Thursday, July 25, 2013

Triggering story ideas for your memoir

This is your own personal, private worksheet.

It might take you days or weeks to come up with answers
but go ahead and get started.
The purpose of this exercise is to remember significant people
and situations, 
some of which will trigger story ideas for your memoir,
stories that will inspire your readers
and help them navigate through their own lives.

What is the most courageous act you’ve witnessed? The most cowardly? What did you learn from them?

What was the happiest day of your life? The saddest? How did those days change you?

Who was your best childhood friend? High school friend? College friend? Adult friend? How did he/she shape your life?

Who was your favorite older person when you were a child? Why was he/she so special?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

What was your favorite childhood book? Why? How did it impact you?

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past ten years? How did it influence you?

Who was your favorite teacher/professor/coach and how did he/she shape your life?

Who/what disappointed you most in your childhood? Adulthood? How?

What was the biggest “Aha!” moment of your life?

What makes you scared? Happy?

What has been your most serious health issue? How did it impact your life?

List two or three crossroads in your life. Where did your decisions take you? What would your life have been like if you had made different decisions at those pivotal moments?

If you could undo one foolish choice, what would it be?

What was the funniest thing you ever said or did? The saddest or worst?

Who or what taught you the importance of honesty? When were you hurt because someone lied to you? How did those incidents shape you into who you are today? 

When did you give up and quit? When did you refuse to give up and quit?

What was the proudest moment of your life? The most humiliating?

What was the most generous act you’ve witnessed? The most selfish? How did they impact you?

What was the hardest decision you’ve ever made? What was the outcome?

What’s the worst mistake you’ve made? What did you learn from it?

What was your biggest disappointment? Did you discover a “silver lining” afterward?

How did you learn about God? What is your opinion of Him?

What’s your favorite song? Movie? Poem? How have they molded your life?

What important thing do you want to experience before you die? Why?

Here’s something else to ponder: In The Shelter of God’s Promises, Sheila Walsh tells of receiving a letter from a woman about her illness, financial problems, and a broken marriage. Sheila writes, “Amid her description of all these hardships, one line in the letter arrested my attention because of its profound simplicity: ‘I would not have made it this far without the promises of God.’” Sheila then asks us to think about our own experiences and fill in the following blank: “I would not have made it this far without _____________.”

How can you incorporate this, or something similar, in your memoir?

Finally—and of great importance—trace the ways God has led you: over mountains, through valleys, in sunshine and clouds, across deep waters, from beginning to end, because “In God’s unfailing love, He leads the people He has redeemed” (Exodus 15:13).

Always remember the things you’ve seen God do for you, 
and be sure to tell our children and grandchildren!
Deuteronomy 4:9

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Add richness to your memoir’s chapters by using epigrams

Have you considered including epigrams at the beginning of your memoir’s chapters?

An epigram is a concise saying that illuminates or summarizes the important message in a chapter.

An epigram's value is this: it helps make your story relatable and memorable for your readers. 

It can be a proverb, a quotation, or something clever. Or perhaps a Bible verse or a line from a song or poem.

It can be an adage, a maxim, a witticism, a precept, a pithy saying, or a prayer.

You can find materials for epigrams all around you. The supply is almost limitless.

If you’re like me, you’ve saved poems and quotations everywhere—in journals, in filing cabinets, in computer documents—and you’ve underlined passages in books, you’ve highlighted verses in your Bible, and you’ve memorized song lyrics.

They caught your attention because they have a special meaning for you, and that means some of them could make powerful epigrams for your memoir’s chapters.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

“A dog is a man’s best friend.” (English proverb)  

"Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) 

"Lord, send someone else to do it!" (Moses, Exodus 14:13) 

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

“The Bible is … a thin place through which the presence of God breaks into this world and bursts with unpredictable consequences into our lives.…” (Chris Webb, The Fire of the Word)

“’Tis good to give a stranger a meal, or a night’s lodging … and give courage to a companion.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“When elephants fight, the grass gets hurt.” (East African Proverb)

“One person is thin porridge; two or three people are a handful of stiff cooked cornmeal.” (East African Proverb)

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” (Chinese proverb)

“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.… Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” (Proverbs 17:27-28)

“A fool and his money are soon parted.” (English proverb)

“Our life is too short for pettiness, angry words, wounded feelings, crushed souls. Perhaps the measure of life is not in its length, but in its love.” (John Burroughs)

“At times God will seem like an unkind friend, but He is not; He will appear like an unnatural father, but He is not; He will appear like an unjust judge, but He is not.… Not even the smallest detail of life happens unless God’s will is behind it. Therefore, you can rest in complete confidence in Him.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

“No man is an island, entire of itself.…” (John Donne) 

"God does not give us overcoming life—He gives us life as we overcome. The strain of life is what builds our strength.... Overcome your own timidity and take the first step." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

"Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping … will return with songs of joy." (Psalm 126:5–6)

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority; the test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” (Ralph W. Sockman)

"You have never been this way before." (Joshua 3:4)

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” (Abraham Lincoln)

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded." (Luke 12:48) 

"We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing, that He is preparing and fitting us for some extraordinary thing by and by, but as we go on in grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, in the present minute." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

 “Sometimes faith is the absence of fear. Other times faith may be choosing to believe God even when your heart is melting with fear. Perhaps, then, faith is tested by what we do with fear, not whether or not we have it.” (Beth Moore, Breaking Free)

“… A single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” (Anne Frank)

 “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” (Psalm 102:17-18)

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”( G.K. Chesterton)

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)

“We are not meant to be seen as God’s perfect, bright-shining examples, but to be seen as the everyday essence of ordinary life exhibiting the miracle of His grace.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

“Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself.” (T.S. Eliot)

“God is already working on Plan B even as Plan A lies in shambles around your feet.” (John Claypool)

“Courage is contagious. When a brave young man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.” (Billy Graham)

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change … but it’s that in between place that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold onto.” (Marilyn Ferguson)

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” (Edmund Burke)

“… I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.” (Elizabeth Elliot)

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” (Willa Cather)

“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” (Walt Disney)

What are some of your favorite sayings? 
Leave them in the comments section below. 
Who knows? One of them 
might be exactly what someone else is looking for!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I knew even before I opened my eyes

Even before I opened my eyes, I knew.

Yes, being back in my old home territory meant I knew, even before I opened my eyes in the morning, that it was foggy outside—salty, gauzy, clammy, foggy.

Snuggled under blankets, I awoke to fog horns signaling back and forth, and I knew that up and down the Sound, ships were navigating with care.

Being home again meant I knew which fog horn belonged to the ferry.

For eleven years now I have lived inland, far from fog horns, but I have heard them nevertheless—or so I thought. Many a time I’ve heard a train horn wail in the distance and somewhere deep in the back corner of my mind I’ve assumed it was a fog horn—only to “come to” a few seconds later and realize I was hearing a train. To paraphrase the old saying, “You can take the girl from the sea, but you can’t take the sea from the girl.”

What about you? Have you had similar home-related experiences? How can you paraphrase this original old proverb to describe your life? “You can take a boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of a boy.” (1938, “B. Baer” in Baer and Major)

Search for a place to use that in your memoir. Your readers will enjoy it. They'll fell they know you better.

Friday, July 5, 2013

What signifies you are home?

A family emergency finds me back home unexpectedly—HOME-home, the place my roots grow deepest. Now that I’m here, my heart soars at the sights and smells and sounds and textures and tastes that tell me I’m HOME.

My time is limited here today but here’s a prompt for your memoir: What signifies HOME-home for you? What sights, smells, sounds, textures, and tastes? Capture that for your readers. Sensory details add richness to your stories, insights into your personality, and details about you that your family might not know otherwise.