Collaboration: The Easiest Way to Write Your Lifestory


A few days ago I spent some quality time alone with my 11-year-old California granddaughter, a rare treat. We started looking at family photos, which led to stories and questions. Lots and lots of questions, the kind that belong on Story Idea Lists.

“What was life like during the 1900s?”

“That’s a big question, and lots of years. Life was much different in 1900 than in 1999. Which part are you interested in?”

“All of it.”

I began helping her break things down. I handed her the copy of The Albuquerque Years I’ve been keeping on a shelf for when she was old enough to read and appreciate it. That’s the mini-memoir I wrote of my preschool years, and it was the na├»ve, off-the-top-of-my-head project that lit my enduring passion for lifestory. You can download a copy from the Books tab above.

Next she began peppering me with questions such as “How did my mom and dad meet?” I wasn’t there, but I think they met in a lab.  You’ll have to ask him for more details. “How did you and Grandpa meet?” That one I could answer.

Now I realize that asking all my grandchildren, and also my children, to pose questions on a continuing basis can result in the most valuable, relevant, and interesting document possible. For now I’ll answer each question in the form of a letter or Flash Memoir (see Jane Hertenstein's Memoirous blog for more info about flash memoir). Most likely each one will result in more questions. But how hard can it be to answer questions? Uhm, some could get tricky. The questions are likely to get deeper over time and stray into territory I may find uncomfortable. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Ruth Pennebaker is taking a similar approach in her Love, Coco XO blog. This blog is a series of letters that began when her granddaughter Ellie was born way up in Seattle two years ago. Ruth is sharing her insights and passions about life, love. feminism, politics, and whatever she thinks Ellie should know as she grows old enough to read and understand.

The main difference between Ruth’s blog and what I’m setting out to do is that Ellie is too young to pose questions, so Ruth writes about her current passions and inspirations. That can work well too. Ruth has a string of published books. Perhaps we’ll see Letters to Ellie one of these years. Right now Ruth is posting on  a blog. I’ll probably stick to short documents I can attach to emails.

This collaborative approach could be your main memoir thrust, or it could supplement projects you may have underway.

Have you written anything yet in response to family questions? Tell us about it!


kathleen pooler said...

Interesting post, Sharon. Since my children are an important part of my WIP memoir, they have been my collaborators all along. Their questions and responses have helped to clarify and validate events ( my memory of).

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for that input Kathy. The random approach I describe in this post would not likely result in a polished memoir. Your approach of writing first, then asking for input seems a healthy way to cover all bases and ensure everyone is comfortable with what you make public in a well-crafted memoir.

Linda Austin said...

How wonderful your granddaughter is asking questions! I'm the one usually asking the questions, which is why I keep busy writing other peoples' stories for them.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Linda, four of my grandchildren ask questions, and I'm always delighted to hear them. The other two may later, but all four of their grandparents live in Austin now, and we may not seem so mysterious. I'll get them involved though, as things unfold.