Friday, May 02, 2008

Self-Actualization: Write Your Life

One way to acknowledge and fuel what we're about in life is to record and announce it. For example, telling my writer's group that I'll have a draft done by the end of August almost guarantees my getting it done by then.

I'm accustomed to using that technique, and have always found it amazingly effective, for myself and for others announcing their goals. Here's an expanded version of that idea.

This morning I learned that this is Personal History Month, certainly as good a time as any to write things down, both for ourselves and for later readers.

"You may find it a bit presumptuous, perhaps even arrogant or egotistical," writes Larry Lehmer of When Words Matter, "to put your own life down on paper. But ask yourself this: If your great grandparents had left a written record of their lives, would you read it?"

Putting down what you've done and what you're doing and the story of your family "makes it real" by showing the direction you've taken, the paths and patterns you've created. It's a process of taking stock that helps in making decisions about where to put time and energy, how to spend the coming years.

Lehmer is an expert in personal history writing and author of The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, and he knows the value of archives.

So do I. Working on a biography of painter and mystic Elisabeth Chant, I've found that every line she or any of her friends or relatives put down about their lives is valuable. I'm grateful to those who left these records. It's a gift to me; and I'll bet it was useful to the person writing at the time.

The current issue of Lehmer's free e-newsletter "Passing it On" gives a list of getting-started tips. I like Number 4: Start outlining your life, the major dates and events, in chronological order, with space provided to add new material as it comes to you.

Self-actualization--reaching one's full potential--is of course more than keeping records. But being clear, in writing, helps the process.

And May is also Creative Beginnings Month.

If you like this post, please bookmark it on, share it on StumbleUpon, vote for it on Digg. Thanks so much.


Elaine said...

Hi Peggy,
Great post! How interesting that it's Personal History Month. I just taught a class at the Cary Senior Center this week entitled "How to Write Your Family's Story," based on tips I culled while writing about my parents courtship in the 1940s in my book All on Account of You: A True WWII Love Story.

In addition to preserving the information for the next generation, when you write your family's history, you are also letting your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings that their lives have been memorable and worth recording.

It's hard to get started, but so important. Whether you handwrite, type, record digitally or on tape, just do it. You'll be glad you did.

Peggy Payne said...

Thanks, Elaine. Your book on your parents' story sounds intriguing. (I visited your website.) I'll bet the digging was a lot of fun. Any big surprises?

Peggy Payne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elaine said...

The book includes many of my dad's love letters, and most of them were a surprise to me. My folks were older by the time they had me (I'm the youngest of eight), and they were pretty strict. My dad was a very quiet man, an engineer. But in his letters he was romantic, and also funny. It was amazing to have a window to his younger, more optimistic self.

Peggy Payne said...

Lot of water over the dam by the time you met your parents. I'm sure it was a revelation.

Today's babies will be able to see their parents MySpace pages. Isn't that a caution?

Elaine said...

Whoa. Good thing I don't have one!

They were talking about this topic on The View today, saying that people, celebs especially, can't say anything casually anywhere because someone might have a camera phone and put the video on YouTube. Sad.

On a brighter note, my nephew is going to film an interview with my mom and we're going to turn it into a book trailer for All on Account of You and post it on YouTube.

Oh the times, they are a changin'.

Peggy Payne said...

Great idea. I've seen some gorgeous book trailers. They make the book seem "real" in a whole new way. Does that make sense? Your book looks as if it has huge visual possibilities, with war and family pictures, etc.

Elaine said...

Well, of course, I'd really love to have a movie made from it! My nephew is a budding film guy, working on some shorts right now, so who knows. I have no idea how to do screenwriting, so we'd have to hire someone to do that part. Know anyone?

Peggy Payne said...

I think I'd try to get interest in a movie through the book. Rather than writing a spec script. Books seem to get optioned and movie deals at least as much as scripts.

Elaine said...

Good advice. Nice to know.