Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Your personal timeline will help your memoir’s readers

Recently the mailman delivered Sharon Lippincott’s The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing: How to Transform Memories into Meaningful Stories.

I’ve underlined, highlighted, folded page corners, and scribbled in the margins. That’s the sign of a good book!

Among Sharon’s helpful tips is this little gem: She suggests creating a timeline to accompany your stories—a good idea, especially for a memoir. (Remember, there’s a difference between memoir and autobiography. Need a refresher on that? Check out What is Memoir below.*)

Think back: You have a good grasp of the order of your life’s events. Probably your kids do, too, but how about your grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Do (or will) they have a clear picture? Probably not.

Anything that confuses, clouds, or blurs will hinder your stories’ message and impact, so a timeline’s clarity is a valuable part of your memoir.

Recently we looked at various ways to structure your vignettes (chapters), and you’ll remember that they don’t have to be chronological.* If you arrange your vignettes in a non-chronological order, a timeline will be even more important for your readers.

How do you create a timeline?

Using a computer, or a pen and paper, make a table with two columns.

Under them, add one row for every year of your life. In the first row’s left column, write the year you were born. Beneath that, fill in the date of your second year; below that the date of your third year of life, and so on.

In the right column beside each date, list major events of that year. Sharon says, “I add just enough detail in the entry to give a general sense of the event without going into the story.”

Here’s how the first six years of a timeline might look:

Sharon says, “… It isn’t easy remembering what happened in a given year, or which year specific things happened. You may have to settle for approximate dates and general periods. Dig through your files, talk to relatives and do other research.”

A timeline “gives readers an overview of your life,” Sharon says, “and helps them understand story events in the context of your life.”

Be sure to come back Saturday for an exciting idea for you and your memoir—a spinoff from Sharon’s timeline idea—that provides you with bonuses you won’t want to miss!

For now, have fun starting a rough draft of your timeline. See you Saturday!

In my blog’s right column,
you will find a link to one of Sharon’s blogs,
The Heart and Craft of Life Writing.

Sharon’s book is a good resource. Be sure to look into The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing: How to Transform Memories into Meaningful Stories, at this Amazon link:

*Related posts:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Your memoir: Everyday wonders

At a Christmas party several years ago, a new acquaintance asked what I did with my time.

I told her I teach memoir classes based on Bible verses telling us to remember what God has done for us and to tell our kids and grandkids.

She got a far-away look in her eye and, after a moment, said, “I think I saw God do something once.” She paused. “Yes, I think I did.”

I wanted to grab her arm and say, “Once?! You saw God do something once? Lady, God does things for us all the time, every day!” but, by His grace, I found a quieter, gentler way to explain my perspective: God is always with us, always active in our lives.

Sometimes we don’t realize God plays a role in everyday events, but He does.

God is always with us. He plans for us, enjoys us, and delights to have a loving relationship with us.

He created each of us for Himself and for His unique purposes.

"You are not an accident.
Your birth was no mistake or mishap,
and your life was no fluke of nature.
Your parents may not have planned you,
but God did....
Long before you were conceived by your parents,
you were conceived in the mind of God.
He thought of you first.
It is not fate, nor chance, nor luck, nor coincidence
that you are breathing this very moment.
You are alive because  God wanted to create you!"
(Rick Warren)

If you doubt that, look at David’s words in Psalm 139:13-16 (NCV).

You [God] made my whole being.
You formed me in my mother’s body.
I praise you because you made me
in an amazing and wonderful way.…
You saw my bones being formed
as I took shape in my mother’s body.
When I was put together there,
you saw my body as it was formed.
All the days planned for me were written in your book
before I was one day old.

If you haven’t let that settle into every cell of your being, take a while to do so. The reality behind those words is life-changing!

David also wrote these words about God’s constant involvement in our lives:

Lord, you have examined me.
You know all about me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
You know my thoughts before I think them.
You know where I go and where I lie down.
You know well everything I do.
Lord, even before I say a word,
you already know what I am going to say.
You are all around me—in front and in back.
You have put your hand on me.…
Where can I go to get away from your Spirit?
Where can I run from you?
If I go up to the skies, you are there.
If I lie down where the dead are, you are there.
If I rise with the sun in the east,
and settle in the west beyond the sea,
even there you would guide me.
With your right hand you would hold me.
(Psalm 139:1-10, NCV)

Perhaps you identify with the woman I met—maybe you’ve noticed only the big stuff, God’s power in the “visions from heaven and for earth-shaking events.”

