Last week I gave presentations at a week-long adult education conference sponsored by Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. Held annually the third week of August since 1922, Campus Education Week attracts around 20,000 attendees from all over the world, though primarily from the Western United States. It’s an incredible undertaking for the event planners, with over a thousand classes offered on an array of topics.
I taught a three-hour class on the first day of the conference focused on family history writing, then partnered with my husband to present one-hour presentations on personal history writing the four remaining days of the event.
This is my eighth year teaching at Education Week. I always come away from the experience touched and inspired by the many wonderful people I’ve met who are fired with a sense of mission to write their personal and family stories. I regret that I can’t spend more time with them, for I understand the magnitude of the task they’ve set for themselves and know the days, months, and years ahead will be fraught with all the questions, frustrations, and self-doubt that go with the territory.
As I talked with people before and after my classes, I was reminded of the universal nature of the concerns we all face when we contemplate writing our stories:
- Are our lives worth writing about? Will anyone read our stories and find them interesting? (Yes, and yes…more than you’ll ever realize.)
- Do I have the ability to write an interesting story? (Yes. Everyone’s life is interesting. Just tell your story in your voice. You want to sound like yourself. Remember to make it personal. Share your thoughts and feelings. Let readers know how events affected you. Don’t just write what you DID; explain who you ARE.)
- How do I handle all the sensitive, sometimes dark, issues in my life? How much should I tell? (Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question, but we all have to grapple with this problem and find a solution we can live with. Your solution will depend on balancing a variety of competing concerns: your purpose for writing, the relevance of your sensitive issues to your life, your audience/readers, your commitment to the truth, and your tone. I think tone is key. You can say the same thing in different ways. A tone of compassion, fairness, and forgiveness allows you more room to tell your truth with less offense. This may seem like a simplistic answer, but your decision will come down to striking a balance between these factors.)
When I finished teaching my last class on Friday afternoon, I felt a bit like my parents must have felt when they dropped me off at BYU as a college freshman years ago. As they drove away in their yellow Chevrolet Impala from the Helaman Halls dorms where they left me, I’m sure it wasn’t long before one of them said, “Well, we’ve done what we could. She’s on her own now.”
It was true…to an extent. But I had classes and books and mentors to inspire and teach me how to proceed on my own. It’s my hope that those of you who attend my conference presentations will seek out writing classes at your community college or adult education center to keep you motivated to write. If you can’t find a class, start a writing group with other like-minded people. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, it’s vital that you find some way to keep yourself motivated. Finally, read published memoirs to learn how other people have written about their lives. I’ve posted a list of excellent memoirs in the “Reading Resources” section of this blog.
Good luck to all of you…and keep plugging!