WHEN YOU CONSIDER summers past, it’s natural for your mind to fly immediately to those of your childhood — those long, hot days of freedom from school and responsibility. I know mine does. I remember playing in the fields near my home, family barbecues and picnics, camping trips, and roller skating around the neighborhood.
But, you and I have most likely had many more summers as adults than as children. So why do our minds travel immediately to childhood? Probably because as adults, unless you have been a teacher by profession, summers haven’t had that demarcation of freedom, no “end of school” into long lazy days of doing whatever you wanted. Summers still included work, parenting, grocery shopping, and caring for your home. Summers blended into falls and winters and springs until life became an unending blur of passing time.
That’s why I want to challenge you this week to write a short memoir vignette about a summer (or summer event) from your adult life.
Close your eyes and let your mind roam back in time, summer by summer. Have you traveled anywhere special? Visited close family members? Created a unique staycation? What summer events show themselves to your memory?
When I did this exercise, I thought of the summer my daughter was twelve years old. I had decided, almost on a whim, to take her on a two-week camping trip. She had never traveled outside of California, and I felt she needed to have her horizons broadened. She was a “princess-y” sort of girl who disliked getting dirty or playing outdoors, preferring to stay indoors reading teen magazines and performing Barbie fashion shows.
While there’s nothing wrong with playing with dolls, I worried my daughter would miss out on important aspects of life if she never developed a connection with nature — or at least an appreciation for it. At the time, we lived on two acres in the country, and I couldn’t understand her reticence to spend time outside. So I packed up the tent and sleeping bags, created an itinerary that would take us in a large arc through Death Valley, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon, and told my complaining child to get into the car. We were going on an adventure!
Shall I just say that it was a unique and unforgettable summer experience?
That trip would be an excellent choice for a memoir vignette. It has all the elements of a good story: an inciting incident (my decision to go), conflicts galore, crisis (a decision made in the heat of the moment), climax (that all-seems-lost moment), and resolution with both the protagonist (me) and the antagonist (my daughter) both experiencing an inward arc of change and growing closer.
Here’s how I would go about the writing process:
- Write a short, one-sentence summary for each of the key scenes I listed above. This can function as an outline of sorts.
- Begin writing the scene that is clearest in memory, the one for which I can pull together the most vivid details, including the weather, conversations, physical sensations, and so on. I always start this way, because I find that one memory begets another, and if I start with the sharpest memory, the edges sort of “enlarge,” allowing me to remember more.
- Write each scene this way, relying on memory, pictures, and journal entries to help color in the lines of my written sketch.
- Interview my daughter to find out what she remembers in order to get her perspective and also because her memories may stir up my sleeping recollections as well as provide additional details.
- Resist editing — getting as much as I can on the page, the entire first draft, before putting on my analytical editor’s hat.
- Read the draft aloud, making notes along the way — Does it start in the right place? Is the first paragraph compelling? Does the overall flow of the narrative work? What’s missing? What’s there that should be cut? Is the dialogue realistic? Are there enough sensory details to draw my readers into the story?
- Rewrite/revise until it feels complete.
- Share with my writing critique group and solicit their feedback.
- Perform a polish edit, incorporating any critique that hit the mark.
How about you?
What memories do you have of summers past that could inspire a short memoir? What’s your writing process? And will you take on this challenge?
If so, I invite you to send your completed story to me for possible publication on WritingThroughLife using the upload form on the Write For Us page.