Fáilte (Welcome) to our first Seanchai blog post. Seanchai is Gaelic for storyteller or "bearer of old lore." My daughter Kaia Sand and I formed Vignettes&Verses about 18 months ago when we led a workshop for a traveling group of writers in Ireland. We have since expanded our outreach to workshops and one-on-one services, and we plan to offer more traveling workshops to Ireland and elsewhere.
As the poet Lucille Clifton wrote, “Who among us can imagine ourselves unimagined.” We can take an active role in making sure our lives, or the lives of people we know, might be imagined by others. Memories can be captured in many ways: still and video photographs, art, and of course stories through prose and poetry. Kaia, and I specialize in the latter two genres. Kaia is a poet and my background is in journalism. So we combined our expertise to help you capture your memories through your vignettes and verses. We lead workshops and I offer personal history services.
How do I get started?
Often I hear, “I have so many memories, so much information, I don’t know how to start.” Our blog will help give you practical tips for writing memories. Memoir writing can seem a bit insurmountable. You have so much material: just how do you sort through it all? One technique is take the time to make an outline of your life. You can organize this in a notebook or on the computer by decades or pivotal events in your life. Put a star by the events that are stories you want to write. Then you can return to the list and write the stories most important to you. In addition to our writing workshops, I also offer personal history services. This process of creating audio recordings based on our interviews works well for some people.
Do I have to write in chronological order?
Memories often don’t emerge in chronological order and writing in that form can be daunting. While autobiographies generally attempt to cover an entire life in chronological order, this is a big undertaking for most people. Memoirs take into account a particular period of your life or explore a particular theme. You may want concentrate on your favorite story or a collection of vignettes.
How do I stay motivated?
Designating a set time daily or weekly to write is ideal for some people. If this is difficult there are many memoir/life story classes offered locally. The structure of a class and encouragement and feedback from other writers can be stimulating. This fall I am restarting a monthly Memoir Drop-in at Taborspace .
Who is going to read my stories?
For many writers, the process helps them sort through their memories and the reflection gives greater meaning and understanding to their lives. Sometimes the stories are intended only for a few eyes. Many want to pass on their stories to a circle of their children and close friends. Some are interested in publishing for a wider audience.
Here is a prompt to help you get started: Draw a blueprint of a home or apartment that was important in your past. Be as detailed as you want. Sit with your drawing for a while, and then let the memories flow onto paper. When I drew my blueprint, the sketch of my home office when I lived in Salem, Oregon sparked particular memories. I recalled a time when my late husband, Joe Sand, was editing a western novel, Calamity Trail for a client. One Friday I accidently inserted the PC disk into a Mac computer and lost the only copy of the book. Fortunately there was backup with Joe’s edits on a paper copy. The edited copy was due on Monday. Joe and I worked with our two teenaged children, Neal and Kaia, and retyped the book non-stop over the weekend. In a 500-word vignette, I described how this incident, which came at a difficult time for our family, became our Unity Trail.
One of the best ways to get inspired is to read other writers. Here are our first two recommendations.
For vignettes: Let’s start with an American classic. Maya Angelou’s “I know the Caged Bird Sings.” This memorable and bittersweet book covers her childhood. Did you know she wrote six more memoirs of different periods of her life? She rented a small hotel room where she went to write every day. Talk about inspiration.
For verses: A fantastic starting point is Joe Brainard’s “I Remember.” In this book, he uses the devise of anaphora, or beginning each line/sentence with the same word or words. This anchor helps propel a writer down the page. In this case, the phrase “I Remember” helps Brainard write memories that are full of specific, quirky details, often time-stamped with cultural references.