Thursday, December 31, 2015

You are important to God

You are important to God. Yes, you!

Some people are skeptical about that. Some doubt God considers them important. Are you one of them?

I used to be.

For decades I assumed I was as significant as one grain of sand on all the ocean’s beaches.

When I was young, I imagined that if someone in heaven were to nudge God and point down to earth and say, “There’s that little Linda,” God might say something like, “Oh, yes, that freckled one, the lefty with curly hair.”

I suspected, however, that He’d be so busy taking care of all the other little specks of sand that I’d get lost in the crowd.

I’ll never forget when, decades later, I read Psalm 139:13-17. The message changed my life. From that moment on I never, ever felt like a mere grain of sand.

Read it for yourself because it’s not just about me—it’s all about you, too:

You [God] made all the delicate,
inner parts of my body
and knit me together in
my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—
how well I know it.
You watched me
as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together
in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
(Psalm 139:13-17, NLT)

The first time I took in those words, my heart cried out, “Such thoughts are too wonderful for me!” (Psalm 139:6)

Look at this ultrasound of my grand-niece, Anna. It captures God at work—God knitting Anna together in her mother’s womb in utter seclusionjust like the Psalm described.

Now look (below) at this picture of Anna at about age four. (Isn’t she a beauty?!)

In His marvelous workmanship, God had already determined Anna’s eye color, skin tone, height, and talents—and He was making it happen.

God’s holy hands crafted Anna’s hair texture, nose shape, toe length, fingernail shape, and tooth enamel.

With loving attention, He created Anna’s soul, her heart, and her most charming personality.

In divine complexity, He has planned the moments and days of Anna’s life. He knows the calendar pages of her life.

Friends, with the same intimate knowledge and love, God created you. 

With holy hands, He determined your appearance, your attributes, your soul. You are the precious work of His hands. With delight, God created you with a unique purpose for your generation.

“He says you are a work of art, a masterpiece.
When He made you,
He placed you in the perfect setting,
gave you the desired appearance, abilities,
temperament, gifts, strengths,
and yes, weaknesses.

When you were born He said,
Look at you! You are just what I had in mind—
just right for your place in My story.
I have a great storyline already planned….”
(from Living the Story, by Judy Douglas; emphasis mine)

The more you grasp, and accept, how important you are to God, the better you can write stories in your memoir about what He has done in your life and—of great importance—the better you can share with your children, grandchildren, and all your readers that they are important to God.

Remember, your stories can: 

  • help shape your readers’ faith, 
  • define their identity in God, 
  • and feel secure in their place in your family.

Write stories to help them grasp they are not mere accidents. God intricately created them and planned for them from the beginning.

Write stories to impress upon your kids and grandkids and great-grands that they are important to God.

Write stories to let them know their lives are sacred.

Write stories to let them know they’re God’s masterpieces.

Tell them God treasures them.

Impress upon them they’re God’s workmanship, created deliberately by Him (Ephesians 2:10).

Your memoir could change your readers’ lives.
Believe it.
Ask God to help you write.

Determine that in 2016, you will write those stories!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Deliberate exploration

Jesus said,

tell your family
has done
for you.'

Luke 8:39

What has God done for you in the past?

What things might you have overlooked?

Make time to 
deliberately explore
what God has done for you.

Take all the time you need.

to write stories
about those things
and include them
in your memoir.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What fun December details might your readers not know about you?

What fun December details might your readers (kids, grandkids, great-grands, friends, colleagues) not know about you? 

Here’s a fun way to mine those gems: Do you remember our “Where Are You From?” exercise? It’s a deliciously fun writing project—but it’s much more than that!

Based on a poem by George Ella Lyon, your “Where I’m From” sheds light on “the sources of your unique you-ness that you’d never considered before,” according to the website.

And you must know what that means: Your “Where I’m From” is valuable memoir material. It can add richness and pizzazz and personality to your stories.  

Lyon’s online template suggests you write “Where I’m From” something like this:

“I am from _____ (specific ordinary item), from ______ (product name) and _______.

“I am from the ______ (home description … adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

“I am from the ______ (plant, flower, natural item.…)

“I am from _______ (family tradition) and ________ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) .…

“From __________ (something you were told as a child).…”

.… and so on. (Read more at this link.)

