Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Gift of a Lifetime – Journaling and Life Stories

My last post was on keeping a journal, but as I developed a presentation on the subject, I thought I'd revisit this and add more helpful hints. In a presentation given several years ago historian David McCullough said, “If you want to be remembered, keep a journal.” As genealogists/family historians, that advice hit home. We also learned from genealogy that writing helps you make sense of things. Not everyone is a family historian, so, in preparing a presentation on journaling, I anticipated the question why. Why do this? My answer is: Because no one has experienced what you have, has felt what you have felt. No one has your perspective on life, on events. We are living through historic times. How did you manage? Are managing? What did you do differently? How did you react during the shut downs? Did you buy lots of toilet paper? Flour? Vinegar? How did you feel about the protests, the election? Even if no one else ever sees what you write in your journal, it will help you make sense of things. It can bring focus and clarity to your life. Be sure to include the good things, especially the good things that came as a result of the pandemic. The air is a bit cleaner, traffic better, more families making meals at home and eating dinner together (big positive). Creatively blossomed as we figured out ways to stay connected, to accomplish things in a different way. Journaling is a written record of your thoughts, feelings, observations. It can be a short sentence, long paragraphs, or bullet points. It’s whatever you want it to be. There are no rules. No right or wrong way. It’s a way of documenting your life and a way to self-discovery. Have you ever kept a nature journal? Tracking birds, flowers, what works in your vegetable garden year to year and what you’d like to do different next year? A travel journal of trips you’ve taken. My sister-in-law keeps a composition notebook with books she’s read and notes on each in a Reading Journal. I keep a Writers Journal for plot and character ideas, to track progress, and book publishing format specifications. Day to day, my husband and I keep what I call a Daily Journal. Except for my writer’s journal, my daily journal is all of the above. I write down what’d I accomplished the day before, what I want to accomplish that day, family news, sometimes national news, happy events as well as sad. Opinions, books I’m reading, even what we’re having for dinner! This year I wrote about what I planted in my Grow Box. A journal can be anything you want it to be. Your journal can be hand written or digital. If hand written, choose a notebook that feels good to you – they can range in price from $1.00 for a composition book to whatever you want to pay. I spend $12.00 - $14.00 on a journal. I want a certain type, one that feels good in my hands and an extra fine tip black pen. Find a time of day that’s best for you to write. Find a best place to write. Keep your journal in a safe place. Not on the kitchen table where it can be picked up by anyone. These are your personal thoughts. Memoir Writing I started writing memoirs in the early 2000s after attending a morning session at our local library. From that, a small group formed and we met every month for the next few years. I completed my life stories from birth to marriage and titled them, “Growing up in Willow Creek.” Thanks to the C.H. Booth Library in Newtown, CT, who paid for my memoir book to be bound. My process for that first book was to think of a topic like stories about my love of horses, and how that was satisfied; family Thanksgivings and Christmas; Swimming across Cayuga Lake at the age of twelve; what it was like being the child of snowbirds, attending a two-room schoolhouse. All these stories influenced who I am today. And, I hope, will provide insight for my children and grandchildren. In a presentation at a Naugatuck Genealogical Society meeting, I learned the Memory Drifting Technique. This is a great aid to help mine those elusive (long forgotten) memories. And I got surprising results. With our paper/pencil in hand, we were asked to pick a decade. I chose 1960-1970. Next, list a couple significant events that happened during that decade. I listed high school graduation, college graduation, marriage, Chicago, NY. We were asked to choose ONE of those and list issues. I chose Chicago, so my issues were adjustment to city living, job, California trip, starting over. Still using Chicago as my significant event, next list were Memories. I wrote down Big City, no friends, pollution. The last list was called Deeper memories. And this is when I remembered the good things about Chicago: Brookfield Zoo close by, Libby Foods where my husband worked, Berghoff German Restaurant, day trips to Holland, MI for the Tulip Festival, day trips to Wisconsin. I was surprised at the memories that popped up as I drilled down into our life in Chicago. Start your memoir with mini-stories. You won’t remember every detail at first. As you write then let it sit, more memories will come. And try the Memory Drifting Technique. A timeline can be helpful to bring forward memories. Write about your parents/grandparents Your children Religion Holidays Family traditions Pets Jobs Military service Courtship/marriage First home Volunteer positions you’ve held – the best and worst Were there turning points in your life? Things to help jar your memory: Photographs Yearbooks Scrapbooks Letters Talk with family and friends Journals/diaries Write down the important people in your life – how did they make a difference?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Journaling - There are no rules

