The last day of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge has finally come. Kind of unbelievable. At times I wondered if I’d ever get through it but I was determined, no mater how long it took me to complete this. One of my goals with the challenge was to make a regular habit of doing something toward my Dad’s Key West history. For the most part I’ve accomplished that. I’ve also learned how much I still have to learn about writing creative non-fiction. But I have a plan for continuing to move forward with the history and improving my writing skills. Here are highlights of Lynn’s advice on the last day of her 28 day family history writing challenge:
Take a lesson from this challenge and enlist the help of others.
Continue to improve your craft.
Find your ideal time.
Plan your writing.
Seek deadlines and accountability.
Believe you are a writer.
The last one hit me the hardest. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I’m not a writer.” I am now vowing to never utter those words again. I certainly won’t become a writing if I keep saying that. To accomplish my goals I need to become a writing. The other one that needs some attention is finding an ideal time to write. While I’ve gotten this done almost everyday during the challenge, I haven’t been consistent with the time. So I’m setting a goal to figure out when that is and try it and adjust until I really do find the best time to write everyday.
Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me through this challenge. I think I’ll do at least weekly updates on how the Key West history is doing.
Second to the last day of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge! And fittingly today’s topic is about last lines. I’ve honestly never thought about this topic before. At least not consciously. Just another example of how much I have learned and still have to learn about writing. Here are the things that Lynn suggested to consider in writing great last lines in a family story:
Your last lines certainly need to bring a sense of finality to your story.
Your last line should resonate with your theme.
Your last line should be about your main ancestor and his final thoughts. If you’re writing a memoir, then your final thoughts should be expressed in those last sentences.
Your last lines should demonstrate your ancestor’s growth or your growth through your family history journey.
Your last lines should slow the pace of your story down and ease the reader to the end.
Your last lines can teach a lesson or moral (of course without being preachy).
Your last lines should leave your reader with an understanding of how your ancestor’s life proceeded after the story is over.
Your last lines should be uplifting and hopeful.
Lynn also talked about writing the ending in advance. It helps in plotting the story to come full circle to the ending you want. She also has four formats to try in writing the last line.
As a line of description
Demonstrating your ancestor’s actions
As a line of dialogue by your ancestor
As an internal monologue by your ancestor or a thought or feeling by you the narrator.
“Reading Like a Writer” is the topic for today in the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge Day 26. Just two days to finish. I’ve loved reading since the 5th grade when my teacher taught me to read for the enjoyment not so I could write a book report. Most of my reading in the last few years has been audio books that I listen to while I make dinner and do the dishes etc. Since starting this challenge I’ve noticed some of the tools authors use to tell their story that I’ve never noticed before. From reading the list below I see there are still more ways I can learn from my reading. Here are Lynn’s suggestions on how reading can help us to become better writers:
Concentrate on reading books in your genre but don’t limit yourself. Read a wide range of books in a wide range of genres.
Just like writing make reading a habit – a daily habit.
Set a reading goal, I try to read 3 books a month. I wish it could be more. Set a goal based on your own schedule. Join a book club; this is one of the best ways to make sure you’re reading on a regular basis and exposes you to a variety of books that others are choosing for you.
Carry your reading with you; make the most of every opportunity to read.
Read for enjoyment but also analyze character, plot and theme when reading.
If a book resonates with you, read it a second time focusing on the more specifics of the story structure, the writer’s style and choices.
Pay attention to the words, the preferences the writer makes and the organization and flow of those words.
Don’t be afraid to take notes. It deepens your learning, gives you time to absorb what you’ve read and provides a resource for future reference.
Write a review of a book you read, this provides you the opportunity to share some lessons you learned or explore some of the ideas it brought up for you.
Read a wide range of writers from great writers, classic writers to current writers and unknown writers. There is a writing lesson in every book.
Don’t waste time reading a book you don’t enjoy or understand. There are too many books in the world, put it down and move on to the next.
Take cues from other writers. Experiment with concepts you see other writers doing, then take it one step further and manipulate it and make it your own.
It is my 55th day in the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge but it is her 25th day and the topic is “Improving Your Story Through Feedback”. Lynn gives some consideration in finding a group to give valuable in improving the quality of our family stories. Here they are:
Critique groups and writing groups are not necessarily the same thing.
In-Person or Online Groups. There are pros and cons to both in-person and online groups.
In-person groups can be more restrictive.
On-line Groups offer flexibility.
Open and closed groups.
Consider a single critique partner.