For example, Lyon’s poem begins this way:

“I am from clothespins, from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.…
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm.…”

I propose you make a unique “Where I’m From” specifically for your December stories—maybe as an introduction or a prologue.

Use Lyon’s template as a jumping-off spot, but feel free to soar way beyond it: Branch out in new directions.

List such December things as:

  • song lyrics,
  • weather,
  • tastes,
  • smells,
  • sights,
  • sounds,
  • textures,
  • traditions.

Add activities: Did you go ice skating? Make gingerbread houses? Go to The Nutcracker?

Did your parents or grandparents read you a special story every Christmas?

Did mistletoe play an important role in your December stories?

Here’s a fun idea: Include holiday fashion trends from various eras in your life.

Consider writing several December lists: one for early childhood, one for your teen years, one for young adulthood, and so on.

My “Where I’m From” December stories capture deep-freeze winters in eastern Washington State, Christmas Eve ferry rides in western Washington, and one Christmas in Washington, DC.

They include Salvation Army bells and fireplace smoke in crisp night air. And hot chocolate with candy cane stir sticks. Gag gifts and laughter. Bayberry candles. Cordial cherries and newborn babies. And Christmas carols, lots of Christmas carols.

My nine Christmases on the equator, however, were much different: Three of those Christmases included temperatures of 104 degrees, hot winds, wildfires, and ashes heavy in the air. Melting Jello salad carried to Christmas dinner at the home of relative strangers. Being “home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

My Christmas list does not include lefse, lutfisk, or herring, but for some people, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without them. How about you?

Some of my friends and relatives celebrate Hanukah rather than Christmas. Maybe you do, too. If so, what flavors, songs, traditions, and stories will be on your “Where I’m From” list?

Give this some thought: What kinds of December details might your readers (kids, grandkids, great-grands) never guess about you? 

This is a busy time of year so maybe you can simply make a list of snippets to remind yourself later.

Then, when the time is right, create your own “Where I’m From” specifically for your December stories, and have loads of fun! 

(Warning: This can be addicting!)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Christmas memories for your memoir

How was your childhood Christmas different from that of your kids and grandkids?

Did you spend hours going through the Sears Christmas catalog?

Did you ask Santa for a cap gun? Or a transistor radio? Or a poodle skirt?

I remember asking Santa for a walking doll. Does anyone out there remember walking dolls?

Was someone in your family sick on Christmas? Did your doctor make a house call?

What were your favorite Christmas movies?

What unique Christmas traditions did your family carry out?

Did you and your family get all dressed up in fancy clothes for Christmas?

Who typically joined you for Christmas? Or did you usually travel to someone else’s home?

Did your family take Christmas pictures with a camera that used flash bulbs or flash cubes? Were the pictures black and white?

Capture the smells of Christmas, and the sounds, sights, tastes, and textures of Christmas.

Because your childhood Christmas was so different from that of your kids and grandkids, such details will invite readers to experience your Christmases past.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Looking for gifts? Forget about malls, Internet, and catalogs

“… Memoir, or ‘life’—is reserved for famous people or for people who have done something wild, woeful or really odd to write about,” writes Patrick T. Reardon .

You can sense the sadness in his heart when he says that “everyday people aren’t approached for their life stories.”

But wait! Writing life stories and memoirs is for everyday people!

Reardon eventually figured that out. Memoir is not for only “famous people or those who have done something wild, woeful or really odd.”

Once he figured that out, Reardon asked his family to write stories and give them to him for Christmas. (You can read more about it here.)

He says to you and to me during this busy Christmas season:

Forget about the mall.
Forget about the Internet.
Forget about catalogs.
Give your father or mother
or sister or brother
or anyone close to you
something from the heart.
Give your [memoir, your] ‘life.’”

That's the best kind of Christmas gift you can give!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: "What if Christmas..."

H.M. Brock artist, not in copyright

"Then the Grinch thought of something 
he hadn't before!
What if Christmas, he thought,
didn't come from a store.
What if Christmas...
means a bit more!"

Dr. Seuss, 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

What are mass murders doing to our children and grandchildren?

