Wednesday, August 31, 2011

“Where Are You From?”

I’ve been having a whale of a good time with a writing exercise making its way around the writers’ blogosphere.

I have a hunch you'll enjoy it, too.

Based on a piece by George Ella Lyon, you can take a jaunt, a pleasant meander—a treasure hunt—that leads you to “the sources of your unique you-ness that you'd never considered before,” according to the website “Where Are You From?” at

The exercise gives us an opportunity to “look afresh at what we normally take for granted” (George Kneller).

George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From begins this way:

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.…”

(Read more of this poem and how George Ella Lyons got started with this adventure at

Here is an excerpt from the "Where I'm From" essay Ann Kroeker wrote:

“I am from the persimmon tree, ripe fruit dropping, splitting, squishing soft into the grassy lawn below. I am from sweet-spring lilac and lily-of-the-valley.… I am from soybean and corn fields, hay and straw, and Black Angus cattle grazing in the pond field.… I am from Dick and Lynn, editors who carried home the scent of newsprint and ink in their hair and clothes.…”

Melissa Brotherton, a gal from my growing-up territory, writes words I treasure. Here’s a snippet:

“I am from rhododendrons and daffodils celebrated by parades and lemonade stands, from volcanos that rest, and gray beaches littered with rocks and worn down shell fragments.… I’m from a city whose name you only pronounce correctly if you’re from there.…”

Here’s an excerpt from Stephanie Precourt’s essay:

“I am from crayons left melting in the sun, from Kool-Aid and tying a sheet to the box fan in the hallway.… I’m from Irish lullabies and stumpy cankle legs, from Wilsons and Maynards and Hoovers and Riddles.… I’m from I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart.…”

(Continue reading Stephanie’s piece at

My own attempt has been great fun—it’s four pages long and I’m not finished! I’ll share excerpts soon.

How about you? Where are you from?

As part of your memoir, perhaps you’d like to write an essay about your one-of-a-kind you-ness. You can start by looking over this template at

Consider the template just a suggestion, a starting point. Feel free to branch out in new directions. For example, like Stephanie, I included song lyrics in my essay. You could include poems or Bible verses, too. Anything goes!

Give it a try. Look afresh at your uniquely unfolding life—maybe you’ve been taking it for granted.

What kinds of information, even everyday stuff, might your kids, grandkids, and great-grands never guess about you? Put it in writing!

(A word of caution: Writing “Where I’m From” can become addictive. You’ll want to keep pen and paper on your nightstand.)

If you compose your own Where I’m From, please share it with us!

Leave a link to your blog in the comment section below, or on Facebook (, or e-mail me at GrandmaLetters [at] aol [dot] com. (Replace [at] with @ and [dot] with a period, scrunch everything together, and your e-mail should reach me.) Write “Where I’m From” in the subject line so I’ll know it’s not spam. Thanks.

Soon I’ll suggest a way you could use this format to structure your memoir. The idea intrigues me. Y’all come back!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Your finished memoir: How do you envision it?

When you close your eyes and picture your finished memoir, what do you see?

Have you chosen a title for your book? (If so, let me know!)

Imagine your memoir’s cover. What will it look like?

Dream big!

These days we have a myriad of publishing options. We’ll cover them more fully in the future but for now, you can start thinking about a few:

  • a published hardbound or softbound book (either self-published or with an agent and/or publishing company)
  • a three-ring binder
  • a scrapbook-like format
  • a spiral-bound book from your local print shop or office supply store
  • a digital book compiled on the Internet (Is that the same thing as an e-book? I'll let you know.)

While you mull over your title, cover, and publishing options, pray for a clear sense of what you want your stories to accomplish in the lives of your readers—children, grandchildren, and other special people.*

Then, grab hold of that vision and make a plan.

This week your finished memoir might seem only a blurry dream, but planning for it now will help speed you toward that glorious accomplishment.

“Little is accomplished by those who dillydally.”
Donald Grey Barnhouse

Strategize, organize, and establish short-term and long-term goals for completing your memoir.

Get out your calendar and schedule weekly writing times.

And remember the beauty of memoir.*  It’s not autobiography!

In memoir, you don’t need to start with the day of your birth and include details about preschool, elementary, middle school, high school and college.

Facts that are imperative for a résumé are optional in memoir.

Memoir is a slice of life, a story or collection of short stories along a specific theme.

In Spiritual Memoirs 101, our theme comes from several Bible verses that tell us to remember what we’ve seen God do and be sure to tell our children and grandchildren. (See Deuteronomy 4:9 and 6:4-9, for example.)

And do this: Circle a date—probably on your new 2012 calendar—to finish your memoir’s rough draft.

Yes, go ahead! Do it!

Do it now!

And have fun!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

“Don’t preach!” Linda proclaims preachingly

When you write your memoir, avoid a “holier than thou” mind-set.

You know what it’s like when someone corners you with this attitude: “Too bad you can’t be like me.”

I’ll always remember a social event in which a man preached me all the way down a hall and against a dining room wall with statements like (I’m not making this up): “Presbyterians are going to hell!” (Yes, he knew I attended a Presbyterian church.)

Did his rant make me change denominations? No. It only made me avoid him in the future.

I agree with Oswald Chambers: “The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us….” (My Utmost for His Highest)

If you want people to read your memoir, avoid a know-it-all manner.

An “I’ve arrived” attitude is a turn-off.