If so, this week take time to search for and discover the everyday ways God has always been involved in your life—

  • the college He led you to,
  • the teacher that inspired your choice of college majors,
  • the employment God provided,   
  • the neighbor who smiled when you were new in town,
  • your doctor’s wisdom,
  • the person who became your best friend,
  • a baby’s hug,
  • an honest car mechanic,
  • tomatoes in your garden,
  • Bible studies,
  • a stranger’s comment that opened up new possibilities,
  • and so many more!

God created each of us for His unique purposes.
He plans for us, enjoys us,
and delights to have a loving relationship with us.

God is always with us, always working in us,
always working on our behalf.

Write your stories!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Your memories: How can you retrieve them for your memoir?

God’s heart longs for us to remember the marvelous things He has done (Psalm 105:5), but we tend to forget. (See Saturday’s blog post* if you missed it.)

Memories are vital components of memoirs, so how can we retrieve the faded ones?

In addition to Saturday’s suggestions,* sketch a house floor plan and/or the neighborhood you lived in during an important segment of your life.

While you draw, memories will bubble up and percolate.

Don’t believe me? Give it a try! While you sketch, make notes to yourself about experiences and people intertwined with those memories.

For example, here’s my neighborhood from age three to eight. While I worked on it, memories surfaced and I penciled them in around the edges.

Not every memory will result in a vignette for your memoir, but the exercise helps you step back in time and remember many things you forgot.

But that is just the beginning!

This is very important: In Spiritual Memoirs 101, we go beyond digging up memories. Within our memories, we search for greater treasures: what God was doing in and for and through us at the time.

Let’s review elements of memoir:

Pondering, examining, unraveling, musing, and reflecting are necessary ingredients in memoirs. In the writing process, examine what God was doing—as you see it now, in retrospect. Look for deeper lessons God had for you in the events of your life.

Looking back, what did you learn about yourself?

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 God’s purpose for your life?

How did the experience change your life? What new person did you become?

How did the experience strengthen your faith for future challenges?

When your memories come out of hibernation, give yourself plenty of time to examine them and ask yourself the above questions.

I suspect that in many cases, you’ll be surprised to discover God has been more involved in your life than you recognized.

Remember! Then, write your stories!

P.S. Be sure to look over the blogs and other resources
I’ve posted for you in the right column.

*Related post:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gathering up your memories

Amy Carmichael died sixty years ago but, because she made time to write, her words still touch many of us.

Her words sound old fashioned, but they contain wisdom we can apply to our memoirs:

Psalm 106:12–13 They believed His words;
                         They sang His praises.
                         They soon forgot His works.  

Have you ever known a weakening in the inward places of your soul because you had let slip the memory of what your God did in the past? You had believed His words, you had sung His praises, for in very truth you had seen His words fulfilled. And then, somehow, the memory faded, blotted out by a disappointment perhaps, and you “forgat His works.”

. . . May the Lord, by His Spirit, quicken our memories, and help us to do our part by gathering up the forces of memory. It is worthwhile to do anything that will help us to do this. “We will remember Thy love” and all the way the Lord our God has led us [references to Song of Solomon 1:4, Deuteronomy 8:2]. (Amy Carmichael, Edges of His Ways; emphasis mine)

“Many churches have forgotten the premium that the historic Judeo-Christian tradition placed on remembrance … and recalling the right things. The ‘great sin’ of the Old Testament was forgetfulness (at least it is the most recurrent offense). ‘Remember’ is the most frequent command in the Old Testament.” (Clapham Memo, January 19, 2007, “Back and Forth,” by Mike Metzger; emphasis mine)

God’s heart longs for us to remember the marvelous things He has done (Psalm 105:5) but, like Mike Metzger and Amy Carmichael point out, we tend to forget. What are we to do?

If you’ve kept a journal over the years, you have a treasure. Your journal is an excellent resource for important events and details you might have otherwise forgotten. (To see the difference between journaling and memoir, see memoir definition, below.)

Some of you, or your relatives, have saved old letters and they, too, help you remember.

If you’re like me, you’ve jotted memories in the margins of your Bible and daily devotionals and Bible studies.

Some people print out special e-mails they’ve sent or received.

All these help gather up memories.

Always remember what you’ve seen God do,
and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!
Deuteronomy 4:9

What important things have you forgotten?
What will you do to reclaim them?

