Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Steps to a Successful Memory Book Project

All the information in this post, and 
many  more details, can be found in the 

95-page  project director's guide,  
Memory Book Projects, which can be 
purchased  in the Capturing Memories Store.
Today and in my next post, I am sharing  the basic steps for conducting a Memory Book Project and I will include a few ”tips for success” along the way.  In the project director’s guide Memory Book Projects each of these steps has an entire chapter devoted to it which provides lots of details for making your project a successful one.

Step 1: Determine the theme and scope of your project.

If you are collecting stories for a widespread community or organization, it will be necessary to narrow the subject. In the first Memory Book project we worked on with the Long-Timers group of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, we initially entitled the project “Memories of West Seattle.” Once stories started coming in, we realized that the scope of the project was too broad. Since we did not have the funds available to publish so much material, we narrowed the topic to only include the Alki neighborhood of West Seattle in the final publication. That was where the bulk of contributions came from. It was a difficult decision to make in the middle of the project, because we were concerned that some of the contributors who lived outside the Alki neighborhood would be offended. Fortunately, we were able to later utilize most of the omitted stories in a museum exhibit, 47 Voices Remember.

You walk a fine line between too broad a topic and one that is too narrow. If you choose a limited subject with little potential, you will be scrambling to collect enough material to make a book possible. While you are considering topics, keep in mind the number of potential contributors. The more contributors you will have, the narrower your topic should be, and vice versa.

Step 2: Form a Memory Book steering committee. 

The steering committee should be composed of people who are well acquainted with the community or organization and are highly motivated to see the project to a successful completion. Members should have knowledge of a wide range of community/organization members who can contribute valuable memoirs to the project. Tasks required of committee members include:
  • Develop funding sources/grant writing
  • Compose workbook questions
  • Handle publicity
  • Recruit volunteers to transcribe, write captions to images, assist elders in completing their workbooks, editing and proofreading, etc. 
  • Coordinate participants: Locate potential participants; coordinate the dissemination of workbooks; send reminders to participants; retrieve workbooks
  • Coordinate story selection and transcription
  • Design/layout book or other end product, or work with book designer

Step 3: Determine the project budget and locate funding sources. 

Before beginning any fundraising, it is important to have a good idea of what your project is going to cost.  Include some contingency funds as well, in case your project outgrows your initial plans. In two Memory Book Projects we worked on, the number of stories and images that were collected far exceeded our original projection. The projects were almost too successful. Even after careful selection and editing, publication costs were more than we had planned. Fortunately, in both cases, contingency funds were available so that we were able to increase the number of published pages. It would have been disappointing to have eliminated some of the remarkable stories we collected just for lack of funds.
Exerpted  from  Memory Book Projects: Collecting Stories and Memorabilia

Step 4: Set up the project schedule.

The time required to complete your project depends on a number of factors. The first is funding. If you are applying for a grant, you may have to begin planning a year or more before completion of the project, depending on the grantmakers schedule.

If it is important for the project be completed by a certain date (to coincide with an annual community celebration or reunion, for example), you should add at least an extra month to the schedule.

Don’t box yourself in. The last month of the project is the most intense. If any part of the schedule slips, you will need to move the publication date back—or plan to spend some very stressful late nights during the last two weeks of the project. Believe me, I speak from experience when I say that this is not the most fun way to celebrate the end of a wonderful Memory Book Project.

A truncated suggested schedule from
Memory Book Projects: Collecting Stories and Memorabilia

In my next post, I will cover:
Step 5: Using your theme as a guide, make a list of potential contributors.
Step 6: Create a workbook for contributors to complete.
Step 7: Collect the stories and images.
Step 8: Create your Memory Book publication, exhibit, or other end product.

In the meantime, you can freely download the Table of Contents, Introduction, and Chapter 1 of Memory Book Projects, Collecting Stories and Memorabilia in the Capturing Memories Store.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Starting a Lifewriting Group is Easy! Part 2

(Read Part 1 of this article below, or find it here.)

Once I was convinced that there was a need in the community for a second writing group in the evenings, I put together a list of topics that I would feel comfortable presenting to the group. I chose ideas that I had used to stimulate my own writing.  Remember, I only had to lead a discussion for 10-15 minutes on each one. Other people join the discussion so I rarely talk for 10 minutes. It is not so much of a lesson as a discussion of technique. I got my ideas from reading books on memoir writing. Joyce Delbridge very generously made suggestions and allowed me to use her ideas and handouts.

Since I did not want to charge for the “workshops” as I have come to call them, I needed to find a meeting place that would not charge for its use. I though this would be the hardest part, but it wasn’t. I happened to mention that I needed a meeting place to a friend of mine who was also one of the assistants at the Family History Center where I do my genealogical research. (These centers are located in Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) churches throughout the world.) She suggested that we meet at their church. She even arranged the room for me through the church organization As it turned out, one of the criteria for using their facility was that I couldn’t charge for the meetings! (I can, however, be reimbursed for copying costs of handouts.) It was just what I needed. Besides, it was a perfect location since genealogical research and family history writing go hand in hand. Other excellent locations for lifewriting groups are senior centers and libraries.
I created a simple poster to put up around town and wrote some short newspaper announcements. Before I knew it, I was printing out handouts for my first meeting.
Since I did not require registration, I had no idea of how many people would be at the first meeting. The group turned out to have 11 members. A great beginning! If I had had more than 20 people show up, I would have seriously considered breaking it into two groups so everyone who would want to read would have an opportunity.
Here are the guidelines I set up. They worked well for the Senior Center group, so I just duplicated them. Meetings last two hours—exactly. We always end on time. We spend: 

  • about 10 minutes getting settled.
  • about 30 minutes sharing stories and commenting on them.
  • 10 minute break (sometimes).
  • 10 to 15 minutes discussing the evening's topic. 
  • the remainder of the time sharing more readings. 