Don’t be discouraged if your first group doesn’t work out.
I’m glad that we have a writing coach to work with on this project. I think her teaching will really help me progress faster and get a better story in the end. Today writing exercise was to take one sentence in which you are “telling” and revise it into a “showing” sentence. Here is my original sentence:
Ray started the 2600 miles journey across the southern United States on Labor Day weekend.
Here is my attempt at showing:
The warm air flowed across the drop of sweat that trickled down the side of his check as Ray crossed into Arizona. At 60 miles per hour the telephone poles clicked by at an amazing speed and flags fluttered on many of the houses that he passed by.
I still feel really clueless even though I’ve learned lots in the last couple of months. So much more to applying these principles but at least I have some awareness of them now. “One day at a time,” I keep telling myself.
Day 24 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge featured guest author Jean-Francois de Buren. He gave an excellent list of things to think about while working on a family story project. Lots of great food for thought here:
The story must be personally resonant. The story must be meaningful to you first and foremost. If you are not moved by it, do not proceed, it will simply be too difficult, and the result will be lackluster. While you might be writing your family story to ultimately share with other family members, this cannot be your primary motivation. If you write for others in the hope of receiving praise for your efforts, you will never receive the level of acclaim you desire, no matter how effusive it is.
Start modestly. Start small and see where it the story takes you. It does not need to be a multi-generational epic to have impact.
It should feel original to you. While any great story will have timeless themes, the story should still feel real to your family. What you write will inspire others to be sure, but in ways that you can never predict, nor should you try. Authenticity is key here. If you do not believe in what you are writing it will come through.
Be forthright. Don’t be afraid to search for and tell the truth. Family stories are often embellished over time, and the stories we choose to tell say something about us. What really happened can often times be more interesting than the stories that were handed down. If you don’t know what “really” happened, feel free to offer open-ended questions that will leave the reader thinking. Have a point-of-view.
Think about milieu. Historical context is critically important. Your ancestors certainly did not leave their home countries on a whim. What was the social, religious, racial tenor of the time?
It should have drama. It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on facts and figures when it comes to family history, but that alone does not make for great storytelling. Wade into the emotions of your ancestral protagonists. If you were in their shoes, what would you have felt, what would you have done?
Trust yourself. This is critical. The story that you will tell has waited for you to tell it—own that fact. Once you get into the story and feel the emotional power, it will take you where you need to go.
Give yourself a deadline. The process cannot be fully open-ended. A goal is key. It could be a deadline to finish the first chapter, the first 20 pages or the first draft. If you are committed to the process, the muse will marshall the resources to assist you. Showing up matters.
Revise and edit. Once you feel it is exactly where you want it to be, let two people whom you trust to look at it. Take a deep breath and know that the comments are there to make your work better. Their tasks are different, so chose wisely. One is looking at the story from a macro level. Is the story compelling? Does it have drama? Would someone who does not know me or my family want to read it? The other is looking at the story from a micro level. Checking grammar, spelling, syntax and sentence structure.
Enjoy the process. Let go of the fear of failure, the final product is already within you simply waiting to be expressed. Take the plunge.
Another day of delinquency. Not good, I’ve got to get back on track tomorrow. New puppy only a little to blame. I’m also busy getting things started on this years candy window Christmas display. The real problem is giving this history enough priority each and everyday. Thank goodness tomorrow is a new day and time for a fresh start.
Now to the other purpose for this post. It is traditional to let friends guess the name of our puppies before they arrive. We don’t find out their names until they hand us the puppy of the truck. So for little miss “F” I’ve decided to make an official contest to guess her name. The prize is a personalized fleece travel mat designed for dogs but it also works well for babies and it would work for a lap blanket too. If more than one person guesses her name, I’ll do a drawing to pick the winner of the blanket.
You can enter the contest by commenting below or send me an email. Facebook also works. Have fun guessing. Guide Dogs for the Blind is very creative in naming their puppies since they need unique names for all working guide dogs, puppies in training and breeder dogs. Have fun thinking up “F” names!
I’m delinquent on my writing challenge today. My excuses are a busy day followed by the long-awaited news of our next puppy in training. Our little black lab will be arriving on September 11th and her name starts with an “F”! Yeah I’m so excited to get my “F” puppy.
We still don’t know if Emma will be leaving on the same truck but my guess is that she won’t go back until the next truck. It is a partly scientific guess based on the previous recalls this year. Emma is ready to go but it will be good to have her around to mentor our new little one.