Every time you rediscover a significant occasion you want to include in your memoir, jot down a few sentences, and keep adding events to your list.

Be like Amy Carmichael: Make time to write, and perhaps sixty years from now, others will receive blessing and encouragement from you.

Enjoy the process!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dancing with God

Saturday I told you about Diana Trautwein’s lovely Trip Down Memory Lane at her blog, DRGT / Just Wondering, at

I invited Diana to be our guest blogger today and I know you’ll find inspiration and blessing in her vignette, Dancing with God:


As is my habit, I took a walk around my driveway one evening last week. And afterwards, I sat in our tree-swing to cool down, looking over this property and home that we love and I asked myself a hard question: "Why, Lord? Why do I have so much while so many others have so little?" Each day as I walk, I try to be thankful, specifically thankful, for the gifts of the day. And always, always, I am thankful for this house, this yard, this place that feels like gift every single day we’re here. And on this day, this particular day, after reading beautifully written and poignant posts about starving children in the Horn of Africa and children needing sponsors through World Vision or Compassion International, I was feeling overwhelmed by the discrepancy between my life and theirs.

And then, I remembered some of the bits and pieces of my story.

When God called us here, I was beyond nervous — my first paid job in 30 years and it was in pastoral ministry and I was 52 years old! And I could not find a place for us to live. I looked for three solid months, and came up with one possible choice. And when my family came north to attend my installation service at the end of those three months, I took them all to see it. Not one of them liked it. Not one. And I knew they were right — I had been responding to my own sense of desperation, not waiting on God to show me the next move in this dance I’ve been invited to join — this dance of life, of new creation, of choosing and following, of listening and yes … of waiting, waiting for the beat to change, waiting for the next twirl in the pattern.

I did have this one tiny sliver of hope, a slim piece of reminder. A special prayer, offered on my behalf by a friend who had come to our church as part of a missions conference — a friend who has lived the stripped-down life most of her days, a woman with a heart as big as Texas and a deep connection to God. And this is what she said, "Oh Lord, I know you have just the perfect house for Diana, the perfect spot for them to live, the perfect spot for them to retreat to at the end of their long days of working and driving (my husband commuted for 10 years), the perfect place for them to do hospitality ministries, just the perfect place! And I know you are dancing with joy right now for what is out ahead for her!"

‘Dancing with joy’ — for me!

I clung to that picture through every look-see, every discouraged shake of the head, every no, this one will not work, every sigh of disappointment, every weekly round-trip of 225 miles with overnights in a parishioner’s guesthouse.

And then, the very weekend my family shook their heads at the place I thought might work, we drove by the driveway of this house and took a peek. And those of us in the car looked at each other and said, “Does God have THIS as a surprise for you? Is this what all that dancing has been about?”

Yes, this is what all the dancing is about.

And as I sat on my swing that night last week, in awe at how materially blessed I am in comparison to so, so many others in this world, it was as though God said, "Continue to offer this place back to me, continue to use it to love your family, continue to use it to welcome directees, continue to use it to feed and house others — this is the life I have called you to, this is the life you are to live."

So I will continue to ask those hard questions, but I will also continue to live this called life. YOU, sweet reader, are called to a beautiful place, too. You may not be there yet, you may wonder if it will ever show up. But there will be beauty. There will be joy, laced in and amongst the sorrows and the sadnesses of this life we live. There will be joy. And when you get there, whether it’s an actual house and yard, or a condominium in a busy city, or a vast piece of farmland in the middle of the plains, or a novitiate’s room in a convent, or a dorm room in a college, or a studio apartment in a retirement community — wherever you land — enjoy every inch of it, be grateful for every inch of it, and keep giving it back to God. Listen for the beat to change, follow the next curve in the pattern and dance your way to joy.

Thanks, Diana! Your story is full of God’s grace and His purposes for you and your home. Thank you, too, for teaching us the importance of recognizing our homes are gifts from God and are to be used for Him.

Be sure to check out Diana’s blog, DRGT / Just Wondering, at

Related posts:

Your homes: their roles in your life’s story:


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Your homes: their roles in your life’s story

Recently you’ve been dreaming about your finished memoir, its title, and its cover. I hope this is fun for you!

You’re also thinking about your memoir’s structure, its framework: how you arrange the order of your chapters. How can you organize them in a way that will appeal most to your readers?

