Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Stories of Your Life : Only You Can Tell Them

Several years ago, I was asked to serve as one of the first-round judges for the Writer’s Digest Annual International Self-Published Book Awards contest, specifically for the “life stories” category.

While I recognize that there are some fine writers who have self-published books (some even went on to become famous authors), I knew that all of the wanna-be-writers (polished and unpolished alike) would be represented in this contest, which meant I could end up with daily migraines for the better part of a month. That’s why I hedged a bit with my decision. And when I added the fact that my compensation for this task would be little more than nothing, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it at all.

But, in the end, I agreed. I felt like the experience itself would hold some value for me, and, as an author who has been blessed by God and a few editors, I believe it is my duty to give back to the writing community in one way or another. Maybe I would find a gem or two in this task.

A few days later, a box of 26 books arrived, along with my judging criteria. After reading each book, I was to fill out an evaluation sheet answering the following questions: 1) What impressed you most about the book? and 2) What one thing could be changed to improve the book’s commercial success?

Finally, I was to only return my top picks, listed in order of preference. The top picks should be both impressive and marketable. These would go on to the next round of judging. While there were no limits on how many books could be returned, “three or four” was mentioned several times during email exchanges with the folks at Writer’s Digest.

I went to work immediately. And I took my work quite seriously, placing myself in the shoes of all those who had spent $100 (quite hefty, if you ask me) to enter the contest, entrusting their precious words to the eyes of a stranger.

Some of the books were written about fascinating characters. Space doesn’t allow me to name all of them, but I can’t forget Hube Yates, a remarkable and colorful man. Yates may not go down in any official book as a “great man in history,” but the life he lived, the deeds he performed, and the spirit with which he faced challenges makes him a “great man in history” nonetheless.

I was pleased that some of the authors proved to be excellent writers. In her book Dear Mom: Remembering Our Mothers, Patricia Jana Hassler’s descriptive writing captivated me, its rhythms and sounds providing rich images. Almost every page contained at least one jewel, and I cited a couple of them in my evaluation of the book. Like this one describing Hassler’s great-grandfather’s appearance in a photograph: He is a distinguished man whose ears bend away like great question marks from his bald head. And this one from the Introduction: It is consoling to connect the dots of experience and watch patterns appear.

In all, I ended up with eight top picks, which seemed like a lot, but I felt strongly about each of them, and felt they deserved a shot at the next round.

My top choice was a book entitled, Taking the Stairs by Julie McKown. With a few exceptions, I liked everything about the book. "McKown is an exceptionally gifted writer," I wrote in my evaluation. "Her word pictures and analogies were brilliant, and she reached deep into the soul of the reader, touching the most secret places. It was a trip down a path of healing and self-discovery, and the reader felt every remarkable bump in the road."

I was happy to see that this book won an honorable mention in the final tally. Not bad, considering more than 2,000 books were submitted in all.

In the end, what impressed me most about the books I read was the passion of the authors, and their tenacity at putting words to paper. It isn’t easy, but having such stories in printed form is a priceless gift for future generations.

Have you ever considered that the stories of your life will die with you, unless you document them somewhere? No one else has the stories that you have. They are yours alone, and only you can tell them. Writing them down is one sure way of keeping them safe. And you need not be a great writer. You need only write.

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10 comments:

  1. Great encouragement, Dayle. By writing down the events of our lives they become a legacy of sorts that we leave to the generations that come after us.

    I am quite passionate about this. In fact, I have been keeping a "family journal" for close to 8 years now. I don't write every day, but I do write fairly often, recording the big AND little things that make up my family's life.

    If you don't like to take the time to write, or feel you don't have the time, why not type your stories, maybe on a private blog. (Blogs can be converted to books...somehow.) I have several hard-back journals that I've done through the years, but I've also done it in this blog format. I just make it private...don't have it listed on my profile. That way it's kept private for only me. And since it's much quicker to type than it is to write, this method really works during those seasons when I'm more busy than in another season.

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  2. Thank you for your compassion and gracious words towards those of us who struggle with writing. And thank you for the encouragement.
    Knowing someone like you would be judging 'my' book would be such a comfort and assurance that the right decisions are made.
    Loved the post!

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  3. Hello Dear Dayle!

    I would certainly highly regard your opinion of a book/story as I have so enjoyed each of the stories you have written and shared here on your blog.

    ps I was planning to participate in Simple Pleasures this week but received two negative comments about the strawberry pie so I don't feel I should promote it any further.

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  4. Dayle,
    I really liked reading about your experience reading those books and how you came to the conclusions you did. How lucky those eight writers were that you read their work.
    I have written some stories for my kids and grandkids about my life growing up on a farm in the 1950's. Even if they never get published, they are in a binder for them to read "someday."

    ~Jean

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  5. Hello Dayle...It is true that we must write our stories, or they will be silenced forever when we pass on. Thanks for the reminder. Susan

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  6. I feel so strongly about this, Dayle. I've been writing down the stories my daddy has told Ethan. Ethan even dictates some of them to me word for word. Those are the fairy tales. But I want the real stories. The ones of my daddy and his brothers chopping down a blackjack tree on the side of a dirt road while their youngest brother sat in the car crying, "That's not a Christmas tree!" The ones of my mama and her brother, who were connected at the hip, the time he threw bricks in the air to prove he could throw them higher than her and they came down and hit him on the head. I've got to get them to write them down for us. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  7. I can't even tell you what this means for me to read this post this morning. I am a writer, but I've never written a book other than filling dozens of journals and blogging for the past decade. I. LOVE. IT.

    I've been feeling God (and hearing everyone I know) pulling me to write a book. I have NO idea what of, but I felt like my life story has been brought up, oh... a thousand times or so.

    But I'm in such a good healthy, healed, happy, peaceful safe place today as apposed to "my story".

    I'm 33, and I'm SO over talking about my past. In fact, I have been for years. I've said it enough and I feel like it's well put to rest. But I know it's a testimony that is filled with witness of God's Glory...
    so my dilemma.

    Sorry for spilling it here. But your works are another push/confirmation? after a week of hearing Him on the topic more loudly than ever before.

    Thank you. I think. ;)
    Blessings.

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  8. It seems to me as if the majority of us who blog enjoy writing. I know I ALWAYS have that is for sure. I use to think I had a certain amount of talent, but after reading the thoughts of soo many truly talented people here in blogland I have gotten away from those thoughts. BUT! I have discovered it doesn't really matter. I pour out my thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears etc. on my blog and have printed the first couple of years into books. In various different places I travel back in time and tell the story of my life. It will all be there in black and white for my children and grandchildren to read someday if they would be soo inclined. I wonder sometimes if anyone will ever really be interested, but have decided it doesn't matter. How interesting this job you did must have been! Have a wonderful day!

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  9. I have thought about this and wondered about writing my story. But there are some things left better unread. Some of us have some sad stories but I'm thankful God gives us happy endings. I had a wonderful childhood. As an adult, let's just say, I love living in the here and now. Thankful for new chapters in my life.
    I so enjoy your posts. You always make me think.
    Hugs,
    Tammy

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  10. That's why my family encourages my blogging. They say that it captures "me" in a way that is hard to explain.

    I have thought of writing stories of my life so that my girls have it. I don't have a "publishable" story, but like you said, I do have a story.

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Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle