I have one story that I really want to tell. Is that okay?

That’s fine. I was talking to a film-maker friend the other day. He said, “Everyone has a story to tell. A story that’s impactful, that says who they are or how they came to be who they are.” That’s so true. 

But that one impactful story might be difficult to tell. There’s so much riding on it. In my experience, the story I always thought I wanted to tell, when I actually sat down to do it, I had trouble. How come this isn’t working? Why am I not happy? The stakes were high, and I just wasn’t able to do that one impactful story justice. So what did I do about that? I wrote about something else. A low stakes story. A story I cared about, but not as much. I could relax into the work.

Another point of view, in contrast to the “one story” theory, is that we are the sum total of many stories, many memorable experiences.  Your memory is a deep vault full of vignettes, scenes, images, snatches of language, people and places.  In the writing you do, you can capture these memories, examine them, connect them, ask what they mean. That’s why it might be useful to start with something small. Tell many stories, see how they relate to each other. Low stakes vs high stakes.

William Stafford, a really great American poet, said, “I never have writer’s block. I just lower my standards.”

As a writer, I’m not in the business of explaining the meaning of life. I’m too busy thinking about the little stuff: the smell of lilac I remember in a girl’s hair, my son’s swollen face after he had his wisdom teeth out, the sound of the sliding glass door at Kroger’s, which reminds me of Aunt Betty.

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I have multiple stories that I want to tell. Okay?

That’s great. One thing leads to another. All these places and times, people and events, if they still resonate in your memory, if they’re there, and if you haven’t forgotten them, they must be meaningful.

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Do I have to write about childhood?

It’s totally up to you. Tell the stories that matter to you. Begin at the end, in the middle, in the beginning of your life story. Whatever gets you going, that might be the place to start. The “hi, my name is” and “memory map” topics might be helpful. Those are launchpads.

I shouldn’t have said “life story.” That’s a big deal. Think small. You going to tell some stories from your life.

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I’m worried about leaving stuff out.

Writing stimulates memory. When you write you will recall experiences you haven’t thought about. As you work, if that happens, take reminder notes so you don’t forget. And there’s no reason you have to tell every story.  There’s stuff I do not want to talk about. I may get there.  Not now. You decide. Don’t worry about leaving stuff out.

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Do I have to write about all the topics?

No. Write about the topics that seem important to you, that take you to important memories and experiences. Write about as many of them as you like, as much or as little as you like. Write off the subject, then come back. You can completely ignore the topics if you want to. You can still post to the discussion boards and get feedback.

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What if I’ve never written anything or it’s been a long time?

It’s like physical exercise. If you haven’t exercised in years, you don’t begin with a marathon. You don’t run a mile. You walk. You ease into a routine, gradually adding to it. The writing you do here–come and take a walk.

People who develop an exercise routine look forward to it. The same can be true of a writing routine. Over time you add to the routine. You do a little more and feel even better about it.

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What if I feel like my writing just isn’t very good?

Writing is a craft, like woodworking. With practice, you get better. And you learn from more experienced practitioners. There are tools and materials, there’s craft knowledge. The topics all have samples from my writing so you can imitate if you decide to. How do I do this? How did Rick do it?  There’s nothing wrong with imitation. If this were a woodshop and you were building a chair, you would watch how I cut and fit the pieces together.  Same thing with writing.

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Does writing ever become easy?

The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Because you discover some moves that work for you and help you get going. Because you begin to trust the process.  Because you begin to hear your voice. Because you seek the pleasure of writing down what’s important to you. 

And because it can actually become fun. A really important guy named Peter Elbow I read in the 80’s talked about “jouissance,” the French term for playfulness. Writers goof around, they have fun with words. That’s dope. It’s kind of addicting. Once you get the kick, you want more of it.

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Is it okay to imitate the samples? What about my own voice, my own style?

Imitation is good. It’s how we learn everything.  I learned to make pasta sauces from my Italian mother-in-law. The ragu, the clam sauce, they were her recipes. And I wanted my sauces to be just like hers. Then I cooked more, I went to Italy and ate in restaurants, I talked to cooks over there. I came back and experimented. She’s been gone many years now. When I cook, I think of her. But I have my own “style” or approach. I’ve made those recipes my own.  

The same thing happens in writing. You have writers you admire, you who influence you. The important thing is that you write.

Make the sauce many times over. Pretty soon it will be yours.  

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Do you provide any help along the way?

The models I post with each theme are there for you to imitate. They show you one way of doing the writing. I’ll look at all the writing posted to the discussion boards, looking for stuff that really works and that’s worth sharing (if the writer agrees) with everyone connected to the legacy project. But as you work, if you have a question, send me an email.  I will try to help.

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Is there a schedule?

Work at your own pace.  That said, it’s important that you try to set a schedule for yourself. Start your routine with an hour a day, reading the invitation, writing 100-200 words a session. Try to write 5-6 days a week, preferably at the same time of day. When you reach your 100 or 150 or 200 words, do something else. Then come back the next day, pick up where you left off, write some more, meeting the quota you’ve set for yourself. 

I write in the morning, a minimum of 250 words, seven days a week. Figure out what works for you.

There’s a long list of topics. Pick out 3-4 topics and do one topic a week. At the end of a month, you’ll begin to get a feel for the process.

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Do I have to share my work on the discussion board?

Here’s the thing: The discussion board will force you to keep moving. Instead of writing on the same topic for days or weeks at a time, trying to get it right, trying to make it perfect, at the end of a week, you pull together the stuff that’s pretty good and post it to the discussion board. And then move on.  With any luck, others will do the same thing. You’ll be able to read their posts, see what they talked about, how they did it, and maybe get ideas from their work.  Oh, I want to try that. 

Hemingway said the thing to do with a piece of writing is finish it. Meaning, allow yourself to come to closure and move on to the next thing.

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How long will this take?

That depends on you, how motivated you are and how engaging you find the materials. You’re working toward a publication, short or medium or long. If the writing is happening and you’re happy, if you’re enjoying yourself (very important), then keep going. Weeks.  Maybe months.

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Is this really free?

Yes, it really is. You can write in response to materials on this site to develop the raw material for a legacy-memoir publication. It’s here for the taking.

If you reach a point where you want editorial assistance, which would mean suggesting stuff to add and cut, advising on how to organize, cleaning up the language so it’s ready for publication, for a fee I will help you with this.  But again, if you decide to have someone else help with the editing, that’s fine with me.

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Do I have to be old to write memoir?

No, you do not. Think of memoir as a written record of what happened and what’s happening in your life. It can be likened to diary.

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