In October, I participated in the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge hosted by Jane Anne McLachlan. The challenge was to write 25 posts, one for each age from birth through 25. I posted my Table of Contents summary of those posts in order here: Table of Contents — October Memoir Challenge. This post is to wrap up some of the thoughts and reflections that surrounded my experience of this challenge
Things I accomplished and learned
I’m a very future-oriented person. I already knew that, of course, but this was a good reminder. Researching and writing my own history is good for me and my writing, but it also exhausts me, clouds my thoughts and processes, and interferes with sleep. It’s no wonder I find it much easier to plan to write a memoir (a future-oriented activity) than to actually write the thing. I feel like writing memoir should be easier than it is for me. Accepting the difficulty will help me improve my self-care while I’m working on my project.
Reading things my parents wrote helps bring their voices back to me. That’s not surprising. What surprised me was how I was effected by reading my letters to my parents. I had moments when I forgot they were dead — it’s been a long time since that’s happened. When it happened right after their deaths it was painful. Now, it’s a way of bringing them back into my life that I appreciate. I didn’t know that reading words I intended for my mother and dad would have that affect on me.
This project gave me a tremendous boost in organizing my photos and other ephemera. There are still things to do and still things missing. Now that I have a structure to put material in, I’m ready to dig and find the things in my files and at the storage unit that never had a good home.
Writing these memoir posts, with the research involved, took a lot of time. I probably averaged two hours or more per post. There are ways I could improve the posts — more diligent research, more effective organization of material as I go along, more creative writing — but that would take more time. If I wanted to be really serious about this project, I would start now and work on two posts a month for the next year. I don’t know that I will, but it’s helpful to know what ideal looks like even if I don’t choose to shoot for it.
Things I might try next time
Start at age 25 and go year by year from there. Since I turned 50 this year, that would bring my life up to date.
My mother was 25 when I was born. I’m interested in comparing my life to hers at the same age. So I would start with a post about me at 25 and my mother at 25. I could maybe even add my grandmothers to the mix to get some more history, although I have less to go on there.
I could write posts for age 1 to 25 for my husband, Rick. This wouldn’t be memoir so much as research and interview. It would be an enticement to organize his childhood photos and ephemera.
I could try to piece together my mother’s memoir up to age 25. She started a couple of times to write autobiographically so I have pages of her notes to work from. On the other hand, there are family secrets that aren’t mine to share. I may have to wait a few more years for that project until all the people are gone who would be most hurt by publication of that story.
It could be fun to play with a genealogy and historical fiction project working backwards by generation. I have one branch that goes back many generations. I could start with my grandma as generation 1 and see what I can find about each generation going back. If I can’t find many details, I’ll just make up a bit of historical fiction to fit the time period.
In advance of NaNoWriMo, I would enjoy doing the backstory version of this challenge, writing about one of my characters up to age 25. What a helpful preparation activity that would be!
Ideas for improving the challenge
First off, I loved this. I got so much from participating in this challenge both from my writing and from reading the work of others. Thanks, Jane Ann McLachlan, for putting this together.
Since this was the first annual October Memoir and Backstory Challenge, I thought I would share some thoughts I had that might improve the experience next year.
A Mr. Linky or another way to link each post by age. This will take a few seconds longer to link up our posts, but we’ll get back that time in spades when we’re going to visit other participants’ posts.
A sign-up Mr. Linky or other link list a couple of weeks ahead of the challenge. This encourages people to write a post that they plan to participate in the challenge and is great publicity for an event like this.
A logo. This would help with publicity and make it easier to find each other’s memoir posts among other posts on our blogs.
Thanks again to Jane Ann, to everyone else who participated in this challenge, and to all of you who read and responded to these posts both here and on Facebook.
Would you consider taking the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge next year?