ZOOMER Magazine - - GENERATIONS - By Beth Ka­plan

Here are seven tips on how to un­earth sig­nif­i­cant mem­o­ries and turn them into com­pelling sto­ries. 1 Be­gin with a Spiel­berg list. Imag­ine the di­rec­tor wants to film your life story and asks you to list the 10 most im­por­tant mo­ments in your life, per­haps in­vis­i­ble to oth­ers but pro­foundly mean­ing­ful to you. This list gives you the arc of your life story, the ba­sis of what you should write. 2 Start any­where. Don’t fuss with know­ing where your story starts or ends. Early drafts are meant to be loose, me­an­der­ing, clunky. Si­lence that neg­a­tive voice in your head (“Who do you think you are?”), find a quiet place where what you write won’t be over­seen and let words and thoughts flow. Lis­ten to your past selves, to who you are now. Bring back your fam­ily’s sto­ries. Paint the pic­ture with words. 3 Read widely, es­pe­cially me­moir and per­sonal es­says. Be in­spired by good writ­ers. 4 Once you have a stack of pages, reread, chop, re­ar­range, add, re­write. Writ­ing is a messy, con­stantly evolv­ing process that re­quires craft and tech­nique. Use your crit­i­cal edit­ing skills to ham­mer sen­tences into shape. “A writ­ten work is never fin­ished,” said Ellen Selig­man, a revered ed­i­tor. “It is fin­ished enough.” 5 Try us­ing pen and pa­per for first drafts, com­puter for se­cond ones. Some feel that writ­ing long­hand is a slower rhythm that makes it eas­ier to process thought. 6 As Carol Shields said, “Blurt bravely.” Don’t cen­sor for fear of what oth­ers will think; you don’t have to make pub­lic what you write but, if it’s haunt­ing you, get it down. Re­leas­ing im­por­tant sto­ries has been proven to be healthy psy­cho­log­i­cally and even phys­i­cally. But though telling your truth is ther­a­peu­tic, a me­moir is not ther­apy. Read­ers don’t want raw emo­tion; they want dy­namic, well­writ­ten scenes. 7 Writ­ing is soli­tary. Find a men­tor, writer’s group or ed­i­tor to give you struc­ture, sup­port and feed­back. There are good books, too, and on­line sites to help guide you.

Re­mem­ber, there’s no need to pub­lish; you can share with fam­ily, friends or writer’s group. But if you write with hon­esty and in­sight, pas­sion and craft, your sto­ries will mat­ter.

Beth Ka­plan teaches me­moir and es­say writ­ing at Ry­er­son Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Toronto, and is a mem­ber of the Creative Non­fic­tion Col­lec­tive So­ci­ety.

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