Anyone who wants to read draws a number from a bowl. This determines the order in which we read.
After only three meetings I felt that our group was a great success! People shared delightful stories about themselves and their ancestors. Some were humorous, some serious, some heart-rending, but all the stories were listened to with rapt attention. Comments from group members were helpful and encouraging. It was obvious that everyone was enjoying the workshops. I sure was.
The amount of effort I expended in starting the workshops was really negligible when I consider how much inspiration I am getting from the group. My family history writing had been waning during the year I had not been a part of a writing group. Now I was inspired to write again. It is a great joy to listen to the stories others have to share and I continued to get ideas from my fellow writers. 

Cathy Fulton is the author of Facilitating a Lifewritng Group is Easy,which is packed with memory-kindlingideas and worksheets for any memoir writing\group. Find it in the Capturing Memories store, where you can download a free copy of the Table of Contents, Introduction, and Chapter 1.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Starting a Lifewriting Group is Easy! Part 1

One of the purposes of my lifewriting workshops is to inspire people to write. The place where I have found the most inspiration was in a memoir writing group. Our local Senior Center has had a writing group going for over 10 years. Periodically they present public readings of their best work. I attended one of those readings and immediately wanted to join them. I called the Senior Center and asked if I had to be a senior citizen to take part (I was only 40 at the time!). I was assured that I could join.

Cathy Fulton is the author of
Facilitating a Lifewritng Group is Easy,
which is packed with memory-kindling
ideas and worksheets for any
 memoir writing\group.
Find it in the Capturing Memories store.
I was a part of that group for two years. It met every week on Monday mornings. I wrote lots of stories and even published a book of stories about my Father. I wanted to keep attending, but I had two young children and found it difficult to find child care for them on Monday mornings. So, I had to stop attending the group. Shortly afterward, my writing decreased. I wasn’t getting my weekly inspirational fix. I missed the group terribly. Joyce Delbridge, our group leader, encouraged me to start my own group. Who me? I could never “lead” a writing group. After all, I had only been an average writer in school. Yes, after 20 years, the stigma of all those compositions returned to me “bleeding” with red ink, was still there. My friends and family told me I was a good writer, but I didn’t really believe them. My composition grades 20 years ago were a strong reminder that I wasn’t.

However, I wanted to be a part of a writing group. If it could be held in the evenings, I could attend. Over the course of a year, I occasionally talked to other people who would be interested. I started working on my family history at the local LDS genealogy center. I met more people who were potential family history writers. Finally I decided to take the plunge. I would start a group to meet in the evenings so working people could attend. By now, I had done enough reading on the subject to realize that this would not be a class in writing compositions. Our objective would be to get our family stories down on paper—nothing more.

Because the group at the Senior Center was so successful, I was determined to follow the format that Joyce had used. Here’s what worked for them for over 10 years:
  • No cost—except the nominal membership at the Senior Center ($8.00/year) and cost of copying handouts.
  • No guilt. Don’t worry if you can’t attend every meeting or write something every week.
  • No writing “assignments.” Write what you are inspired to write. Share your stories with the group only if you wish to.
  • Meet once a week, except during holidays and the summer.
  • Most of the meeting time is spent listening to readings and commenting on them—not critiquing. (Keep the meetings positive.) We didn’t worry about grammar or sentence structure. Our comments were mostly along the lines of “I liked the part about…” or “Could you tell us more about…” The closest we came to negative comments was “I didn’t understand who was talking when…” or “Can you explain what happened there at the beginning…?” or something along those lines.
  • Spend 15 to 20 minutes discussing a specific topic, like where to get inspiration, how to organize stories, how to write dialogue, etc.
Stay tuned for Part 2...

“Research has shown that the act of telling your life story increases self-esteem, reduces depression, alleviates loneliness and helps people deal with grief and loss,” says John Kunz, manager of the International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.   
~TIME Magazine, Nov. 11, 2002

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Memory Book Projects

Capturing Memories has had the pleasure to be involved in many successful local history projects in which we helped collect and publish the shared memories of local elders. In each project, a customized memory sparking workbook was created and distributed to community elders. An overwhelming number of the workbooks were completed and returned to the historical societies. Community members also shared personal photos and mementos. The stories were transcribed, illustrated with the images, and published.

A few of the Memory Book Projects
published by Capturing Memories
 Capturing Memories would like to encourage other communities to conduct their own “Memory Book Project” and  have now published Memory Book Projects: Collecting Stories and Memorabilia, a director’s guide to the collection of community memoirs. This handbook provides detailed instructions for conducting a Memory Book Project—whether you are working for a historical organization, preparing a church or organizational history, or putting together a book of family stories.

For lots more information about Memory Book Projects and how we developed this blueprint for gathering community stories, click on the “Memory Book Projects” tab above.
Download the
(.pdf format)

Memory Book Projects is available for purchase in both a hardcopy (printed) and a downloadable e-Book at my Capturing Memories Store.

Lifewriting in the New Year

Every January, at the beginning of the new year, interest in memoirs and family histories gains a resurgence. The “baby boomers,” those people born between 1946 and 1964, are now reaching their late middle-age years. They are becoming grandparents and beginning to review their own lives. The urge is strong to record our stories and pass them down to our decendents.

Whether you are recording your personal memoirs or gathering stories from your family or community, Capturing Memories can help. In this blog, I will share techniques for personal lifewriting as well as ways to collect stories from others in your family and community. I have also authored two books which you may find useful:

I will post details about these two books the next few posts.