Instead of preaching at readers, humbly tell your story.

Rather than drawing attention to yourself, point readers to God.

Lloyd Ogilvie prayed it well:

“May I share what I’ve learned from You without pious superiority
and the lessons of life without arrogance….
I want to point away from myself to You—the Author of my life story.” 

Lloyd John Ogilvie

Since I’m flailing my arms up here in my pulpit:

Avoid “Christianese.” Steer clear of jargon your readers might not understand, phrases like:

  • I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb
  • living in darkness
  • redeemed from a dark past
  • decide to follow the Lord
  • cast your burden
  • bear fruit that lasts
  • climb the mountain
  • walk through the valleys
  • ruled by the flesh
  • washed in the blood of Jesus
  • the enemy
  • slave to sin
  • wash as white as snow
  • nothing but the blood of Jesus
  • walk of faith

Instead, use everyday language to explain exactly what such phrases mean. Even words like “repent” should be thoroughly explained for your readers.

Keep working on your WIPs (works in progress—rough drafts). Write in such a way that your readers discover your deepest message: that God is your story’s hero.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Your memoir: Do you need story ideas?

How’s your list of story ideas coming for your memoir?

Do you need a few suggestions to jog your memory? Check these out:

On the day you [give person’s name] were born.…

Difficulties come to every life. When you face difficulties, my advice is.…

Your great-grandmother / great-grandfather would want you to know.…

The greatest accomplishment of my life is.…

The most important things in life are.…

If only.…

The hardest thing I had to deal with in my life was.…

I’ll never forget.…

The happiest moment in my life was.…

I had such fun on the day that.…

The biggest surprise of my life was.…

It’s not too late for you to.…

If I could live my life over again, I would.…

My faith has given me.…

Please forgive me for.…

My life suddenly changed when.…

I have a special message for [name].…

I am so proud of you [fill in name] for.…

I hope you know how much I love you. [Give specific details.]

You’ve given me so many joys. [Give specific details.]

Never forget, and always remember.…

I hope you’ll remember … about me.

[Person’s name] has been one of my spiritual role models.

My spiritual role model changed my life in this way.…

I saw/see the following Christ-like characteristics or actions in him/her.…

My spiritual role model showed me how to live this Bible verse.…

The most Christ-like action I’ve seen someone take is … and this is how it changed my life.…

The most courageous action I’ve seen someone take is … and this is how it changed my life.…

My favorite [song, book, Bible story, television show, food, sport, hobby, movie, play] is … and this is why it’s my favorite.…

“The ideas are endless. Observe keenly.
Think expansively. They’ll occur to you.
And when they do, record them. Keep them close.”
(Peter Jacobi)

Remember: In spiritual memoirs, you’re telling others the wonders God has done and his marvelous deeds on behalf of you and your family*, so be sure to link your vignettes to Scripture verses.

*Related post 
Your stories: an act of worship

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Your stories: an act of worship


Have you read 1 Chronicles 16 lately?

I 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 on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done ….
Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
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 those same things in our memoirs!

In our stories, we are telling others the wonders God has done and his marvelous deeds among us. We are declaring his glory. In the process, we are “singing” praise to him, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise!”

This 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!

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Spread the word. Invite your friends to join us. Everyone has stories to tell!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The beauty of memoir: your vignettes’ strong endings

Finish your individual vignettes with punch, with muscle.

A weak ending could make your story fall short of its potential impact.

A strong ending, however, offers readers the rich lessons your story contains.

This is where the beauty of memoir shines. Keep in mind the definition and purpose of memoir:

Retrospection, pondering, and examination are required.

Think about why you are telling your story.

What is your current understanding of what God was doing?

Include Bible verses that illustrate and validate your vignette.

What did you learn from the experience?

What did you learn about yourself? Do you now see a pattern? Some repetitions?

How was your faith strengthened as a result of the experience? How was your faith strengthened for the next difficulty?

What new person did you become as a result of the event?

Write your discoveries into each vignette’s ending.

Remember: your stories can do more than entertain: They can play a role in shaping the spiritual lives of those who read them—your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and anyone else you choose.

Write an ending “elegantly crafted that does not end with ‘and as you can see, “all things work together for the good.”’” (Cindy Blomquist, editor, Women of the Harvest, 

"… My biggest pet peeve … is a weak last paragraph. Why? Because I need satisfaction: a well-paced ending gives me closure and makes me feel good about my investment in reading.… A bad ending is like a car cruising along in the fast lane about to pass up its appointed exit, only to make it by crossing three lanes of traffic without looking to see what catastrophes have occurred by this abrupt and careless behavior. Don't be that kind of writer (or driver) .… Allow yourself the time to wrap up your [story]…. Evoke a call to action. Tell me about the transformation that resulted. Drive your point home without crossing 3 lanes of traffic at 100 mph. And please, oh please, don't use a verse from the Bible to wrap it up...." (Cindy Blomquist, editor, Women of the Harvest,

An effective ending leaves a lasting impression upon your readers.

Writing a strong finish takes time and thought.

If necessary, set your story aside for a few days, pray, and then craft your ending.

Conclude your vignette so your reader will feel inspired by reading it.

Create an ending for each vignette that will move your reader to ponder,

maybe laugh,

maybe shed a tear,

and, most importantly, to apply your story’s lessons to his or her own life.

Related post:
What is a memoir

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