say, drinking tea can be one of them.  So can making dinner.  I once felt gratitude while taking out the garbage!  I was bent over, pulling the stinky bag out of the can, noticed my feet and felt a wave of love for them and all they do for me.  And there was my pause.

What do you do to find pause?  Can you share it with us?  We’d love to hear about it!

 

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Try-This Tuesday: What If The What If Game Wasn’t So Bad?

You’ve heard it before:  “Don’t play the ‘What If’ game because there’s no point/it’s dangerous/it’s scary/etc.”

But what if the ‘What If’ game wasn’t so bad? 

In fact, what if it was pretty darn fun and exciting and liberating and full of hope?  Why can’t we just change the rules a little so that instead of imagining the worst case scenario, we can imagine the most incredible, out-of-this-world BEST case scenario and then start walking toward that reality?

Try it this week.  Take a situation that you are just boggled by and create a most delicious menu of possibilities; spread them all out before you and relish in what may be waiting for you.

What are some of your ‘what ifs’ and on what side of the fence are they? Do they take you to a place of fear or a place of hope?

Here’s an example from my life:  Sometimes before I hit publish on a particularly personal post, I think “What if I come across as weak?”  Changing that mind-set, it is so much easier to send my words out in the world if I think “What if someone is really moved by my experience and discovers they are not alone in their vulnerability?”

Another one is, “What if that physical symptom of mine leads to a scary diagnosis that will impact my family’s lives?”  I’m learning that “What if this ache is my body’s way of saying ‘Live and love every day'” is a more empowering message.

What if everything you experience is for your own highest good? 

 

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Try-This Tuesday: Back To The Drawing Board

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re excited about an idea you have and then you decide to do a little research on the internet.  You know – just to see if the idea already exists in some form.  You type some words in to Google, get directed to someone’s website, read their blog, click on a link, and then another one, and then you get caught up in someone else’s idea and wonder why you didn’t think of it first and so on.  That’s happened to me…um… a few times.  And every time I’ve ended up further away from my own unique creation and have lost precious time in the process.

The only way for me to not get distracted from my own dreams and vision is to turn off the computer and literally, go back to the drawing board.  I have had some great brainstorming sessions with a doodle pad and pencil crayons.  I do prefer words to pictures when I’m trying to pin down my thoughts but occasionally I’ll doodle a little something while I’m letting my mind wander.

When it’s just me and paper I am so much more open to incoming ideas; I can literally hear myself think and I have the opportunity to sit blankly and relax into my breathing.  I can’t be knocked off my log.

This week, I invite you to try that.  If you are prone to surfing the net to get ideas or if you find that you are spending too much time connected to “what’s out there” in cyberspace, take a break and go back to the drawing board.  That could be your journal, an easel with a doodle pad or canvas, or it could be an armchair that offers you quiet and stillness.

 

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