Teaching Rotarians to write poetry.


JudyDickSueAnneatRotaryMy fan club got up very early this morning to hear me tell my story about my writing and personal history work to the Lake Minnetonka Rotary Club, even though they already know the story. Seated left to right, my friends Anne and Sue, and my wonderful partner, Dick. Bonus: Today’s NYTimes article on how digital technology is making it easier, affordable and possible for folks to preserve their life stories, memories, photos and mementos.

I joined our local Rotary about a year ago, and have been welcomed with open arms. Not being a churchgoer, I like the weekly fellowship and camaraderie, and the emphasis on service above self, both locally and internationally. They’re a great bunch of people. I’m learning a lot from them and having the time of my life.

I talked about my writing, and about my work with the Veteran’s History Project. And then we did a writing exercise — writing a love poem.

Want to try it at home? Simple:

1. Write the name of the person (or pet, or tree, or place) at the top of the page.

2. Freewrite for 2 minutes — forget everything you know about spelling, punctuation, grammar, and jot down your thoughts as fast as they come to you — every word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of this love in your life.

3. Write “I love you,”. The comma is important.

4. Edit. Cross out anything you don’t want there, rearrange words if you like, clean it up a little. Read it to yourself.

5. After the comma, write the word “because” — and fill in the reason you love this person. Done! If you want to be really impressive, copy it over (handwritten is best – I mean, come on — this is a LOVE poem) using nice clean paper, maybe add a drawing or certainly, your signature.

And then take a deep breath and give it to the person you wrote it for. Guarantee you will make their day.

Telling a story.


This morning, I told my story  to our local Rotary Club about my work as a writer and personal historian. Then I came home to find this article from the NYTimes in my inbox, quoting three colleagues at the Association of Personal Historians, Sarah White, Mary O’Brien Tyrrell and Stefani Twyford.

The article is a spot-on look at how digital technology makes it easy and affordable for people to preserve their memories, stories, photos, mementos. Rock on, personal history!

Do-It-Yourself Writing Prompts

I promised a group of my writing students a list of my favorite do-it-yourself memoir writing prompts. Here they are:

Writing A Life
If you don’t tell your stories, who will?


Some Favorite Writing Prompts

What do you most want to say? Which one story best illustrates that?

 If you’re writing about yourself, try this:

–  write about someone or something you loved with all your heart at age 10 –  or 16, 38, 67.

–  tell about a time you moved from one place to another. What did you miss? What did you like/dislike about the new place?

–  where were you when (Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, 9-11) happened? What were you doing? When did you realize what the event meant?

–  write about a trip you took. Did it meet, or fail to meet your expectation?

–  is there something you wanted but never got? What filled that space?


If you’re writing about someone else, try this:

–  did the person emigrate from another country? Why? What did they miss about their old home? What did they like and dislike about their new home?

–  who left for, came home from or stayed home from a war? What did this mean to family members?

–  think of an object you associate with this person, and describe it in detail. What does it say about the person?

–  what do you wonder about this person’s life? What would you like to ask if you could?


To add details and depth to your stories:


Think of family sayings, regionalisms, etc. and how and when they were used.
Think about the place where your story happens: a room, town or region. What did you (or the person you’re writing about) absorb from that place? What didn’t you absorb?

Think about some of the things you or your subjects took for granted, but that readers might wonder about:

Food – cooking, eating, buying, growing, likes/dislikes, plates, pots, washing up

How did they get from one place to another in their daily lives?

How did they deal with the weather?

What would they have said about themselves?

How did they get news?

What objects were admired? What ideas?






Ideas to help you get to the end of your story:


Begin and end your story with the reason you’re writing it.


Write about your homes in the order you lived in them – home can be a house or a town. Or begin or end with your favorite.


Write about your children or your siblings in the order in which they were born. Each person is a chapter.


Write about your jobs in the order you held them. Or begin with your favorite.


Divide your life into decades and write about each one. This can work well as an outline or timeline, especially if you have some photos to work with. What happened in each of your decades? What does it mean to you?


Further resources: Many of these writing prompts are inspired by Bob Greene’s book, To Our Children’s Children, and from Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Non-fiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, and from Sara Mansfield Taber’s forthcoming book, Writer’s Field Notebook, and from class exercises at the Loft in Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.



What I Know About Writing


Writing can be a scary business. When we do it well, we place a little bit of ourselves on the page, exposed and vulnerable for anyone who comes along to see, to poke at, to prod, to question. This is especially true when we are writing for family members. “That’s not the way it happened!” we fear they’ll say. Well, they may see things differently from where they stand. You can only tell the story you see from where you stand.

So, a word about telling the truth: there are facts and then there is the truth. It’s easy to find facts like birth and death dates, who lived where when, etc. But the truth of the lives lived around those facts – including your own life – is the story you’re here to tell. Transforming memory to story is a priceless gift to both reader and writer.

Need help? Please contact me at judybudreau AT gmail.com