Mass killings in Paris, Colorado Springs, and, a few hours ago, in San Bernardino bring tears to my eyes.

My heart grieves for victims’ loved ones and for the wounded, especially those in critical condition.

I grieve for our cities and schools and neighborhoods and nation.

We’ve witnessed too many bloodbaths. According to the Washington Post, the mass shooting in San Bernardino was only one of two yesterday in the U.S., and the 355th of 2015. And it was “at least the third mass shooting since the rampage in Colorado Springs last Friday.”

Way too many of us are staggering beneath the weight of those grave events in our nation and world.

Such disasters leave us shattered even if they don’t happen in our own neighborhoods. They leave adultsand childrenshaken.  Dazed. Scared.

I grieve for our young people.

What are mass murders doing to our children and grandchildren?

We can’t keep them from hearing news reports. They’ll hear one way or another, and most schools nowadays conduct regular drills to prepare for violent intruders—and even the drills conjure up terrifying what-ifs. Little kids (and even big kids), traumatized with worry, ask:

“Will something like that happen in my neighborhood?”

“If my mommy and daddy are killed, who will take care of me?”

“What if something like that happens at my school? Will I die?”

Those are crushing loads for young people to bear.

How can you help young ones in your family?

Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in the world.” (Fred Rogers)

Think of those helpers, those special people: law enforcement and emergency personnel, community leaders, clergy, medical professionals, good Samaritans, teachers, and so many more.

How can you comfort your young ones like Mr. Rogers’ mother comforted him? What stories can you tell your kids and grandkids and great-grands that will calm, encourage, and help them trust God?  

Write vignettes for your memoir, stories that show how you or others dealt with frightful experiences, threats, war, or violence.

Write stories about the kind of helpers Fred Rogers’ mother spoke of.

Write stories that will teach young people to pray and to watch for God’s answers.

Write stories of God’s help and His healing afterward. Include Bible verses and God’s promises.

Pray for God’s help
in writing your stories—
stories that will give readers
and hope
and courage
and strong faith.

Perhaps one day
they’ll say words similar to
Mr. Rogers’ words,
something like:
To this day I remember
my mother’s/father’s/
and I am always comforted….”

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Your memoir’s December details

What is the taste of December? Does December make a sound? What is the feel of December? The temperatures? The textures? The smells? The colors?

In some parts of the world, December is a time of frigid temperatures and snow and ice. I’ve spent many Decembers in such a climate.

For three years, though, I endured Decembers with daytime highs of over 100 degrees and, from sunup ‘til sundown, a stiff hot wind blew across parched grasslands. It was a season of wildfires so the sight of blackened savannahs and the smell of ash signaled December. At such times, locals said, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”

If one of your memoir’s vignettes is set in December, briefly capture the scene for your readers by including a few sensory details (sight, smell, sound, taste, and feel).

If you’ll do that, you’ll be inviting readers to experience your story with you.

There you have it:
This week’s Tuesday Tidbit,
your 15 seconds of inspiration.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving memories for your memoir

What stories come to mind when you read this verse?

Have you written them into your memoir?

If not, jot down a few notes to yourself
and set them aside for now.

Promise yourself
you'll come back when you have time
and put those stories into writing.

Your family and friends
will thank you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cry, sweat, tremble, bleed

After all our toil and struggle to write our memoirs, how do we get people to read them?

We “Make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em wait,” in the words of Wilkie Collins.

Speakers and writers follow that advice for obvious reasons: it keeps audiences engaged.

Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at how to ‘make ‘em laugh
so now how do we make ‘em cry?

If you’ve tried writing your emotion, you know that can be a tough challenge, but in Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach suggests we employ method writing, a spin-off of method acting.

Here’s how method acting works: Before the curtain rises, the actor remembers a time in which he experienced the emotion he needs to act out. He spends time reliving that emotion so that when he steps on stage, he’s all wrapped up in that emotion and succeeds in playing his part.

Method writing, then, requires you to step out of the present and into the past. If you’re writing about a tragic event, take time (make time) to remember the event and relive it so you can rediscover the emotions you felt.

Avoid over-the-top hysteria, but be honest in admitting your emotions.