We’ve considered several options for your structure:
  • Chronological
  • Theme
  • Flashback
  • “Where I’m From”

Today I’ll offer another option: Your homes. I got this idea while reading Diana Trautwein’s Trip Down Memory Lane at her blog, DRGT / Just Wondering, at

Recently Diana and her husband drove by the four homes they’ve lived in during their 45 years of marriage. The experience brought back a flood of memories for Diana, some of which she wrote about in her post. You’ll enjoy her Trip Down Memory Lane and photos of those lovely homes at

Diana’s story got me thinking about structure: You could arrange your memoir into divisions according to your homes and the events that happened while living in them.

If you’ve stayed put most of your life, this framework won’t offer much excitement for you or your readers, but for those who have moved a few times, this could be an interesting choice for structuring your memoirs.

Similar to the structure in Wednesday’s blog post, a Table of Contents would look like this:

Part 1: Our Home at 1489 Blueberry Lane
          Chapter 1’s title
          Chapter 2’s title
          Chapter 3’s title
          Chapter 4’s title

Part 2: Our Home at 815 Washington Street
          Chapter 5’s title
          Chapter 6’s title
          Chapter 7’s title
          Chapter 8’s title
          Chapter 9’s title

And so on.

Think about it. Give it a try. Maybe it will work well for you.

Be sure to include photos, and don’t forget addresses! Decades from now your great-grandchildren might like to drive by your old homes!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

“Where Are You From?” and your memoir’s structure

I have a new idea and I’m eager to share it with you!

It started with last Wednesday’s intriguing exercise, “Where Are You From?” (or “Where I’m From” ). If you haven’t read that, here’s a link. You don’t want to miss it—it’s good.

You can write your own “Where I’m From” as stand-alone piece, orhere’s my new idea: You could:

  • write it chronologically,
  • divide it into segments, and
  • use each as an introduction to a set of chapters that took place during that block of time.

Confusing? Here’s an example.

I’ve written my “Where I’m From” chronologically, starting with my earliest memories—around age three. The first page or so covers up to age eight. That segment of my essay (excerpt below) could serve as an introduction to a division in my book.

Here’s what I mean. The page introducing Part One would look something like this:

Part One:
My First Eight Years

I am from Jerry and Kay, children of the Great Depression, accustomed to hard work and sacrifice and doing without.

I am from Jerry and Kay who came of age during World War II, patriotic young people who looked death—and life—in the face. Young adults committed to frugality and honorable conduct and self-discipline.

I am from grasshoppers in sun-baked grasses.

I am from the Inland Empire’s deep-freeze blizzard of 1950 the day my baby brother was born.

I am from a Zenith black-and-white TV with an Indian-silhouetted test pattern.…

I am from “The B. I. B. L. E. Yes that’s the book for me.…” and “Eensy Weensy Spider” and “I’m a Little Tea Pot.”

I’m from the annual Scottish Picnic, all dressed up in my tartan kilt, ruffly white blouse, and bonnet.

I am from “two jerks of a little dead mousie’s tail.”

I am from rustling wheat fields and unrelenting August sun and powdery Palouse soil and pie cherries from my grandparents’ backyard tree.…

I am from lilacs and hollyhocks and daisies.…

Following that segment of “Where I’m From,” readers could find chapters pertaining to that period of my life.

This portion of a Table of Contents would look like this:

Part 1: My First Eight Years
          Chapter 1’s title
          Chapter 2’s title
          Chapter 3’s title
          Chapter 4’s title

At age eight, my family moved across the state and everything changed.

Here, then, I could use segment two (excerpt below) of my “Where I’m From” as an introduction to the second division in my book.

Part Two:
Mist and Moss and  Salt-sea Air 

I am from a Mayflower moving van, transported to mist and moss and salt-sea air.

I am from untamed blackberry vines and emerald grass and mountains reaching heaven.

I am from foghorns and ferryboats and salmon sizzling over driftwood-and-seaweed beachfires.…

The Table of Contents would then look like this:

Part 1: My First Eight Years
          Chapter 1’s title
          Chapter 2’s title
          Chapter 3’s title
          Chapter 4’s title

          Chapter 5’s title
Part 2: Mist and Moss and Salt-sea Air
          Chapter 6’s title
          Chapter 7’s title
          Chapter 8’s title
          Chapter 9’s title

And so on.

I’m intrigued with the idea, are you?

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