Our Pandemic Christmas Tree. - Half of the top strand of lights went out a week after decorating the tree. This year saw low to no supply of toilet paper, then flour, then apple cider vinegar. Who would have thought white Christmas Tree lights would be unavailable in December? I found a strand of multi-colored lights in our holiday boxes that we haven't used in 20 years. They worked. Instead of being upset, I just said, "It's 2020." What else??? As we end a year to remember, or one to forget, depending on your point of view, I'm thankful I've documented the events of the year, I wrote about the bad as well as the good. In writing I could pour out my feelings - of isolation, fear (of virus, of others), tears. And thankfs for the good things. The creativity, time to figure things out. I developed a different mindset when a problem presented. Not longer anxious or frustrated, I'd think about how I could fix the problem. And if not, I accepted the fact and told myself, well, it's 2020. Keeping a journal is nothing more than recording your thoughts, feelings, observations. It can include favorite quotes, recipes, bits of gossip, poems. It can be short sentences, long paragraphs or bullet points of things you'd like to remember. There is no right or wrong way. There are no rules. No one to judge. It's just about you. Keeping a journal can help you make sense of things. And a way to document history. This is a perfect time to jot down your thoughts of the year past. Your hopes for the year to come. Goals you want to accomplish. The good things. One of the things we did through the year is call friends and relatives we don't normally call. It brighted our lives as well as theirs. Another good thing about 2020 is that we can now attend two genealogical society meetings that we couldn't before. They are now on zoom and because of that can feature national speakers.
One of Great-grandma Jessie (Tucker) Agard's journals on the left; a composition book, great for journal writing in center, and the kind of journal book I use. I'm thankful to have my great grandmother's journals that she kept from 1944 until her death in 1973 at the age of 97. Her journals give me a glimspe into her daily life as a farm wife. I hope that my journals, at some point in the future, will give another generation a glimpse into my life, especially how we managed through the Pandemic of 2020 and beyond.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Marketing 101

The Rappahannock Writers Conference held virtually last Saturday went off without a hitch, thanks to our talented CRRL librarians. The speakers did an amazing job traversing the new technology challenges. One of the questions that I didn’t have time to answer enough was on marketing. It was almost like, where do I begin. So, I’ll post this on my blog and website and hope the person who asked the question will find it. I hope all aspiring writers know by now that no matter how you decide to publish – traditional with an agent, hybrid, or Indie, it’s up to the author to do the marketing. In one of the sessions on publishing, the speaker stated that shelf life of a book in a book store is three months. Three months. The author has to work very hard to market their books to drive sales. When I self-published my first book, I had no idea where to start. I sent a note to most of my email contacts, and posted the book on my Facebook page. Since that time with books number two and three, I’ve expanded my marketing. I list on Sisters-in-Crime website, my blog post, website, LinkedIn, make bookmarks, get articles/interviews in local papers, library/ book group presentations, search for events where I can sell books (pre/post Covid), and Goodreads. This list changes and is added to with each book I publish. Some authors sponsor launch parties, send out newsletters, buy Amazon or Goodreads ads, drawings for a free copy. There are many ways to market and each author has to find their own way. Marketing is a whole other skill set that we all have to learn. Presentations to library groups can be such fun. Below is a photo of me talking with the Lansing, New York library patrons.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Understanding Scenes in Memoir Writing

