Thursday, May 26, 2016

A memoir is so much more than spinning yarns and passing on tales


Often when people hear the word “memoir,” they don’t know exactly what a memoir is.

At a sign-up for one of my memoir classes, one woman said, “A memoir class! Good—I love journaling!”

But memoir is not journaling. A journal is private—for your eyes only—but you write a memoir for others to read.

A memoir is not an autobiography. An autobiography documents your whole life beginning with the day you were born, but a memoir focuses on one segment of your life—a specific theme or time period, a slice of life.

Let’s look at that more closely:

You can write a memoir based on a theme—for example, the theme of working as a missionary pilot, or an emergency room nurse, or the mother of quintuplets.  You focus on only that theme, leaving out other topics—such as the fact that you directed an award-winning movie or served as mayor of your town. (Those topics could be the stuff of another memoir.)

Or a person can write a memoir based on a time period. My memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, covers a time period—my first four years in Africa. Your time period might be grad school, your years in the Marines, or as a mother of toddlers. You focus only on that slice of your life and leave out other topics—such as an experience you had in middle school or a camping trip with the Boy Scouts.

Include only those details that pertain to your chosen window of time or your memoir’s theme.

Writing is so much more than just telling stories,
spinning yarns,
and passing on tales from the past:

Reflecting, examining, unraveling,
pondering, and musing
are requirements for writing a memoir—
as are untangling, mulling over, sifting through,
analyzing, and sorting out.

Here at SM 101, our memoirs are based on Deuteronomy 4:9, “Always remember what you’ve seen God do for you, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!

With that purpose in mind, ask yourself what God was doing as you see it now, in retrospect

Think about turning points, 
defining moments, 
key people, 
disappointments, 
successes, 
failures, 
surprises, 
setbacks, 
achievements, 
detours, 
honors, 
and victories.

Look back on a time God or someone significant 
shook you to your core, 
melted your heart, 
knocked you to your knees, 
changed your mind, 
took your breath away, 
stretched you to the breaking point, 
revised your goals, 
opened your eyes, 
made you cry buckets of tears, 
gave you new perspectives.

Look for deeper lessons and meanings God had for you in the events of your life. (Writing a spiritual memoir does not require that you have supernatural, astonishing stories that would make the evening news and get tweeted around the world.)


Peel back the layers: What did you learn about yourself? How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?

What patterns in your faith did you discover that you hadn’t noticed before?

What did you learn about God? Do you now have a better understanding of His purpose for your life? How did your experience strengthen your faith for future challenges?

Dig deeply to discover what God has done for you, in you, through you—every day, every step of the way, through the best of times and the worst of times.

Your life’s story is much deeper and higher and wider than the story that’s on the surface. Probing and questioning and reflecting and unraveling will help you discover significance you probably missed earlier—and discovering that can be life-changing for you as well as for your readers.

Jesus said, “Go tell your family everything God has done for you” (Luke 8:39). That means writing a memoir is a holy work. It is a ministry.

Your job is to notice God in the midst of your gatherings and activities and responsibilities and relationships and homes.

As a memoirist, you have the privilege of working with sacred stories—stories which are for the most part stories of day by day events and average people—but nevertheless it’s a holy calling to tell the next generations about God’s involvement in their lives and their families’ lives (Psalm 145:4).

Such stories need not be dry and boring.
They can and should include charm
and humor and adventure and intrigue.
Write stories that are winsome and fascinating to read.



Related posts:



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Your stories: An act of worship


Have you read 1 Chronicles 16 lately? If not, take a few minutes to read it below—you’ll be glad you did!

Notice how you can almost hear trumpets sounding and bells ringing and angels singing.

In this chapter, David gave Asaph and his fellow Levites a song of thanksgiving to God. He said:

Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name;
make known…what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts….
Remember the wonders he has done….
Declare his glory...his marvelous deeds….
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise….
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and joy in his dwelling place.
Ascribe to the Lord...the glory due his name.
Bring an offering before him;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness....
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
                                                                          
And when David finished, “Then all the people shouted ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the Lord.’” What a worship service! I wish I could have stood among that congregation.

And as if that’s not enough—what’s even more exciting
is that we are doing the same things in our memoirs! 
In our stories,
we are telling others the wonders God has done
and his marvelous deeds on our behalf.
In our memoir stories, we are declaring his glory.
In the process, we are singing” praise to him,
“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise!



