Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 4, 2018

Ask Dianne

Q: I’m being encouraged by family members to write a memoir of my life, but I don’t know where to start. Ideas?

A: Wow, what a great project to embark upon. A life is a huge subject. Where to start and how to put it all down involves a willingness to dig deep and be persistent. If you start out being curious, open, and nonjudgmental about the facts of your life as you document them on the page, you will find the themes that have threaded your life together. So, your first job is to discover those details in a fun, creative and revealing way. Perhaps by using some of the writing prompts below:

1. Life is about relationships. As with everything in life, all relationships end for various reasons. Think about a relationship that you valued that has ended—a friend, a lover, a family member. Write about that person, how he or she has impacted your life as well as your twin senses of loss and appreciation.

2. Think about other people in your life who have influenced who you are today. (Especially those from your childhood and teenage years.) Think of teachers, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, neighbors…public figures such as sports stars, television and movie actors, politicians, music icons, visual artists, authors, philosophers and so on. What lessons did they impart? What did you admire in them? Which qualities of theirs did you incorporate into yourself? You may have a lot of entries for this one. Your reflection on how they shaped you as you moved through life will reveal more than the facts of what happened in your life. It will help reveal HOW you lived your life, and WHY.

3. Our homes are extensions of our souls: the painting hanging in the dining room, the lumpy couch in the den, the empty ice cream bowl on the bookshelf. Write about the home you were raised in. Focus on the items that reveal the most about the people who lived among these objects and how they were used, or not used. What about yourself? What do you remember about your childhood room, your clothing, your toys?

4. Begin with “I remember”…and follow, in free flow writing, with as many memories as you can on a single page, beginning with the first one that comes to mind. Don’t be concerned if the memory happened fifty years ago or five minutes ago. Everything that isn’t this present moment is memory coming alive again as you write it down. Set your timer for ten minutes or less. Don’t self-censor, or stop the pen from moving. If you get stuck, just repeat the phrase, “I remember” again and keep going. The bucket you fill may be random, un-sorted memories, true. But they may also be memories you would not have otherwise captured.

5. Visualize a place that you cherished in your life. You may have visited it often, or maybe only once. It made an impact. What colors surround you? Which sounds, sights, textures, tastes, smells? How could you tell someone the love you feel for this sacred space, not by saying “I love it” but instead, by painting them a picture with words. This may prompt some memories that you would otherwise not have recalled for your memoir.

Looking through old photo albums, old movies, old VHS tapes and old DVD’s may jog your memory, too. Plus, some images can be used to illustrate the final version of your memoir. It’s a precious gift to family members when a memoir like yours is created and published in some manner for the younger generations to enjoy. Although it’s hard work, I hope you will enjoy it, too. It’s only when we take the time to look back that we realize how far we’ve traveled.

Happy Writing,


Dianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for the very young. Her books have appeared on numerous recommended reading lists, classroom desks and library shelves. Her bedtime book, LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE, was a selected for the Dollywood Foundation’s childhood literacy initiative, Imagination Library in 2007. Her picture book, MOLLY BY GOLLY! THE LEGEND OF MOLLY WILLIAMS AMERICA’S FIRST FEMALE FIREFIGHTER, received the Florida Book Awards (FBA) Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category in 2012 and was chosen for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer list of feminist literature for girls. Her picture book, IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT, won the FBA Silver Medal in 2013. Her 2015 title, IT’S A SEASHELL DAY, was given the FBA Gold Medal/Gwen Reichert Award as well as the Gold Medal for Florida picture book from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. For more information about Dianne’s books, go to

Dianne, thanks for sharing your expertise with us. Another great article.

REMEMBER: To send in your questions for Dianne. Use Kathy(dot)Temean(at) Please put ASK DIANNE in the subject box.

Talk tomorrow,


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