Get Organized to Write More in 2012

by Memoir Mentor on January 10, 2012

It starts after I heft the last of the Christmas decorations into the garage attic. I look at the blank spaces in my house where the manger scene, Christmas village, and other decorations sat and realize I need to fill them with the pictures, flower arrangements, and other doo-dads that sit in those places the other months of the year.

Pulling those accessories out of their storage places makes me look at them in a new light. Maybe I ought to arrange them differently this year, I think. Why should the house look the same year after year? And so I create a new arrangement on the coffee table with photos, picture books, and a candle. It looks pretty nice, but it could use a little greenery to soften the effect, so I borrow a small arrangement from another room to see if it works. It does. Then I work on another area, soon moving things from room to room, rummaging through drawers for this and that, setting a few things aside for Good Will, and…I’m on a roll.

I can feel the buzz of an organizing binge taking on a life of its own. It can last for days as I move from tabletops to bookcases to drawers to closets. Sometimes I become so engaged in the process, I forget to eat, which is a good thing. You know, because of my Pioneer Woman escapade?

All that happened last week. And it’s mostly done. And it feels good, freeing my brain for tackling a new year of memoir-related work. You knew I was going to get around to the M-word, didn’t you? Still feeling the vestiges of my buzz, I’ve been thinking how some of this organizing energy could be applied to personal history projects. A little bit of memoir housekeeping can free your mind for greater creativity—maybe even spark some story ideas. Here are a few organizational projects you might consider…

  • How about last year’s calendar? Do you still have it? Did you write down events and appointments on it? If so, you have a good resource for reconstructing your year and maybe have some material for a story or  two. Go through last year’s calendar and make a list of all the things you did. Assign a date to each event and jot down a few notes. Is there any story material there? If you have calendars for previous years, do the same thing. What an interesting project this could be. Sometimes one year blends into the next–particularly as we age–and we don’t take note of interesting things that happen. My students tell me they don’t like to write about their adult years because they’re boring. Maybe not…check out last year’s calendar.
  • In a similar vein, consider making lists of all the books you read last year or movies you saw, projects you completed, or places you visited, etc. I’d love to have lists like this from my grandparents. If you can’t remember much about last year, start keeping lists this year. For some years, I’ve tried to keep a list of the books I’ve read and post them on this blog and, because I’m a movie fan, I keep a list of all the movies I’ve seen each year and assign them a grade. My entire family does this and we have fun exchanging our lists every year.
  • If you haven’t already done so, begin creating a life chronology (timeline), a surefire way to begin thinking about your life in story terms.  My blog post here explains how to do it and why it’s important.
  • Have you digitized all the important records that pertain to your life? I haven’t, but it’s on this year’s project list. I plan to scan and save on my computer all my school report cards, along with personal documents and certificates of various kinds so they’re all in one place. I may want to use some as illustrations in my personal history. Frankly, I haven’t foreseen all the ways I can use them, but I know this project will assure that I have a copy of everything in one place—a computer file or DVD—instead of spread around the house in scrapbooks and manila folders.
  • Do you know what stories you intend to write this year? Do you know when you intend to write them? If you don’t have a plan, you won’t be as productive. The months will go by and another year will have passed and you won’t have finished your personal history. Make a list of stories you’re going to write and assign a completion date for each one. Be realistic, but be ambitious, too.

These are just a few ideas for getting organized in the memoir way. Some won’t fit your organizational needs or style, but they may spark other projects. If you have ideas that have worked for you, please share them with all of us.

All the best for a fruitful writing life in 2012,
Your Memoir Mentor


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Betty Brown January 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

First I love your set up. Next, I am a frustrated writer as there is never time to write. Ever heard this before? There seems to be always some questions as to where should the socks go? Or is it time for lunch now? Do you want cream in your coffee? These little things seemed to distract me or is that I am not focused enough to write? I soon find myself suring the web or playing games! Waiting the the good intention souls to move on for total peace and quiet. Perhaps some tips. Thank you.

2 Memoir Mentor January 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Betty. I share some of your issues with procrastination. Some people manage to write despite the distractions and demands on their time. I marvel at their focus. The main thing for me is to get something started, even if it’s just a few sloppily written paragraphs. I find that if I have something started, it sits in my mind and I begin thinking of things I can add to it, or ways I can say something better. When my mind starts turning out little tidbits like these, I try to apply them to paper (or “computer paper”) as soon as I can and soon I discover I’m focused and driven to finish what I started.

You don’t say what you want to write or how far along you are in the process. Sometimes we let ourselves get distracted from our writing tasks because we’re not excited about what we have to write. It feels boring or a big ordeal to tackle it. If you are writing a memoir or personal history, I recommend you do what I tell my students: Make a list of stories from your life that must be told. It doesn’t have to be a complete list…just a few stories you want to be sure to leave your family. Pick one of those stories, the one that seems most interesting to you at the moment and work on that one. You may want to begin by jotting down a few notes: What was I wearing at this time? What were others wearing? How did I wear my hair? How was I feeling? What was going on in the world at that time? What could I add to the story that would reflect the era? What sense details (sound, smell, feel, etc.) could I add to the story? What was said? Sometimes writing down memories like these gives you the impetus to write your story.

I advise against trying to write your personal history in chronological order. It will become a tedious and boring task for you. If you follow the plan I outlined above, you’ll write more interesting stories, because you’ll be working on stories that interest you at the moment. After you start accumulating stories (around 20-30), you can start pulling them together and shaping them into a cohesive whole that makes sense to you.

One more thing… I think it’s important that you pick a time of the day to write when you feel the most creative. I’m better in the morning and lousy in the afternoon. I’m also far more productive if I leave home and go to a library or restaurant to write. I do this fairly regularly, scheduling writing time away from home on the calendar the way I’d schedule a hair appointment. When I’m home, I feel weighed down by home responsibilities. I’ve done my best writing away from home. I wrote the majority of my “Breathe Life” book away from home.

These are just a few ideas that work for me and my students. Feel free to email me at if you have any further questions. Write your story. You’ve had an interesting life. Go for it.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: