They are the ordinary activities of life, made fascinating by the passage of time and the way the world changes around us. How you got to school or what you paid for coffee and a doughnut as a young person might not have seemed worth noting at the time, but today, your grandkids have a very different story to tell! The contrast between how you grew up and their lives today is really quite amazing. And imagine the differences possible in another generation! These are the sorts of details that bring a memoir to life and make it relevant to younger generations of readers. So you shouldn’t feel like every chapter in your life’s story needs to be monumental – it just needs to be full of little stories and reminiscences that speak about you and the times you lived in. Fireflies! By Julie Brinckloe is a wonderful example of an ordinary event captured in a picture book. Do you remember catching or watching fireflies on a warm June night?
Research is sometimes needed in order to write more, or at least, write accurately. My father always talked about my grandfather’s store on Wyoming Avenue in Philadelphia. If I wanted to include this memory in a piece of writing or as part of my family’s story, I would probably do some additional research. So, for example, I knew when the picture was taken – in the late 1920’s. I also knew my grandfather sold fresh fruits and vegetables. As you can see, the shelves are stacked high with canned goods. At that time there were no frozen food packages because that technology was not available yet. There is a sign that advertises cans of Norwegian sardines in olive oil for 15 cents a can. Today, a can of sardines costs about three dollars! A pound of cheese in 1924 was 38 cents, and a pound of coffee was 47 cents. Today, we would pay over four dollars on average, depending on the coffee brand. The floors in my grandfather’s store were wooden, so they were easy to sweep and clean. There is also a sign for Bond Bread. In 1929, the cost of Bond Bread dropped to 1 cent a loaf. The Great Depression lasted from 1929 to 1939. My grandparents lived through hard times during this era. To write about the store and my father’s childhood, I need to better understand what it was like economically, culturally, and politically. That will help me write with a different lens than the one I use to view life in 2016.
Writers often need a “spark” or a question to answer to begin their journey down memory lane. Sometimes answering a simple question can get you thinking about a certain period in your life, and suddenly lots of memories you hadn’t thought of in ages are right at your fingertips. Now is the time to write them down. No need to write a fully-formed “chapter” right now – just jot down a few notes to store the memory for now. Fleshing out the chapter can come later. First, rely on your writer’s notebook to get you started. Then, if you are writing a book, it’s one chapter at a time. Eventually, if you carve out a little time for writing every day, an entire novel, picture book, or article is ready to send out into the world for reviews, and hopefully, publication!