In the midst of reliving that situation and emotion, ask yourself:

  • What was at stake? What did I have to lose or gain?
  •  What dreams would never come true?
  •  At the time, how did I envision that my life would never be the same?
  •  Where would I find courage to live another day?
  •  What were my fears, my hopes, my prayers?

When you are caught up again in that emotion, get it onto paper or computer screen.

Your “emotion should be so realistic and gripping that the reader can’t help but feel it too.…” (Becca Puglisi; emphasis mine)

To paraphrase Larry Brooks,
make your readers
happy they are not there,
yet grateful
to feel what it was like to be you.

Emotion: That’s how you make a way for readers to join you in your story, to make them care, to make them want to keep reading.

“Our best stories evoke an emotional response,
touch a deep cord,
and motivate action and change.”
 (Peter Guber; emphasis mine)

OK, are you ready? Go make ‘em cry!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Humor connects you with your readers

“The blend of vulnerability and humor,” writes Chuck Swindoll, “established an instant connection that allowed what I had to say to slip past their defenses and find a warm welcome in their hearts.” 

Chuck’s advice works for all communicators, including memoirists. He goes on to say:

“Humor will help you ‘say it well.’ When handled with care, humor will also endear you to your audiences, who will then give you greater access to their hearts.” (Touching Others With Your Words)

If you missed recent posts on making ‘em laugh in your memoir, click on the links below:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Use humor the right way in your memoir

Have you looked for ways to include humor in your memoir? I hope so, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the process—especially the end result.  (If you missed our last two posts, click on Cry Laugh Wait and Humor can be “like a sneak attack.”)

Humor can work wonders in human hearts and lives. Take, for example, what happened one day to Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers (The Writing Sisters).

Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities and tight schedules, they took a break and watched something on TV: Lucy and Ethel wearing bakery hats. “As I watch them desperately wrapping candies unable to keep up with the speed of the conveyor belt, I totally relate to the feeling. I’m already behind today. Now I’m laughing and feeling connected, not alone in my frailty and human condition. It’s a relief to be reminded that I am human, made of dust. My own busy day pulls into perspective” (emphasis mine).

That’s the value of humor and its capacity to bond. In the same way Lucy and Ethel’s episode impacted The Writing Sisters, your humor can help readers bond with you and your story—and keep reading. (Your memoir might not lend itself to humor—we’ll look at other options in the future—but use humor if you can.)

Readers like to be entertained. If you entertain them, you engage them, and you’ve begun to win them over.

“…We like to read other people’s
embarrassing stories.
They give us a laugh—
and often lift our mood
(‘at least I didn’t do that!’).
They can even provide
valuable learning experiences.
You don’t want to overdo it
and come across as a bumbling idiot—
but occasionally admitting to
something embarrassing
or talking about a failure
can make you more human
in your readers’ eyes.”

Kate Cohen shares this tip on timing: “This can be as simple as applying the funny word, phrase or sentence at the last possible moment. You can force a pause before the punch line by starting a new paragraph” (emphasis mine). Good tip.

Stand back and search for what’s comical or quirky in your situation. Besides timing, look for ways to use subtle humor. Or maybe exaggerate just a wee bit. Experiment. Give yourself time. It might just work.

But here’s a caution: Avoid offending. Poke fun at yourself, not others. If we want readers to respect us, we must respect others.

The Writing Sisters caught my attention with this: “Worldly humor comes from a platform of superiority over others, Godly humor from a platform of humility.”

The Sisters shared Liz Curtis Higgs’ list comparing worldly humor with God-honoring humor:

Worldly Humor
  • Glorifies sin
  • Puts down others
  • Ridicules righteousness
  • Hurts the spirit

Godly Humor
  • Avoids offense
  • Builds up others
  • Honors the Lord
  • Heals the Spirit

Laughter is
a universal language,
a common connector
a shared experience.

Use it well
in your memoir.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: The kind of memoir that sells

Do you dream of publishing your memoir?

If so, listen to Cec Murphey’s wise words:

Autobiographies and memoirs
can be about ordinary people
they do out-of-the-ordinary things.”

Take 20 seconds to read the rest of Cec’s post, “What Kind of Autobiography or Memoir Sells?”

