Monday, June 23, 2008

Listen to Yourself: Start Writing Your Story

Came across a copy of the July/August issue of AARP Magazine which contained a superbly written article by Abigail Thomas titled, Everyone Has a Story to Tell.

Ms. Thomas begins by telling the story of her husband's loss of memory when he suffered a traumatic brain injury and how he described the loss. And poses the question, "Who are we without our stories?"

She encourages us to write a memoir -- "a way to figure out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are." And offers dozens of questions to get started.

In Ms. Thomas' classes on memoir writing, she offers this interesting exercise:

Take any ten years of your life and reduce them to two pages. Every sentence has to be three words long -- not two, not four, but three words long.

"You discover there's nowhere to hide in three word sentences. ("Walk by river. Stare at emptiness. Demons still around.")"

Read the article and see what it provokes for you. I loved her many provocative questions -- "write two pages about the moment you knew something was over -- write two pages about something you regret revealing."

Abigail Thomas is the author of three books, Thinking About Memoir, A Three Dog Life, and Safekeeping. (I was pleased to learn that the author's father is Lewis Thomas, whose books I remember fondly from my 30' s -- Lives of a Cell, and The Medusa and the Snail, among others).

I'm going to give her "three word sentences" exercise a whirl. How about you? Which ten years will you start with? Which will I? Should be fun (if not mildly disturbing, depending on which decade is chosen) and may add more information for my ethical will. Let me know your experience with the exercise.

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FirstPersonArts said...

Your blog came up in my search for folks interested in memoir writing, and I thought you might like First Person Arts’ Impressions competition. It includes a competition for short documentary films (under 5 minutes) and documentary photo essays (5 images or fewer), but the memoir competition calls for 1500 words. Entries are due August 15th. Check out the competition website here: and find out more about First Person Arts, a Philadelphia non-profit dedicated to memoir and documentary art, at

We’ve got some excellent judges, and the winning entries will get some very nice exposure, not to mention a little cash. It would be great if you could post about this on your blog and/or pass it around to your friends or writers groups. If you send me a note, I’ll happily forward you a flyer. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks,


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