My church small group is spending the fall listening to each other’s stories. Each week, 1 or 2 of us comes prepared to share, and we get 20 minutes to tell our story. The group then gets a chance to comment, respond, and ask questions. Our group leader shared hers first to sort of give us an example, and then she gave us some guidance as to how to begin thinking about our own (because it sure is overwhelming to try and think about telling your whole life story!).

We were each given a chunk of post-it notes in 4 different colors. One color was to represent positive people, places, and experiences, while another represented negative. The third color was for accomplishments, both worldly and character building, and the final color was for us to record insights gained and lessons learned along the way. We spent some time writing stream of consciousness on each color with the “homework assignment” to revisit and flesh out each set.

Once you write your thoughts, you lay them all out chronologically on a poster board (or piece of paper) so that the squares of color make a sort of quilt: your story quilt! From there, you can begin thinking about how to turn it into a cohesive story. It was interesting how readily the seemingly disparate instances written on the post-its arranged themselves into a timeline. Some people in the group said they were surprised to find themselves writing down names of people they hadn’t thought about in years but who had apparently made an impact that their subconscious remembered! I noticed that several of my positives also showed up as negatives–I guess when someone or something touches you that deeply, it has the potential to influence you in both directions.

I sat down one day and typed up a rambling 6-page essay from my story quilt. All the words just sort of flew onto the page since I had already put thought into the content via my post-it notes. I, the consummate volunteer, offered to share first, so I read my story last night. Ever the English major, I already want to revise and tell it again! There are so many ways you could arrange it: chronologically (as I did), by person, by event, by lessons learned. Also, since I took a broad view and considered my whole life, I felt like some really important characters and scenes in my story were reduced to a short sentence, so another layout could be to focus in on one or a few particulars but extrapolate out and gloss over its effects on the rest of your life.

I’ve always loved reading other people’s memoirs, so it was interesting to briefly try my hand at my own! I’m not sure what it will turn into, but dredging up thoughts and memories is never a bad exercise in my mind. Of course, I had the added layer of telling it out loud, which is a very nerve-wracking experience for a lot of folks. I never mind sharing, but it was quite a feeling laying myself out so raw in front of 5 people I’m only starting to get to know. But since we ALL will share our stories eventually, it’s just one big step toward being able to say I know them, rather than that I am getting to know them!

Have you ever written a memoir piece? What was the experience like for you?

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman