Jumpstart Telling Your Story: Getting Started

Jumpstart Telling Your Story: Getting Started 1024 576 Reader Views

by JoAnn Vega, Award Winning Author and Memoirist

For readers considering writing a memoir who are not sure how to get started, here are practical suggestions to jumpstart telling your story, find perhaps a new way of looking at it. They are adapted from Ancestry: Telling Your Story, one of the programs I offered while I worked on my memoir [Moments in Flight: A Memoir].

Who writes memoirs?

The most popular category of book sales is nonfiction/biography. Memoir writers are generally 50+ unless they are celebrities, have a message, life story, something they want to share, experiences mined for insights and a narrative arc. There are millions of people alive today with stories to tell and share who reached for more as boundaries expanded for those historically disenfranchised.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve, why are you doing this?

Preparing a memoir is not a linear process nor is it likely to be completed within a few months. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve and who you are writing it for. What’s the purpose and audience? I wrote my memoir to deepen my understanding of my: self, family, heritage, and country. I want readers to enjoy the stories of my immigrant forebears, evoke memories, and open the door to dialogue with others. I didn’t come to these understandings overnight or all at once.

How accurate are memories?

Neuroscience tells us memory is stored in different places of the brain and when recalled, is reconstructed. Further, memories associated with strong emotions, youth, coming of age, are easier to recall. This makes sense without the research to back it up! Memories are subject to decay and distortion, influenced and triggered by many factors, including our five senses. Witnesses and participants see and recall the same event differently. Bear this in mind when assessing your memories for accuracy and deciding which ones to include.

Start a notebook to record your efforts, research, and understandings.

Yes, I’m strongly advocating you write it down. As most memoir writers are 50+, they were born on or before the early 1970s and were taught script, actual handwriting. In addition, they came of age during the early 1990s just before the explosion of cell phones and the Internet. Keyboard strokes are no match for the neural connections activated by handwriting, its ability to unlock memory as the writing flows out in new directions. Absolutely use a computer to create your outline and manuscript.

Create a photo montage of you.

Gather treasured memories including photo albums, mementoes, family trees, journals, and music. Select photos of you at 1, 5, 10, 15, 25, 40, 50+ and really look at them. Which pictures did you pick? Who is in them? How do you appear? What memories, questions, and feelings do they evoke? What advice would you give today to your younger selves? What are you going to do with your photos? Record your memories and reactions in your notebook.

Relax; it’s too soon to have a narrative arc.

You will refer and add to your notebook as you move deeper into the process and make decisions about what to do with the information and who to share it with.

Stay tuned for Jumpstart Telling Your Story: Creating a timeline


Jo-Ann Vega is a published author and dynamic speaker with 30 years of experience designing, presenting, and evaluating learning programs for academic, business, and community groups. She has twenty years of experience as an adjunct, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on management and leadership. She wrote a column on career management for EEO Bimonthly, a national magazine, for five years. She is the author of “Navigating the New Job Market”; and co-author of “Workforce 2000: A Challenge for Business & Education.”

She has 10 years of experience delivering ancestry and history programs as part of a University Lifelong Learning Institute and to community members. She incorporated what she learned about history and the Italian character into her memoir. She inaugurated a Celebrating Italian Americans Series program at a local library two years ago.

Recent publications include “Wolf Woman & Other Poems [2022];” “Moments in Flight: A Memoir [2021].” “Lifewriting essays, Serendipity, and Empathy in the Time of Covid [Volume 21 and Volume 22 of Story Circle Network’s Annual Real Women Write Anthology, 2021-2022].” Several poems published: “Musings,” “Then & Now,” “Awaken,” and “In Remembrance.” “Awaken,” a poem, was published September 2023 in “Wild Crone Wisdom, Poetry and Stories,” by Wild Librarian Press.

Jo-Ann Vega lives with her life partner and canine companion.

I invite readers to visit my author websites 
www.outskirtspress.com/wolfwoman and www.outskirtspress.com/momentsinflight
and send queries to mezzo148st@gmail.com

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