On Saturday November 7 I will be giving a presentation on writing scenes at a virtual Rappahannock Writers Conference. Registration is open to anyone, anywhere at There’s a great line-up of speakers and a panel on publishing. The sessions will remain available on the library’s website through Nov. 14 for those who cannot make it on Saturday. My presentation, Scenes: The Essential Ingredient, is about understanding that scene writing is critical for any type/genre of prose you are writing, including memoirs. I describe scenes as: A sequence where a character or characters engage in some sort of action and/or dialogue. Scenes should have a beginning, middle and end (a mini-story arc), and should focus around a definite point of tension that moves the story forward. Or: individual story units smaller than chapters (but somewhat self-contained), show us sequences of actions and incidents that reveal place and time, characters’ actions, reactions or dilemmas. Basically, scenes are the building blocks of your story. Like any book the first or launch scene is the most important and will also be the most difficult to craft. It needs to capture the interest of the reader and give the reader a reason to continue. It helps to think of your memoir as a movie. The summary is the wider camera view. A scene is more of a close-up when you slow down the pace, express emotions, sights, sounds, smells – the five senses. Each scene is like a mini-story and when added together make up the whole. Before you jump into writing, take some time to plan. What do you want to accomplish? Who will be your audience – and that can be just you. Will your memoir have a theme or will it be a collection of life stories? Who will be the narrator – this is called Point of View.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Living History and Journal Writing

In March 2020 our lives changed. It happened so fast. We were enjoying having our grandchildren visit us in Florida. They rented a golf cart, biked around the island, went parasailing. But within two days our world fell apart. Our son and daughter-in-law were afraid their airport would close and they wouldn’t be able to get home. They packed up in a hurry and left. I was devastated. Then photos of empty grocery store shelves across the country appeared in social media and in newspapers. Fear of others, fear of going out overcame us. I made quick trips to Publix to stock up on non-perishables to take home with us. Paper goods and cleaning products were nowhere to be seen. Nothing like this had happened in our lifetime. Not since the 1918 Pandemic. Years ago my husband and I heard a talk by historian David McCullough. He said, if you want to be remembered, keep a journal. We took his advice seriously. For the last nine months I’ve documented the Novel Covid-19 pandemic, at least as it has affected our lives. We are living history, and it’s important to capture how this event has changed your life, and will continue to do so. This is a great chapter for your memoirs. In time, we hope, the pandemic will be behind us. What you and your family went through during this year or more will be invaluable family history.
One paragraph in my memoir titled “2020” states:’ By Friday, March 20, social distancing announced. Manatee beaches closed with the hope that tourists and college age kids return home. Although beaches closed, if you can get to the beach, you can be on it with limited number of ten. Island emptying out. Counted only five planes coming into Sarasota airport. CT, NY, NJ closing all non-essential businesses.”

Friday, October 30, 2020

Before the Library Burns

My brother, Skip and I ready for school I have volunteered to facilitate the memoir writing group virtually through the library. BC (before Covid), our small group met at the library, and during one of those sessions I learned there are different definitions of memoirs. One train of thought is that a memoir is a written account of one theme running through a person’s life. Let’s say you loved drawing and painting since you were young. You followed your dream, your passion to be an artist, but there were bumps along the way. Maybe your parents thought it was a foolish waste of time, or refused to pay for art school. And then there are the blue ribbons you won for your artwork. Another definition is: a narrative composed from personal experience. When I wrote my “memoirs” in a writing group during the early 2000s, I wrote individual chapters for each experience. What my home looked like, my best friend, Thanksgivings, and how other holidays were celebrated. I’ve decided to call my next group of memoir writing – Life Stories. A woman in my library memoir writing group has titled her book “Before the Library Burns,” referring to the fact that when she is gone, her life experiences, if not written down and shared with family, will be lost forever. We can’t let that happen to our families. Writing advice tells us to write what you know; start with yourself; start with action. Or, write down story topics: When/where you were born, your parents, special memories of your grandparents/aunts/uncles; your favorite toy; accomplishments you are most proud of; turning points in your life; family traditions/culture; holidays; pets; jobs; military service; education. On this last point, from first to third grade I attended a rural two-room school. Our school “bus” was a station wagon. That’s an experience my children and grandchildren will never have. Nor will they feel what it was like to swim across Cayuga Lake at the age of twelve. Or, growing up in a restaurant. These are all stories I’ve captured for them in my first volume of memoirs. Take each of the above suggestions, or think of your own, in no particular order and start writing. As you go through that process, more memories will come. Most of all, have fun.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Rappahannock Writers Conference - November 7, 2020

The Central Rappahannock Regional Library, in partnership with the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA is hosting its 3rd annual writing conference. Due to the Pandemic, this year the conference will be virtual. The registration link went live today. I will be giving a presentation on writing scenes. They are the building blocks, the DNA, the essential elements of any prose genre.