Finding Your Subject Matter

So, you’ve picked up your notebook and pen, put paper in your typewriter, or fired up your computer.  What next? 

Writing is a multi-step process, and in this section of The Autobiography Project website we’ll guide you from beginning to end — from finding your subject matter, through revising and polishing your first draft, all the way to submitting your final piece. 

Maybe you know exactly which story from your life you want to tell.  You can feel free to skip ahead and start writing your first draft.  If not, don’t worry, you can have some fun figuring it out.  For instance, you might like to talk about The Autobiography Project with your friends and relatives, reminisce about important moments you’ve shared, and ask them what stories they would choose to tell about you.  Or you could imagine that you’re writing a story about your life for your child (as Franklin did) or parent: what is it that you want to share with them?  If you are looking for a focus, here are three questions that we’ve put together: take a look at them and choose one that makes you think. Remember, these are just suggestions to get you going and your story need not be restricted to these topics – it can be about any episode of your life that you wish!

The Things I Carry

What’s in your pocketbook or pocket right now, and what story does it tell? 

Examine the objects closely – touch them, smell them, turn them over – perhaps there’s one in particular that you have something to say about? What’s its history; how did it come into your life; and where has it traveled to with you? How did you feel when you bought or received it, and how do you feel about it now? Maybe someone else owned one of these things before you: what does the object communicate about your relationship with them? Or perhaps there’s something missing from your bag/pocket, something that was lost or stolen from you?

Did I Ever Tell You About The Time ...?

What was your funniest or most embarrassing moment ever? 

Put yourself back into a moment in your life when something out of the ordinary happened to you.  It might jump-start your memory to connect back to what was happening in the world, and in your life?  Who was with you, and what was their relationship to you – friend, enemy, supporter or source of conflict? You can tell the story just the way it happened.  Or you can also choose to reflect on the effect this moment had on your life, and why it’s still memorable for you.  Just be sure to use specific details to bring the time and the story alive to a reader.  Has the way you feel about this moment changed over time? Whom do you share this story with, normally, and why?

My Home Was Here

Chances are, some of the most meaningful moments in your life might have happened in your own home. Think about a place you’ve lived, and the things you remember most strongly from your time there.

You can pick a particular room: what stories could those four walls tell? Perhaps you might want to start out by just describing what the room looks like, and see what memories are triggered.  For example, if you start with your kitchen, you might find yourself describing the foods you ate there, and then move on to who cooked them for you, or a meal that was a special occasion.  Or, think back to a time you’ve moved, packing everything you own in boxes and saying goodbye to a place that you’ve called home: why were you moving?  What happened in your life to make you want or need to change homes?  What changes did moving bring to your life?

Questions?  Contact Nicola Twilley at 215.545.3870.  Media contact: Kim Rothwell, 215.790.7837.
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