GETTING STARTED ON YOUR OWN 'SONG OF MYSELF'
Writing a memoir, however informally, can be a satisfying way to preserve experiences and pass along information to another generation. Denis Ledoux, author of "Turning Memories into Memoirs: A Handbook for Writing Lifestories" (Soleil Press, Lisbon Falls, Maine), offers these tips:
1. Start by "pre-writing." Make a "life-list" of events and memories. "Just brainstorm," says Mr. Ledoux. "Write down anything you think of, such as 'I had roses on the wallpaper as a child.' Don't evaluate items yet, and don't limit the list. Some people might write 500 items, others 1,000. Once you start priming the pump of memory, the memories will just gush out."
2. Place an asterisk by the 10 very most important things on your list. If you're only going to write about 10 things, do your most important stories.
3. Select which items should be stories and which should be details for character or setting. Roses on wallpaper, for example, would be a detail for a setting.
4. Start writing anywhere. "People feel they need to be logical and start at the beginning of their story, go to the middle, then move to the end," says Ledoux. If you're not using a computer, write on half-sheets of paper. This allows you to shuffle papers and create order. You might say, 'Oh, this page I wrote first belongs at the end.' Then you can write transitions.
5. Be as honest as you can. Write simply, write truthfully. Listen to your own instincts about what you're writing and why you're writing. You're not going for the Nobel Prize in Literature. You're out to write a simple, clear sentence. "A lot of people feel that if they don't get deathless prose on the page right away, they're failures. I rewrite some pieces 10 times."
6. Live with your story. Read it to a friend, or your spouse or children. Is it clear? Do you feel you've really explained who your grandmother is, for instance? By "lingering" over your story, you can strengthen and polish it.