A Madison Magazine Reader’s Memories Become 
a Published Memoir
Jan 14, 2013
11:01 AM
From Memory to Memoir

Systemize Your Stuff

Systemize Your Stuff

In my last post I suggested you spend some time researching the memories you recall, to add social history and factual details. If you took me at my word, you now have a growing pile of documents related to your memoir—notes from conversations with friends and relatives; official records such as birth, marriage, and death certificates; news articles covering events in which you were involved.

You have probably begun writing, too, finding your flow, producing some story-starters or even whole essays for your memoir.

Now you need a way to systemize all that stuff!

I’m a fan of the method described in Carol Franco’s book The Legacy Guide: Capturing the Facts, memories, and Meaning of Your Life.

You’ll need a standard three-ring notebook, a set of eight divider tabs, and your own three-hole punch tool. For a full-life autobiography, label the dividers as follows:

Tab 1: Childhood (ends 11 to 13)

Tab 2: Adolescence (11-13 to 20)

Tab 3: Young Adult (roughly 20 to 30)

Tab 4: Adult (roughly 30 to 40-45)

Tab 5: Middle Adult (roughly 40-45 to 60)

Tab 6: Late Adult (roughly 60 to 80)

Tab 7: Elder (roughly 80 plus)

Tab 8: Notes (Use this section for anything else you collect—for example, you could print out my tips and insert them in this section.)

If you’re not tackling your whole life’s span but instead, writing about one phase of your life, simply set up tabs for each branching point (described here).

With this filing system establishing a chronological order, you’re free to write about your life in any sequence you like. If you get stuck in one stage, you can simply go to another. You can always return and add memories to any stage at any time, or expand your thoughts about the meaning of your experiences, or insert facts revealed as you do further research. The simple framework keeps everything you do in the right place. Many of my memoir students and coaching clients have found this method helpful—and I do too.

Photo: Binders in action at Sarah’s Westside Senior Center memoir workshop.

Sarah White is the founder of First Person Productions.

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About This Blog

Sarah White, author and personal historian, has written for a variety of markets ranging from business “how-to” books to consumer advice for teens. She applies her professional writing experience to help individuals preserve their life stories through workshops, community projects and one-to-one coaching. Born into a writing family, White graduated from Indiana University in 1980 with a Journalism degree. She has been a professional freelance writer since 1998. Her memoir essays have been published online and in print. She has taught memoir writing locally since 2004, helping dozens of individuals to complete and publish their life stories. She is active in the Association of Personal Historians (www.personalhistorians.org), currently serving as the organization's president. 

 Sarah White

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