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:


  1. Linda,
    Thanks for this informative post. I second your endorsement of Sharon's invaluable contributions to the memoir-writing world through her blogs and her book.She is one of my treasured mentors. The timeline exercise is a very useful tool in jogging memories and identifying turning points. Sharon also co-moderates the Yahoo Lifewriters' Forum with Jerry Waxler which is another great source of information and dialogue among lifewriters.

  2. Kathy, thanks for your endorsement of Sharon. I hope our other readers here at SM 101 will get acquainted with her and her resources.

    Wayne Groner has urged me to participate in the Yahoo Lifewriters' Forum with Sharon, Jerry, you, and others. Right now I'm crossing activities off my schedule to I can make time to participate in the Forum. I'm sure it's valuable!

    I'm so excited about Saturday's post because I'm taking Sharon's timeline idea to a deeper level within a memoir context. Great stuff!