Writing the Autobiographic Voice

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Today, is as good as any to give you a real B-I-G challenge.
I know you can do it, but you will need to put some energy
and your mind into this one. And, of course, your pen.

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Let’s go ahead and dive in…

This is a journaling exercise to learn to write in an
“autobiographic voice.” Okay, you want to know what is an
autobiographic voice. Fair question. Let’s begin by
defining voice. Our voice is the way you choose to express
yourself either verbal or written. A voice comprises of
tone, attitude, choice of words, and the person’s point of
view.

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There are various types of voices. Each voice comprises of
numerous elements and each as unique as DNA. You can use an
encouraging voice to build your creative self. Or a
judgmental voice to assess an issue. Or, use a voice of
history, like Alex Haley, to speak to future generations, or
Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream” speech. Voices in
writing come from your feelings at the time recorded. Voice
expresses your message and in turn determines your audience,
even if the audience is only you.

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Expressing our autobiographic voice in writing is different
than other voices because you are writing in the “every-
moving present.” Autobiographic writing is in retrospect.
It is a voice of recollection in which you look back at your
memories and use them to tell the story of your life. You
are the main character with goals and desires. Your
autobiography is the story of those desires, of what you
wanted, how you struggled and what you learned in the
process.

Let’s take this process one step at a time…

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Step 1: First you need to access a memory. Just for fun,
return to your earliest memory as a child. For me, it was
when I was four years old. Place yourself in a particular
place and date. Can you remember the date? Was there music
playing somewhere? What about smells? Was Mama cooking?
Were there any body memories? I remember having a scraped
knee, I could see and feel the band-aid, but I don’t
remember the fall.

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During this step, my first preference is to write one or two
word details. You could complete this in a list format or
continuous with comma separations. As you begin to return
to that particular point, and as the smallest, largest
details pop up, and the details continue, the list will grow
and the memory will grow stronger.

Memories aren’t hard to remember, they just get placed in
storage box. It’s like going up into grandma’s attic,
finding the right box, and then opening it. As you pull
from the top, the next appear but not until the top one
goes. You will want to continue going through the box until
its empty.

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If the childhood memory is too vague, use one that is
stronger, or maybe there is a picture somewhere in the scrap
album you can revisit. You can use your wedding day, or a
birth, graduation, or some other particular period or date.

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Step 2: Continue adding more and more items that are
uncovered in the box as you begin to pull things out. Even
if all you can pull out are fragments. Even if need to add
blanks for missing names or other gaps. Use all your senses
to make the memory come alive, both in your mind, and on
paper. You can even interview a parent about your memory
and include their feedback in a small dialogue illustration.

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Keep the writing in the present tense. Nevertheless, don’t
panic if you accidentally write in the past tense.
Sometimes that is the only way I can get the thought on
paper. If that occurs, don’t stop after writing in the past
tense. Rewrite the sentence or paragraph in the present
tense. This is a good way to practice anyway. Remember,
present tense means: as if you are actually right there at
that time.

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As you progress through the memory, you will discover that
your early perceptions and your mature perspective will
overlap. This occurs because the memory is about the past
as seen from the present with all the insight and
perspective that time inflicts.

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You can also choose to address a conflict memory for this
exercise. Conflict memories many times form major themes in
journals, especially relationships that need tending, issues
you need to confront or change in your inner self, for
instance spirituality. These are all loose ends that need
tidying up. And journaling through it is a great way to
heal and forgive.

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Step 3: Use real experiences with real people. Don’t play
make believe with the people or places. If there are blanks
at the time you write, leave space. Continue building as
the memory expands. Tidbits will appear from the darnedest
places and triggers.

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Also know, that it is easy to take a particular memory and
transfer it into a structured framework, like an article.

Keep expanding the memory in additional journal entries.
Add dialogue or humor. As children, we see things as
mysteries. Was there missing information that looked like a
mystery before? Can you ask someone what their memory is?
Ask after you finished flushing your memory so it doesn’t
influence yours.

At some point, usually when you are tired of deepening, or
the memory feels closed, you will want to stop and reflect
how this changed your life or other people’s lives involved.
Are there any special connections between then and now?

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Okay, I did give you a warning; this isn’t an objective for
the weak. Autobiographic voice writing is an exercise that
can bring exceptional value to your current life. It isn’t
a dump and go journaling exercise. Over the years, the
results of this exercise have oozed into speeches and
presentations, shared stories to my children and siblings,
and found their way into many conversations, books, and
articles. You, too, will find yourself having the same
experience.

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(c) Copyright 2005, Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.

Catherine Franz is a life and business coach living in
Northern Virginia. She has presented journaling workshops
for 20 years. Catherine has authored two great books on
tips and techniques of journaling. Copies available at:
http://www.abundancecenter.com/Store/main.htm

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