Writing Your Story

I love real life stories. From the time I was young, the biography shelf of the children’s section in the library lured me in.  Fantasy bores me. Give me a solid memoir any day. I’m curious about what people eat for dinner, where they work, where they go on vacation, all kinds of ordinary details that make up our everyday lives.

How to write the everyday details in story form is a challenge. When it’s done right, you get Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. Or the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Sometimes you don’t care about all that, you simply want to get the information down in one place, in some kind of organized format to save it for posterity. Either way, we’re talking lots of time and effort– no easy task at all.

Where to start? With a collection of data: journals, letters, photographs, shopping lists, sales records– anything saved that gives information about the life in question. Start with a labeled box for your data, and later file and organize it. Collect it, keep it in one place, label and organize.

One time I did a presentation and signing at a small-town library. The women in this audience were from rural areas and identified strongly with Farm Girl. At the end, one lady sat there longer than all the rest, and with tears in her eyes she said, “I thought I would have more time to get my mother’s story written. She died last year. She was only seventy-two.”

Since then, I have thought many times of this lady. And many others who have read Farm Girl and related similar sentiments:

“I have pages of my life story written, but I don’t know how to organize them.”

“We can’t get my folks to talk into a tape player.”

“Oh how I wish I could do what you did. But I’m not a writer.”

“I don’t even know where to start.”

“My dad traveled all over the West. He was a cowhand. He told me stories of his life, but I’ve never written them down.”

“You wouldn’t believe my life. It would make a great book, if I could only get it written.”

Common thread– “I have a story to tell, memories to record, and I wish I had started sooner.” But there is no sooner. There is only today. And tomorrow. Are you ready to begin?

15 thoughts on “Writing Your Story

    1. karenjonesgowen Post author

      Kirsten, At the least, that desire to write our own story, or the story of loved ones, seems to run deep in most people. Not necessarily for publication, but definitely for the satisfaction of leaving behind some solid record of one’s life.

  1. Hilary

    Hi Karen .. looks like I can comment! great news!!! I see you’ve gone to WP .. must do that too …

    I never had that desire as a child to write, or to read memoirs … perhaps I did – I did read voraciously .. but rather felt it went in one ear and out the other … wish I’d realised more then. But I guess the creative spirit was within .. I started probably (though didn’t realise) with my annual letter about my travels in South Africa … and I referenced things then.

    It wasn’t until my mother was ill and I was letting everyone know how she was – but needed to do it in an interesting way – so I mentioned in the letters I wrote what we talked about and what she was interested in, wanting to know more about.

    I had a few letters back saying please don’t stop your letters are so entertaining, and from another Care Home owner friend of my mothers … who said you ‘write such Positive Letters’ … so guess what was born: the P L blog …. the two things tied in at about the time I was thinking of a passion/subject I wanted to blog about …

    The blog has educated me …. and thankfully amuses many others, who I’m delighted to interact with. It hasn’t really morphed – perhaps it’s a little more settled and I feel comfortable with its content …

    What I love is – that the type of content was exactly what my mother and my uncle needed both as a bed-ridden stroked person, whose brain works, and as elderly people to stimulate their thoughts and ask other questions – for more instalments (or discussions). This has now translated into my Conversation Corners that I hold with the residents in the Nursing Centre … and I’m back to where I was with my mother and uncle – will you find out more and bring it on your next visit.

    I have extremely interesting families – father x both sides, mother x one side …. though I’ve not been involved and know little because my father was the 3rd son and died fairly early, and my mother’s father died when she was two .. but I do have family trees and with the Census I can trace people’s occupations, residencies etc etc .. and work stories around them. I have some papers about my mother and her first husband, killed in the war … and in due time I will look at them – daren’t right now, as they’ll be very sad … but stories to write – and now I know I can .. I feel like the little engine ‘that can’!

    Cheers – have a great week … Hilary

    1. karenjonesgowen Post author

      Hilary, I hope you do write your family’s stories! Your blog is so packed full of interesting historical facts and information wouldn’t it be great to organize all that around the characters/people of your family.

  2. Hilary

    Hi Karen – I hope you’re joking – because that would be a monumental task. I’m sure I can think of a way round the numerous family members – my grandparents were each one of nine or ten … and when my father’s brother did the family tree – there were hundreds of us .. literally – and I know there are many, many occupations … the history would just happen around them. I think my blog will probably be the basis of books in the future .. the scatter-gun educative approach to history! With some ABCs thrown in for good measure ..

    Thanks so much for the thumbs up though .. cheers Hilary

      1. Hilary

        Hi Karen – I love this blog – so easy to use!!! Again you’ve got to be joking .. I don’t know enough about my own family’s ancestors .. being so low in the pecking order – but I’m certain somewhere along the line something will be written. Just for now – it’s not in the obvious radar … too much else going on .. have a great day – cheers Hilary

  3. karenjonesgowen

    Hilary, It’s a WordPress blog, very easy to set up once you figure it out! It works well for my website with blog attached. As you can see, I don’t post a lot here….but certainly appreciate everyone who stops by when I do!

  4. Arlee Bird

    Hilary, It’s a WordPress blog, very easy to set up once you figure it out! It works well for my website with blog attached. As you can see, I don’t post a lot here….but certainly appreciate everyone who stops by when I do!

    I’ve just copied something to make my comment longer not that should make a difference though I’ve been told that it does.


    1. karenjonesgowen Post author

      Lee, Don’t think it was the length of the comment, but for some other reason WordPress sent your two comments directly to spam. Hope you get that sorted out soon, what a bummer.

  5. Trina Lambert

    Karen–you just commented on my recent blog post about nighttime, but I am wondering more about your background. You see, my grandmother was a Jones and she did grow up in Nebraska. Maybe we are relatives–ha, ha! Anyway, the picture on my “M” post shows my grandmother as a baby on her mother’s lap. The family farm was in Custer County, around Callaway. Ring any bells?

    1. karenjonesgowen Post author

      Trina, The Jones side all came from Indiana not Nebraska. My mom’s maiden name was Marker, and their family farm was near Red Cloud in Webster County. Her mom was a Walstad. Too bad, guess we aren’t related after all. 🙂


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