Life Story Writing

Teaching Life Story Writing and Musings On My Life ~


I love going to funerals, said no one ever. But here I was again sitting with that quiet awe, pondering the mystery of life and death, finding it hard to imagine it will happen to me one day.

Everyone should go to a funeral every now and again. It brings us face to face with our mortality and that’s a good thing to think about once in a while. We are so caught up in our day to day business that barely do we take a quiet moment to look back and see how far we have come or look ahead and pick out the way. Nor do we sit back and enjoy the view from where we are.

At a funeral a life is painted in broad brush strokes and fractured detailed images, the stories that are pulled from the hat of life. I sat there only yesterday listening to the life of this man pass before my eyes. I man I never knew, yet knew fairly well by the time I left the chapel doors.

His son spoke first. He began by telling us all the things he hated about his father. Yes, that had our attention as he proceeded to tell of those things, like getting up early or putting up the hay. Then he confessed what he wouldn’t give to be doing those things with his father just one more time. Lesson learned: you know those things that annoy or irritate you that your loved one does? You will miss them and as the memories rise they will even bring a smile to your face.

At a funeral you can’t help but wonder what folks will say at your own funeral. What experiences will my kids draw on to talk about me? How will they remember me? How do I want to be remembered? Am I living my life so that I am leaving that legacy of memories?

Death can steal us away early or late. Am I living with any regrets, any unspoken words? Are there things that I am putting off doing because I am too busy or too tired or too scared? Sometimes there is no right time, you have to make it happen, maybe even be a little daring.

I sat there surrounded by hundreds of loving family, friends and neighbors. They had dressed in there very best, taken time out of their busy lives to sit patiently, lovingly, quietly listening for the more than two hours that it took to send Sherral on his way…home. I wondered who would come to my funeral.

His wife stood with courage. Would she cry? We would be brave for her. She related that her husband had insisted she speak at his funeral and how she had questioned his wisdom. She finally conceded and joked that now she would finally have the last word. The last words were filled with love and respect, admiration and joy for a full life lived with her best friend.

I looked at my husband as we drove home. I felt more forgiving, he seemed more perfect than a few hours earlier and my mind couldn’t help but think that one day we would have to say goodbye, at least for a while until we were reunited beyond this mortal realm. That day could be tomorrow, it could be many years away. The problem is we never know. We live almost carelessly like that day will never come. We live like we are immortal, untouchable, enchanted.

So tomorrow when I wake up I will pray to have a good memory, a memory of the things I learned and the way I felt at the funeral because you see tomorrow could the last day I have to forgive, to love and to live. You just never know.


Contentment, The Door To Happiness?

I have been pondering on the word contentment as of late. Why? You might well ask. Well I can’t exactly pinpoint where it began or if I kind of wandered into that territory. It all has to do with this: we are so busy ‘getting’ and ‘obtaining’ possession, rank and notoriety in this world. Mostly I have noticed friends moving and they are moving ‘up’ as the world terms it. They are moving to bigger and better houses or building the house of their dreams in more desirable neighborhoods. I can’t say I blame them. If I were in a financially secure position to do that I might follow there lead. Or I might not. You see there might just be something I value more than having a big house with a big mortgage attached to it and me for the rest of my life. I might just value my freedom to travel more than a big house. A big house might lure me like a carrot but really would that give me contentment? Would I feel like I was happy?

A few years ago we moved into our little house of 1000 sq ft. Oh we were excited! Oh we were delighted to not be homeless, to have a roof over our heads (now that’s another story). The walls needed priming and fixing, doors needed replacing, new toilets needed installing, second hand appliances needed buying, flooring needed to be ripped out. We did what we could with the allowance we had but it wasn’t enough. So we went without kitchen and bathroom flooring. Bare concrete showed between the carpet remnants. But that was okay. It was okay because of where we had been a few months previous. We couldn’t afford a place to live so we had taken shelter with friends. We had fallen on hard times. Now my Dad had bought this house for us to live in until I could get back on my feet and pay him back.

