"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Collect, Organize, Write or is it Collect, Write & Organize?

The first step to writing a memoir is to collect data-- memories, photographs, letters, journals. Gather and collect hard copies from anyone you know who might have such material in their possession. If they don't want to part with it, you can ask for copies. Old photos can now be scanned into the computer and copies made nearly as good as the original. The elusive and frustrating task of collecting memories that exist only in the mind of another can put anyone off, but there are ways to unlock that memory bank despite obstacles. I'll post more on that later.

Uncut Diamonds, my semi-autobiographical novel, came from my huge collection of personal journals. These contained memories, incidents, even the weather, which I weaved into the story, making stuff up as I went along. (Too much is fictionalized to call it a memoir.)

Farm Girl
came from two basic sources. 1) The memories of my mother, sharp and clear, as she talked and I typed on my laptop. 2) The written stories and reflections of my grandmother who was a writer as well as an artist and photographer.

Collections already exist in some form, and it's up to the writer (who in folklore terminology is called the "collector") to find and gather. Sounds simple and obvious, I know, but sometime it is the obvious things that escape us. Writing will come later. First comes gather and collect. Go through your closets and files, and gather the data all in one place. Call up relatives and see who has what and is willing to part with it, or at least share. Older people especially are often eager to talk about the past, and to share their memories and photos.


  1. Oh I love hearing older folk (not just my relations!)talking and showing me physical treasured memories, from photo albums to scars to memorabilia. My neighbours are mainly elderly and they have lived incredible lives - I mean through wars and world-wide travels and many relationships shifts.

    Absolutely fascinating stuff and such raw material for inspirations too.

    Take care

  2. Very interesting post, your mother and grandmother sound remarkable. You are making me curious about some stories in my past, wondering whether to seek them out and make a story out of them.

  3. Yes, such an interesting thing to do - we all have these memories, half-forgotten family stories, remarkable people and events in our family history. Your Farm Girl is a beautiful story, Karen, and you got me interested in my own story again... Wait, I`ll write you a mail!

  4. Old Kitty, I bet they love you for listening too! Are you taking notes lol?

    Brigid, These past stories make wonderful fodder for the writing pen. Think Angela's Ashes, such a brilliant memoir of an Irish family, and one of my favorite books of all time.

    Angela, enjoyed your email. I certainly hope you can write your stories! Thanks for visiting my new blog!

  5. And start asking *now*! There are so many things I should have sat down with both my grandmothers and talked about, and I never got the chance...

  6. To Old Kitty, one of my followers too: Your comment starts a bell ringing in my head that excites me. Growing up, I loved visiting and listening to "older" people. And now I'm one of the "older" ones with probably fascinating stories too. I hate to think of myself as "elderly" but suspect I'm there, though I just missed the Great Depression, having been born in 1940. What's the timeframe for elderly? 70 to 100? But definitely I now have the "raw materials" I need for writing. I just have to maintain the energy to do it!!! Would you ditto this, Karen? What a great site you've created here. Old photos and stories will interest our grandchildren when they grow old enough to appreciate them, and we shouldn't wait until too long to get all this together. My 88 year old mother (who died at 97) said, "You should have gotten me when I was younger." But when she was younger she didn't want to talk about her childhood!! There were sad things in her life, but I wish I had MADE her talk more--and ignored her cantankerousness. But I did get a lot, and she saved all her childhood photos and even wrote a detailed account of her 1939 honeymoon. Great stuff!! I'm so glad I have it. Yes, Brigid. As Karen said, past stories are a goldmine for a writer. DO seek them out!!


I don't post very often, but if you leave a comment I'll know someone is out there reading. And then I will post more! Bwa ha ha!