Darien Gee (PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNIE TAO PHOTOGRAPHY)
Quote of the Week: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou
Writing Exercise of the Week: Find someone to interview this week, or interview yourself. Ask three questions: what was your favorite food growing up, what was the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Right now I’m working on a how-to book about writing the memoir. It’s a compilation of everything I’ve learned from teaching memoir classes over the past 20 years, along with tips and wisdom from other Hawaii authors, writers, biographers and storytellers. This book is for anyone who wants to get their life stories down on paper, either to publish or to share with close friends and family.
Writing life stories are a great way for people to pass down experiences to future generations, to give others a glimpse of their life and what they went through. There are lots of different kinds of life stories you can write about. Life stories can be autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, personal essays, or oral histories. Themes range from childhood to coming of age stories, travel, family histories, love, loss, addition, spirituality, and more (for a complete list of more than 100 themes, visit dariengee.com/memoir-themes).
Choosing a theme helps you narrow the focus of your writing so the task doesn’t seem overwhelming or daunting. Get as specific as you can. You can start from a theme as broad as your childhood and drill down to a specific, like your first pet and how you got it. Feels easier already, doesn’t it?
You don’t have to write about yourself either. If you don’t want to write down your own story, what about the story of a parent, aunty or uncle, even a tutu? I can’t tell you how many people have told me they wished they got down the story of a relative before they passed or the memories became fuzzy. But they didn’t know where to begin or it never seemed like a good time. If interviewing isn’t something you do for a living, it can be awkward, even uncomfortable. The trick is not to treat it like an interview. It’s a conversation between two people, with one person talking and one person listening. It’s as simple as that.
On my computer is a small photo with an image that reads, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” You can start chronicling a life story today by taking this week’s writing exercise and interviewing someone. Go knock on someone’s door or pick up the telephone. Have your kids ask an aunty or grandparent or teacher. Interview your neighbor or a co-worker. Once they’ve shared their responses, have them interview you.
Feeling shy? Interview yourself. It’s a powerful way to start any journal entry or memoir. Start with five minutes per question—you might be surprised by what else you learn.
This fall Darien will be teaching memoir, writing and publishing classes through Waimea Community Education. Visit waimeaeducation.com for more information.
Darien Gee is a national bestselling author based in Waimea. Her most recent novel is The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. She also writes under the name Mia King. Visit her at dariengee.com and miaking.com.