Fast forward a few years and I am feeling like the house is too small. We need a bigger place. We need nicer furniture. Wait a minute, what just happened here? Before we were ecstatic we had a beat up house with broken windows. Now we are in our winter of discontent? You get the picture. Maybe you have experienced this too.

And why does this matter at all? Well this train of thought got me thinking about my grandparents and what I know and remember about their lives. I know they lived simply. They never owned their home, they rented. They never owned a car, they walked and took the bus. I can’t honestly remember seeing a t.v. in their homes although there might have been one. This tells me if there was one, their lives didn’t revolve around it. My grandfathers were always dressed in their suits and my grandmas always in dresses or skirts. Food was homemade and simple. They probably wore the same things day in and day out and ate the same meals over and over. But they were happy. They lived in the moment. They had time for me. Grandad gardened and read the newspaper. His wife made the best flaky pastry and killed wasps with her bare hands. Pompa sat me on his lap and told me stories of fighting in a big hole in a war which I later learned referred to fighting in the trenches in WW1. Nana had a green thumb and grew house plants, violets in particular. After Pompa passed away she took up knitting. She had teeth that came out at night. She passed many hours sitting at her folded solid wood table, staring out the window at the passing cars. Both sets of grandparents had chamber pots under their beds even though they now lived with indoor plumbing. They lived through two world wars and were resourceful and resilient. They overcame personal tragedies and hardship yet I never remember them sad, long faced, downcast or sullen. In fact the opposite. They always had a smile, a hug, a story and time for me.

It seems to me that my grandparents had mastered the art of contentment. Pompa was a tailer, Grandad was a clerk at the local steel factory. They both lost a child to death. Grandad lost his father when he was only two years old. Later he lost his wife to cancer leaving him with a ten year old boy and a teenage girl to raise. Grandad remarried and life carried on because that’s what you did. You lived each day, were grateful for what you had and tried to treat one another kindly.

Is it okay to be content with what we have in this material world? Or should we let the winter of our discontent spur us on to greater and better things? Do we weigh our choices carefully? Or do we follow the crowd aimlessly? Well it seems to me that learning the art of contentment worked for my grandparents. Maybe I can take a lesson from that life and be content with where I am at, who I am and what I have and treasure this moment. Truth be told, I do believe contentment is a door to happiness

I Have Taken The Challenge! Will You Join Me?!

Jeff Goins of Goins Writer fame has thrown down the gauntlet. Write 500 words a day! Just comment on his blog, add your link to your blog, join the closed Facebook Group for support and you are off. Free, uninhibited, unedited writing. Get the wheels rolling. Find some momentum. Let the juices flow. Surprise yourself!

Why do this? Well, why not?! What is the writer’s greatest challenge? Call it ‘resistance’ Thank you to Steve Pressfield (The War of Art) for pointing this out to me!. Call it procrastination, writers block. Call it lack of inspiration, intimidation, lack of motivation, time or talent. You choose your poison. It’s whatever keeps you from putting pen to paper. So what is the antidote to this poison. Hear the rallying call of Jeff Goins, Writer:

Write 500 words a day!

Jeff says: ‘It takes me anywhere from 30-60 minutes to write 500 words. And if I keep up with that pace, I’ve got a book in 90 days. That’s my plan for finishing my next book: 500 words per day, every day, until it’s done. And I want you to join me.’

You may not plan to write a book, you may not even know what you will write until you write it. But this I can promise, writing is an adventure! Even if you have a plan somehow the unexpected happens, thoughts come, the journey changes, anything is possible. Just bring yourself to the point of connection whether it be pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Trust yourself, open yourself up, relax, breathe, be still and listen. The words will come if you will be patient. They will come if you keep yourself in a mindful place. They will come if you make a place for them physically, emotionally and mentally.

