Writing about Your Life: Keeping It Real

The Marvelettes in a 1964 promotional photo: (...

The Marvelettes in a 1964 promotional photo: (clockwise from left) Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, and Wanda Young. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was the most popular all-girl vocal group ever to perform for Motown Records?  Most of you will probably say The Supremes. If you use record sales as a gauge, you’re probably right.  However, for those of us who were around a little earlier, we cannot forget The Marvelettes, a group of who had their first hit in 1961, followed by a string of memorable hits.  I remember songs like Please Mr. Postman, Beechwood 4-57-89, and Don’t Mess with Bill, to name a few.

     A few days ago, I watched the story of the Marvelettes on Unsung, a weekly TV series showcasing musical talent who never got the full recognition they deserved when they performed.  One of the major reasons was because there were no shows like American Bandstand or Soul Train to bring them into our homes.  In fact, I also learned through Unsung that black faces were not allowed on album covers during the time The Marvelettes sang.

While I admired the talents of these soulful sisters, I had no idea that they had so many personal struggles along the way. The group began with five singers, then four, the three, then to two, and finally to one, who tried to carry on the legacy when their season was over. An early lead singer had to leave the group when the demands of road life, coupled with sickle-cell anemia and lupus threatened her life. Another lead singer became a drug addict and could not fulfill many of her engagements.  When the group finally disbanded, copycat groups tried to capitalize off their notoriety.  In fact, the remaining true singer was sued for trying to use her own trade name. What a story!

You might ask, “What does their story have to do with writing about my life?”  The answer is everything! When you tell your story, it would be very easy to leave out certain events that aren’t easy to talk about. But that would not be your true story. If you’re writing about one key event in your life and you decide to omit a difficult part of that event, your story will not be complete. If you’re writing about a sequence of events over a longer period of time and you purposely leave out a significant part of your story, your memoir is incomplete.  Often the events which you’d rather not disclose are those which touch the issues of readers.

When I discovered the  painful past of the members of one of my all-time favorite singing groups, I gained a new appreciation for them. I understood that success has an underlying story. And that story is not complete until the rug is turned over. That’s when we can see and appreciate all the knots and frayed edges which make up a priceless  heirloom. If you’ve ventured out into deep water in your writing, fear will come from time to time. That’s inevitable. Just remember that God will not take you somewhere He cannot sustain you.

Spending time in prayer while writing your story will take you to new places in Him! And isn’t that a wonderful fringe benefit! Keep going! You’re almost there!

Writing about Your Life: Another Way to Skin a Cat

journal keeper

journal keeper (Photo credit: normanack)

In 1972, after our third and last child was born, we moved from a small frame house in Washington, D.C., into a gigantic frame house farther toward the edge of town. It was the house of my dreams, with seven bedrooms… , a cozy kitchen, and a front window that looked out onto a 1950’s-era neighborhood full of big trees and little children sucking popsicles as they whizzed down the street on their bicycles. As I stood in the front hall and mentally plugged in the Christmas tree, I knew I could spend the rest of my life there. What I didn’t know was that “the rest of my life” was about to end.

     When I picked up Phyllis Theroux’s memoir, The Journal Keeper, I was hooked! I wanted to know more about that seven bedroom house of her dreams. I wanted to look out that front window and peer down that tree-lined street and see little kids slurping popsicles while riding their bikes. Although I never enjoyed riding a bicycle, for a moment I sat on the seat and whizzed down the street with the other kids. I was caught up in the moment and wanted more.

      I experienced Phyllis’ desire to stay in that moment forever. And then it happened…The writer threw a curve ball. She wrote one sentence which utterly changed the mood. Something unexpected happened and I wanted to know the details. What could happen in my warm, cozy house? Yes, by this time, her house had become mine. I had to find out what happened to disappoint the writer.  And so I read on, my appetite now awakened.

     Describing a scene which pulls the reader into her story, then shifting the mood through a contrasting statement is one of the magical techniques Phyllis Theroux uses at the beginning of her memoir. I was absolutely hooked and couldn’t wait to follow her journey. And I was not disappointed. Theroux shares her innermost feelings in her memoir, which contains glimpses into her day-to-day life. It is set up like a journal, with events capturing the writer’s attention on a particular day. For those of you who have faithfully kept journal entries over the years and were afraid you didn’t have the skills to transpose them into a long narrative, this memoir serves as an alternative model.

     I’m learning that “there’s more than one way to skin a cat!” Yeah, I know that’s a pretty overworked expression, but in some cases, it’s the best way to describe options. So if you were thinking that writing a book about your life was outside your comfort zone, then stay inside. The fire is lit just for you! The best way to learn a craft, as I mentioned before, is to read what others have written. It’s your time to share what God has done for you! Somebody needs to hear your story.