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Humor can be “like a sneak attack”

Every once in a while, I run across a blog post that sticks with me. Does that happen to you, too?

October 10, 2010—more than five years ago!—I read a Johnny B.Truant post about a brilliant technique we can apply to writing memoir.

Johnny told a story from his high school years when one afternoon, 1200 students gathered for an assembly—but no one knew why.

Two men took the stage and, instead of telling why they were there, they told jokes and funny stories, commiserated with students about how bad high school is, and poked fun at teachers and administrators.

“We liked these guys,” Johnny said. “They thought like we did. Their stories were interesting and fun. We settled in and relaxed.”

But everything changed about halfway through the talk. “It was like a sneak attack: it was on us before we knew it was coming.”

The guest speakers started talking about AIDS, abstinence, teenage drinking, and drug use.

“It was all the stuff that adults usually talk to teenagers about—the stuff teenagers usually roll their eyes at.

“But we weren’t rolling our eyes. We were listening. We’d been transfixed.”

The speakers didn’t preach that AIDS is something to avoid. Instead, they brought the crowd back to a girl they’d talked about in their funny stories—and told them she died of HIV.

They didn’t tell the students not to drink and drive. Instead, they brought the crowd back to a boy they’d heard about earlier in the funny stories—and told them he was hit by a drunk driver and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Afterward, when those 1200 kids filed out of the auditorium, Johnny says, “Most of the kids who streamed past me were silent or crying.”

Those guest speakers had come to urge the teens to avoid dumb choices and reckless living and peer pressure and, instead, to think, to be smart, to make right choices. Usually high schoolers thumb their noses at adults who try to tell them such things, “But because they did their selling through stories, we’d bought it all,” remembers Johnny.

What do you think? Wasn’t that a brilliant technique?

Using humor in the beginning of their talk was a factor in their message’s success—which brings us back to last Thursday’s post and the importance of making ‘em laugh in your memoir.

Humor establishes a bond between you and your readers. It engages your readers and makes you seem real. Humor endears you to your readers. Humor makes your readers enjoy you. (Click here to read more at Cry, laugh, wait.)

If you don’t establish a bond with your readers toward the beginning of your memoir, they’re likely to toss your memoir aside and let it get dusty. Or maybe throw it in the trash, or donate it to the local thrift store.

If you want people to read your memoir, you’ve gotta get them hooked. Including at least a little humor someplace early in your memoir can do that. (Your memoir might not lend itself to humor—we’ll look at other options in the future—but everyone else should consider using it.)

Think of this: 
You don’t know who your readers might be. 
You’re writing your memoir 
for people who come after you, 
perhaps generations not yet born. 
You can’t look into the future 
to know what their situations 
and challenges might be.

But you do know 
everyone has challenges and heartaches
Everyone needs wisdom 
to make important decisions 
and live their lives well, 
and your memoir’s stories 
could help readers find their way 
through the bumps and pot-holes in the road.

Remember: God used other people’s stories to help make you who you are. Their stories rubbed off on you. It’s as if other people’s stories are infectious. Contagious.

Someone’s story helped:

show you courage
show you how to live an honorable life
keep your faith strong
keep you from despair
keep you on the right track
inspire you
pass on wisdom to you
point you to God.

Now it’s your turn. In the same way other people helped you by sharing their stories, you can help others by sharing your stories.

Your stories are important. If you don’t want readers to roll their eyes and toss your memoir aside, try the techniques those guest speakers used:

Introduce your main characters (that includes you) in ways that entertain and interest your readers. Draw them in. Develop your characters so readers can bond with them, so they’ll care about them. Create main characters readers can engage with, like the kids in the school assembly engaged with the speakers that day.

And then, carry out your sneak attack: Bring out the deeper lessons of your stories.

To help you get started:

Who impressed upon you the importance of safe driving, or standing up to peer pressure, or the consequences of cheating or lying? What are your stories? Write them.

Who taught you the merits of keeping a promise, or arriving at work on time, or being loyal? What are your stories? Write them.

What did key people in your past teach you? And how? What are your stories? Write them.
If you want to pass on
important lessons
to future generations,
write engaging stories
with well-developed characters.
And consider using humor
toward the beginning
to draw them in.