Some say our greatest fear is that we will be forgotten. My greatest fears is that I will forget. In the act of forgetting I feel I have lost part of myself and my life. Its like someone took an eraser to the movie of my life and blanked out scenes, vast expanses, important and trivial, but they were mine, a part of me. Think about it. What have you already forgotten? So many precious memories, life experiences, adventures and lessons. Our words immortalize ourselves. And you can choose the words. What will you do with today? When this day is gone what will be left to say you were here, you made a difference? Who will know you and who you were?

Okay you get the picture. Writing reveals. Writing reveals what you really think and believe. Writing reveals your life to yourself and others. Writing is a vehicle for change, healing, reflection, forward movement, loving and living. And in this world where everything costs something, writing is at its basic level free and freeing. Okay so you need a pen and paper and time but that’s it. Where will it take you? The possibilities are endless. Does it have to be grandiose? If it did we would fail before we would start. Just start, just write, just write 500 words then sit back and glow in your accomplishment. How did that feel? Even if you don’t think you are a writer, you are. Even if you are not prosaic or poetic your words tell stories, convey fact, capture memories. Stories that only you can tell, you in your authentic voice. No one will say it just like you, no one can.

Maybe the greatest gift you can give this world is your writing. Maybe the greatest treasure you will ever hold will be your own, simple words, written one by one. I am cheering for me and for you! Now, find that pen and paper, that quiet corner, believe, dream and start. This could change your life ^_^

I Believe In Magic, I Believe In You And In Your Writing!


I am not a child, yet I believe in magic. I believe that even if we don’t feel like writing, even if we think we have writers block, even if all seems to be against us, there is nothing that can stop us simply putting pen to paper and beginning. Even if the beginning is ‘…I don’t know what to write. I am so tired and can’t think. But what I really want to write about is the time my Dad taught me how to ride a bike. It was a cold spring morning. I was five years old. My bike was red, my favorite color…..’ And you keep going, working your way into your memories, letting what wants to be written come easily, not straining for words, writing child-like. Then you take that skeleton and you go back, reading it over. As you do other words pop into your head, other thoughts. You fit those in like jigsaw pieces making the picture become clearer. Now send yourself back to that time. What do you see, hear, smell, feel? As you take time to be calm about your writing, to ponder over time, the memories and words will come. And as you keep writing them, lovingly skimming them off the surface of your mind, others will rise to take their place, like a fountain rising up from the deep. I promise you it is simply a magical experience. Give yourself a gift this Christmas and believe in magic, in your writing and life.

What If I Am Not A Good Writer?

I think its natural to think we are not good enough at something, especially when it comes to writing.  Chances are whatever you write will be read by others, unless you have a journal under lock and key (and what will happen to that if you suddenly depart this world?!)  You see my point.  Writing puts us on display.  People will look at us and judge us by our writing.  They may even judge our choices and how we have lived by our writing, especially if you are writing about your life.  So what now?  Give up?  Think this is a bad idea?  Think maybe this is not worth it? Na….

When I was a little girl in elementary school I was terrified someone would see my writing.  I would write with my long hair draped like a cape around my face and page.  I would struggle with the writing assignment trying to create the story or find the words.  Then the moment of truth.  I would stand in line (actually a queue) awaiting the teacher’s all discerning eye on my work, my writing tightly clenched to my body.  With my work under the scaring glance of my teacher I suddenly felt like I had been stripped naked in public.  Why?  Because usually I would return to my desk with red ink mark like pock marks on my writing labors and a heart sinking 6/10 for a grade.

Its really no wonder English Language was never my favorite subject.  English Literature however was quite another question.  There was no doubt from the moment I could read independently, I loved books.  I revelled in the world of words.

My writing on the other hand showed momentary glimpses of brilliance and excitement, at least to me, if not to all my teachers.  Still it slept inside, not being coaxed or encouraged to dare show its face in the teacher toxic world I inhabited.

Time warped.  Journals piled up in a box.  Marriage and five children came to my life.  I did not give a second thought to writing except to hurriedly scribble some journal entry.

Then, divorced at age 37, I found myself back at school, in a college English class.  It was there I discovered the joy of writing for the first time.  There at that frantic crossroads of my life I would occasionally wow myself with something I had written.  This gave me hope.

Deep down inside I knew I needed to write.  I needed to write something….what?  An essay, a life story, a book?  I didn’t know but kept on writing for school.  I am still not sure but I just keep writing.  Now I write about my life.  For myself? Sure.  For my family?  Definitely. For others? Yes, well I’m here aren’t I?! Is it awkward?  Some days.  Is it difficult?  At times.  Am I happy with my writing?  Its a work in progress.  But if I never write, one thing is for sure, I will NEVER get any better at this!

A Reverie on Style

I left class wondering ‘What is style?’  How was I to write an essay on ‘style’ when its definition eluded me?  My chapters on style spoke of a ‘checklist’ formula.  Style could be said to be an assembly of many elements or mechanics of writing, such as: economy, emphasis, vigor, rhythm and unity.  Style is using the right word.

Yet style beckoned me to see her at the heart of good writing.  She is more than mechanics; she has an ethereal element, a life of her own.

In the beginning of writing, unsure of our footing, we carefully climb the steps of style: economy, emphasis, vigor, rhythm and unity.  But there the steps, end and we look into the emptiness beyond.  Style magically turns the two dimensions of pen and paper into the third dimension of imagination.  Style takes a world of black and white and creates a world of color.  Style is like living in a world of opposition: she gives depth and definition to our lives.

Style is expressed as personally and individually as each fingerprint.  It is ninety percent perspiration and ten percent inspiration.  Style is our own voice reaching into the hearts and minds of others.  Style is making our own path to the mountain top, working so hard to reach the summit and being awed by the view.

To our readers, style is clarity of thought and detailed description.  It is immortal impressions on the tapestry of life experience.  It can take us from the golden warmth of sunlight on our skin to the deepest, darkest abyss of despair.  Style is real, insightful, feeling, lucid, transparent, poignant and knowing.  Style is living, breathing writing.

I awoke suddenly.  Dazed, I looked at the clock.  I was late for class again.

Beauty Takes Time


We just returned from a weekend at Bryce Canyon National Park.  Whilst there I had this thought: It has taken millions of years to create this breathtaking beauty. 

We, however, live in an ‘instant gratification’ world. We want things easy and we want things now. But what we really need is focus, tenacity, tranquility and the ability to trust in ourselves, our dreams, our life’s work.

If I had written about my life ten years ago there would not have been as much beauty to it as there is today. The adversity and weathering was at work. Today I stand back and see the beauty those challenges created. There is more contrast, more color and more light reflected in which to see my story.

To create beautiful things take time, maybe not a million years but some time and maybe some ‘weathering’, some adversity which helps to shape the beauty in our life.  Likewise writing about our life takes time, the creative process evolves over time.  Maybe we should be more patient with ourselves, our lives and our writing and then we will see the beauty appear.

Food For Thought…

Summer has been BUSY.  I travelled to Ireland and England, Missouri and Washington.  I have been absent from my blog and for that I apologize.  I am here to repent and get back on the bandwagon.

So I am just going to throw this post out there for thought.  I spoke with a friend last night.  She is going through a soul searching time and going to counseling to help with the process.  She asked me to be a sounding board for her as she tries to figure things out in her life.  She then proceeded to relate the inequalities and unfairness she sees and experiences and has experienced over a lifetime.  As we talked pieces of her belief system, her world or life view came into focus.  Some key ones were: life is a competition, God has favorites, I should be able to do certain things to expect certain blessings and so forth.  I spent about an hour on the phone and came away exhausted, my mind whirring over the conversation we had hashed out, back and forth.

My mind drifted back to when I was about 18.  One day, all of a sudden, whilst I was driving I had the realization that not everyone sees the world the way I do!  Yes, I know, it took me a while to catch on.  I began to see that folks had different mindsets, different beliefs and different motivating factors in their life.

