Maybe you’ve got a brother who quit his day job as a science teacher, moved to the sticks, and became a full-time wild boar hunter. Or he’s a field guide by day, mad scientist by night.
Or maybe you don’t want to borrow your brother’s life story—you just need a few interesting details to deepen your protagonist. In that case, he loves pickles. So much that he will eat a jar in a sitting and drink the juice to boot.
A great advantage for every writer is that no one’s family is—or has ever been—precisely like yours.
These are the raw materials we as writers exploit to create lively narratives and real, complex and interesting characters. The sights and sounds of childhood, the awkwardness of adolescence, the odd mannerisms of a great uncle, that weird thing your family always does at Thanksgiving are what make you, you—and your writing, yours. Sometimes the significance of such memories will smack you in the face and elbow their way into your writing. Other times, you may need to think on it.
That’s where Family Stories can help. Whether you’re on a mission to re-write your family history or just need to find a word for the way you felt that time you saw Aunt Bee in her avocado mask, we’re here to make it happen.
Recently, I was ringing up a customer at work when I was struck by the sound of the electric adding machine. But why? After some thought, I determined that this was the sound of my childhood, if there was one. For years my father owned his own small business, and the sound of the adding machine would permeate the living room on most weeknights as he totaled the day’s invoices. Even at a young age, that sound—the various whirs and tics of freshly inked ribbon spewing forth—became a therapeutic one. It was therapeutic for me as it meant Dad was in for the night. I imagine it became therapeutic for him, too, as the sound of money earned.
Now I am working on a short story that riffs on that sound—the adding machine, the sound of my childhood.
The beautiful thing about writing from memory, and particularly writing about memories of family, is that inspiration can strike at almost any time, can get you out of almost any writer’s slump.
In our last post, we discussed the idea of getting “stuck” as a writer, whether by loss of confidence, loss of motivation, or whatever! Next time you get stuck, I challenge you to write something about your family. Write the 400th page of your brother’s biography. Talk about a time your parents embarrassed you—or a time you embarrassed them!
Dig deep, think about it. You might be surprised when you come out with some of the liveliest poetry or prose you’ve written in weeks!
Of course, if you’re looking for a more structured opportunity to write your family’s stories, we can help with that too! Just let us know.
Family Stories one-night class is on July 30.