One sentence grabbed hold of my heart: “Bring an offering before him; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”

I encourage you to lift up to God (1) your process of writing and (2) your finished stories—lift them up to God as your offering to him.

And hand your stories to your readers as an offering to the Lord, too. Do it as an act of worshiping him in the splendor of his holiness. What a privilege we have to honor God in this way.

And we, the writers, together with our readers, 
shout, Amen! And Praise the Lord!





Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: “Sometimes life takes us places we never expected to go”



Here's your Tuesday Tidbit, your 15 seconds of inspiration:




What surprises has God brought into your life?
surprises that upset your plans and dreams
and sent you down a road you never expected to travel?

Maybe at the time
you didn’t recognize God was the one
who created the unexpected events
but now, looking back, connecting the dots,
you see He was orchestrating the twists and turns
in your life.
And they turned out well!
God intended them for good.

“For I know the plans I have for you,”
declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Have you put your story in writing—
even the story you thought would never be yours?



Thursday, May 12, 2016

Your mother is “the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street”


Continuing with thoughts about mothers and motherhood—your mother, or the mother of your children, or your mother-in-law, or a mother you know: Include details that will make her unique, multi-dimensional, and memorable.  (If you missed last Thursday’s post, click on Your stories about mothers and motherhood.)

Mary Larmoyeux shows us a clever way of capturing a mother’s essence by customizing the following essay:


“Your mother is always with you.
She’s the whisper of the leaves
as you walk down the street.
She’s the smell of certain foods you remember,
flowers you pick, the fragrance of life itself.
She’s the cool hand on your brow
when you’re not feeling well.
She’s your breath in the air on a cold winter’s day.
She is the sound of the rain that lulls you to sleep,
the colors of a rainbow;
she is Christmas morning.
Your mother lives inside your laughter.
She’s the place you came from, your first home,
and she’s the map you follow with every step you take.
She’s your first love, your first friend,
even your first enemy,
but nothing on earth can separate you—
not time, not space, not even death.”


Mary paraphrased that quote to describe her own mother. Here are excerpts:

“My mother is…the reminder that things work out.
She’s the smell of sugar cookies…
and Sunday roast…
and the sight of kneading bread. 
She’s the hand that picked Magnolias,
the sound of prayers with Dad.
She’s the word of kindness needed,
the trust that God’s nearby….
She’s the place that I came from, my first home—
one I’ll always know….”
(Mary Larmoyeux, “Your Mother is Always With You.”)


Set aside a few minutes to do what Mary didUsing the original quote for inspiration, capture the essence of the mother you’re writing about.

Was she refined and elegant—or salty like Tugboat Annie?

Was she boisterous—or mild-mannered?

Wild and scatterbrained—or methodical and orderly?

Courageous—or cowardly?

Haughty and self-important—or humble and modest?

Self-absorbed—or selfless?

Savvy, graceful, strong—or uninformed, clumsy, weak?  

Petite—or obese?

Did she have a sense of humor—or was she clueless?

onewildword.com/2011/07/13
What were her rituals, her habits, her hobbies, her quirks?

Did she have a short fuse? A voice like an angel? A contagious laugh? A heart of gold?

What did she believe?

What did she live for?

Think about the details the essay’s author used: “the whisper of the leaves,” “your breath in the air on a cold winter’s day,” “the colors of a rainbow.” 

And think about the details Mary chose: “the smell of sugar cookies… and Sunday roast,” “the hand that picked Magnolias,” “the word of kindness needed.”

Capture similar details about the mother in your story. Make her come alive for your readers.


All of us have stories about mothers





Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Inviting others to the dance


Writing your memoir can help you step beyond your grief.
And when it does,
use your words 
to invite others to join in “the larger dance.”


“… As we dance, we realize that
we don’t have to stay on the little spot of our grief,
but we can step beyond it.
We stop centering our lives on ourselves.
We pull others along with us
and invite them into the larger dance.
We learn to make room for others—
and the Gracious Other in our midst.
And when we become present to God and God’s people,
we find ourselves richer.
We come to know that all the world is our dance floor.
Our step grows lighter because God has called others to dance as well….”



May your step grow lighter because
“God has called out others to dance as well,”
and He has invited you to play a role in that.





Thursday, May 5, 2016

Your stories about mothers and motherhood

What can you write—or should you write—about your mother? Or the mother of your children? Or about being a mother yourself?

All of us have stories about mothers and if we’ll make time to put them in writing, our families will be all the richer for them.

Yes, our families will be all the richer for them. Take in Bruce Feiler’s message:

“What is the secret sauce that holds a family together? What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?”

In researching those questions, Feiler says, “a surprising theme emerged. The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”

His research showed that the more children know of their family’s stories, the more they demonstrate emotional health and happiness and the more resilient they are when faced with challenges.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that when I read those words I hollered, “Yessss! That’s why we write memoirs!” 

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Through research, Feiler discovered God was on the right track when He told us to tell our kids and grandkids what we’ve seen Him do for us (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:5-9; 6:20-25). Their research verifies Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Go tell your family what the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19). (Read more at The secret sauce)

Feiler concludes, “Bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine, and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and the ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.” (“The Stories That Bind Us,” New York Times)

So, since this is the week of Mother's Day, write stories about your mother or a mother you know or your own motherhood. Such stories are important.

I’ve assembled the following quotes to stir up memories from years ago, quotes to inspire you to get out a pen and paper, or sit down at your computer, and start writing:


“From my mother did I enter this world and from my loins did my children arrive and there is a bond between us mothers that holds generations and families together. There are recipes and stories and birthing and bathing and it’s more powerful than spider’s silk….” (Amanda Hill, “Ode to Mothers”)


“A mother is neither cocky, nor proud, because she knows the school principal may call at any minute to report that her child had just driven a motorcycle through the gymnasium.” (Mary Kay Blakely)


“I believe it is impossible to overestimate the power a boy feels and the influence it has in his life when he looks at his Mother and sees that she has seen him, has looked into his soul and found something there that makes her glow.” (Randall Wallace, Living the Braveheart Life)  


“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” (Abraham Lincoln)


“I am stretched and tired and fearful. I am wild and brave and broken. My closet has a sense of humor and clothes in every size. I have danced circles into the midnight carpet… rocked restless babies, cut baby curls, snipped fingernails…. I have tripped on Legos, stepped on scooters, slept on bottom bunks, and strung yards of white, twinkling lights above the heads of two blonde brothers afraid of the dark and their bad dreams…. I am overwhelmed, infatuated, love struck and completely unhinged. Especially on the nights they bring in wild flowers and all the every-loving mud in the world….” (Lisa-Jo Baker, “The (real life) dictionary definition of ‘Mother’”)  


“From the time they take their first step, it’s a battle of emotions… cheering them on as they move forward, taking a piece of you farther away with every step. The sleepless nights, the hours of school work at the kitchen table and the fevered afternoons, cool washrag pressed to hot forehead. Who can ever sum up the job description of ‘Mother?’ And all this, when they never belong to us in the first place. Ultimately, the job of a mother is to make herself obsolete.”  (E.P. Hale, “The Leadership Influence of Mothers”)


“The influence of a mother’s leadership may not earn worldly awards, accolades or prestige. But one thing we can be sure of … it makes a difference, maybe even all the difference.” ( E.P. Hale “The Leadership Influence of Mothers”)


“Behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours began.” (Mitch Albom)


“A mother has a way of seeing through your ugly, and always bearing your burdens. She prays hard and makes you feel that there is love in the universe when you can’t see it and a beating heart when you can’t hear it and consistency in her acceptance even when you feel lost or thrown away…. And she reminds you that God redeems, and we must always forgive, and everything we do must be rooted in kindness.” (Amanda Hill, “Ode to Mothers”)   


“I know of no more permanent imprint on a life than the one made by mothers.... More than any statesman or teacher, more than any minister or physician, more than any film star, athlete, business person, author, scientist, civic leader, entertainer, or military hero ... you are the most influential person in your child's life.  

“There would never have been an Isaac without a Sarah, a Moses without a Jachobed, a Samuel without a Hannah.... 

“And so, mothers, don't ever forget the permanence of your imprint. The kids may seem ungrateful, they may act irresponsible, they may even ignore your reminders and forget your advice these days. But believe this: They cannot erase your influence.” (Chuck Swindoll, “The Greatest Influence”)


Happy Mother's Day!