Have you ever examined your own beliefs?  For example do you believe that there is good in everyone?  Do you believe in a omnipotent divine power or are we here by chance?  Do you believe life IS a competition and if so how does that affect your choices and actions?  Or do you believe we are here to do our best, help others along the way for some better life to come?  Do you believe you have to manipulate people to get what you want?  Are you a controller?  Do you believe in prayer or that the universe can bring to you the things you want and need if you ask?

We may write the stories of our lives on the surface but what are the beliefs and motivators in our lives and where did they come from, what shaped them and how have they changed over time?

My conversation with my friend showed me she had experienced much heartache in her life but it also taught me a thing or two about choice.  When life presents us with challenges its all about how we choose to react.  Try writing about your belief system and illustrate with stories from your life.  Or use writing to examine your beliefs expressing them for your posterity.  What have you learned?  Did your beliefs hold up to be true or were they a fallacy?  Do we always act in accordance with what we believe?  Heck no!  Write about your weaknesses, your mistakes and how you faced up to the challenge, learned and grew.

Okay, I think there’s enough here to be going on with ^_^

10 Things A Life Story Writer Must Know

1. You have a story! Everyone does. You may think your life is ordinary, that there is nothing to write home about but its simply not true. Let me demonstrate why. Think of an ancestor, it could be a parent, grand parent or someone further back in time. If you could hold in your hands words they had written about their everyday life how would you feel? You would probably feel immensely grateful that they took the time to write it. You would probably be amazed at how different their life and their world is from yours. You would be intrigued to know the every day, ordinary details that made up their life. You would be humbled and inspired by their words. Well that will be you one day. You will be some one’s ancester whether direct line or not. One of my treasures is a biography my great uncle wrote about his life. Okay so got it? You have a story and people want to know.

2. You can write your story like no one else can! Well think about it. Even a Purlitzer prize winner cannot write in your own voice, recall your experiences or how you felt. To be truly your story, truly authentic it has to be written by you. If that includes mis-spellings, so be it. You can of course spell check and have someone check the grammar but that is up to you. Write as you would speak, show your personality, be you. No one else can write your story like you can.

3. But, I don’t know how to write! I hated school. English was never my thing. I never got good grades on my papers. What do I say to that? Poohey! Its a load of poohey! You know how to talk, right. Do you tell stories? You tell your family what happened to you today at work or at home or when you went shopping, or talking on the phone to a friend. You know the alphabet and how to make words? You know how to put words into sentences? Okay, you can do it! You can hand write it and have someone else type it or you can type it. You could use voice activated software to speak and it will type. You can record your stories and have someone else transcribe them. You could make a video recording and have that transcribed. We are ‘wired’ for story. Just think about it, we tell stories every day. We listen to stories every day. We watch the news and listen to stories about people we never met or never knew. The need for story is the need to communicate with other people. It is the need for connection. Tell your stories and keep your family connected.

4. Where the heck do I start?! I am sooooooooo overwhelmed. You can start anywhere. I usually tell foks to start with their happiest, brightest memories. Start with the stories that first come to your mind, the stories that are just begging you to write them. Do not start chronologically, that is boring and it will block your memories from flowing. Start where the stories are already written in your head.

5. You don’t have to write every, single thing about your life. One writer put it this way and I am paraphrasing. Imagine your life as a movie with ten scenes. What would they be? They don’t have to link together. Put it this way, what were the ten most important times in your life, maybe turning points, or memorable for happy or sad reasons. Maybe for the lessons you learned. Write your life in chapters, just as they want to come. Don’t worry about linking them. Just tell the stories and we will figure out how to put it all together later.

6. What about the ‘bad’ stuff? Do I tell that? Well you tell me. If you read a story and everything that happens is good and jolly what kind of a story do we have? We have a really distorted version of real life. We have a very bland, boring story. We have no contrast, no light or dark just grey. In my opinion your story needs to show some challenges, some dissapointments even great losses and sadness and injustice. Don’t tell it to invoke pity or to act out a grude or for retribution but tell it to show how you handled these curves life threw you. Show how you grew from these experiences, how you made it through, what you learned.

7. Writing the hard stuff can be hard but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it. Writing difficult memories can churn up a lot of emotion. Be prepared for this. Writing has been shown to be therapeutic. You may write anything you want and you should feel free to write it. However, you may want to put more thought into what you make public. Some of the writing you do for your life story may never go to print, it may always stay private. Some of the writing may be for your benefit only. Yet this writing will help you along the path of telling your story.

8. I can’t remember stuff! It takes time. I like to call it ‘percolating’. You may call it meditating. Just let your mind have time to think. Then as the memories start to come, write them down. You will find that as you write them down its as if you have skimmed them off the top of your mind. Once you do this other memories will rise to the surface. And thus it goes. You will begin to be amazed, even astonished at what you will remember. Memories will jog memories and the act of writing them will make them flourish in greater detail. It is simply amazing to behold. Some thing else to bear in mind about these memories. They are fluid, almost shift shapers or changers. The way you remember an event may be totally different from how your sister, or your mother or best friend may remember it. That is okay. That is the nature of memory. Its kinda like looking through your own magic mirror back on your life. So it is helpful for folks if you put a disclaimer at the front of your book saying something like: ‘This is my life to the best of my recollection. Others who were present may have different memories of the events but this is my story and this is the way I remember it.’ If others remember things so differently its okay. Just reassure them thats how memory is. Its not like a video tape that accurately recalls images and sounds. Let them write their story. Then they can have their say and put down their version!

9. So you are going to put in a substantial amount of time, emotional and mental effort to ponder, write, research and organize your life story. Please, do yourself and everyone else a favor. Decide now to preserve all this information and hard work in a quality published format. No more three ring binders with plastic page holder, please! Self-publishing has become so accessible and affordable. If you can’t handle inputting the writing and scanning the pictures hire your techno savvy kids or grandkids to help you! You may be surprised how interested they are in your story! There are many options out there. I decided on mostly because of the flexiblity of the layouts. There are preset layouts that allow for text and pictures. You may also edit and customize those set layouts too. For me they provided the perfect set up and the quality of their books was to the standard I desired. There price points and book size options were also attractive to me. I self published a book not just for myself, not just for my family but so that anyone could see if I could do it, they could do it too. Here is mine and what it looks like.

10. We are almost done. There is just one last thing to talk about. Motivation and inspiration. You need it. Find it. Keep it. Whether you are motivated by your mortality, that is you know you are going to die and all your memories will be lost, or you have a writing buddy that meets weekly with you where you share stories and set goals, or a favorite quote or picture. Whatever it is you need something, some vision of your finished Life Story book. Imagine holding it, turning its pages. See the pictures? See the stories? See your children and grand children’s faces? Feel the sense of accomplishment? So figure out what motivates you. Set up some writing goals. Find a place to write that feels comfortable. Maybe you write better early in the morning or late at night. You might like to drive in the car to a pretty spot and then start writing. You may write better after a walk. Whatever works for you, do it. And enlist the support of family and friends. Tell them you will need time for writing. Ask if they would like to be a sounding board for your stories. Pick someone who will be gentle with your feelings and give positive feedback like: tell you what part sounds good, where they are confused, if they feel there is missing information. Probably the best advice I can give is find a writing buddy, meet weekly, set goals, go home and write and next time you meet read your stories. You will become fast friends. You will laugh and cry together. You will encourage one another. You will take this journey together and cross the finish line triumphant.

After all what have you got to lose?!

Sometimes Writing Is…Hard…But Still Worth It.


Writing about hard stuff is….well, hard.  I have tried to write about my first marriage this week.  It felt like being sick and wanting to throw up but I couldn’t.  The words seemed to allude me and fear gripped me, fear of remembering and fear of what others might think.  Still there are times to write just for yourself.  Writing can be healing, help unravel the tangled, twisted past and illuminate the value in that part of your story.  Not all of life is good and not all of the bad stuff that happens is totally bad.  There is a redeeming quality in even the darkest part of our lives and writing helps us find our way there.

I hope this makes sense.  Sometimes writing is hard.

But its still worth writing.

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