an interview with Katya
by Judy Gross, Tallahassee Writer's Association. 2006

Why do people want to write their life story?

As the writer Virginia Woolf put it, "T would be a pity if it were all lost." Each of us does have a story, many stories, and to write these stories is to honor that we have lived, that we have walked this earth, loved, worked, suffered, dreamed, accomplished. We are adding our stories to the library of human literature. On a more practical level, writing our stories is a legacy to pass down to family and friends that can be shared while alive, as well as after our death.

Is everyone's life story worth writing? Why?

Because there is only one of us, our story is unique and valuable. It matters not whether you have traveled the globe, been the head of a company, found a cure for cancer, or whether you raised three healthy children, or had a flower garden, or dreamed of a vacation in Paris. Your life, and the times you live in, matter, and writing your story is a gift you give yourself, as well as others.

Why do people have such difficulty writing their life story?

Often we do not know where to begin. We feel overwhelmed or have a lack of confidence that we can call ourselves writers. We wonder whether we have anything "important" to write about. All of these difficulties are real, and can be overcome. Having a writing group, a teacher, or a handbook to help guide and encourage us, can make a difference.

What are some good ways to begin?

Joining a writing group can be a good start, because you have support for your efforts, as well as seeing how other people express themselves. There are some memoir guidebooks available that can also help. Or, you can choose to divide your life into chronological sections: ancestors, babyhood, grade school, high school, college, working life, marriage or partnership(s), child rearing, focusing on each part in turn. Another approach is to divide your life into memories: happy times, sad times, times you've traveled, houses you've lived in, friends who have been important to you, your professional dreams and accomplishments, etc. There are as many ways of writing a memoir as there are writers; don't be afraid to dive in, and to share your writing for feedback.

Can everyone learn to write an interesting memoir? Even people who have led fairly uneventful lives?

There is no such thing as an uneventful life. Each day is 24 hours, each year is 365 days. It is not really about events anyway, it is about how one experiences being alive: doing dishes, planting seeds, teaching children, finding a mate, getting an education, working at a factory, living in a village by the sea or in a high rise apartment in a big city. Writing about our life is a chance to see it with clarity, with "new eyes." What makes a memoir interesting is its authenticity - when a real person is being honest about their life - this is a gift to both writer and reader.

How do you motivate people to start writing? What tricks do you use to jump-start the creative process?

I use "seed phrases" that trigger memories, events, feelings. For example "I remember a room," or ""Once I believed," or "My father gave me..." There are infinite seeds or "prompts" that will help us tell our stories, and sometimes writing in this way is easier than "I was born, then this happened, then that happened." Again, writing together, when everyone is focusing on the same seed phrase, can heighten and focus the creative process. And we all learn from each other.

What about taking oral histories of family members who can't or won't write their histories? Are there techniques to writing them that way?

Yes. I have tape recorded my dad, by asking specific questions like: "How did you meet Mom?" "Why did you decide to be an architect?" "What games did you like to play as a child?" "Who were some of your role models?" Obviously, you would gear the questions to what you most wanted to know, or felt was most important for them to share.

Do you teach classes for people who want to write their life stories?

Yes. I have taught Journaling and Life Stories around America for 25 years to people from all walks of life. I offer classes and workshops, and am happy to offer one-time presentations in the community to whatever group is interested in diving in to the process of writing their stories. I also teach poetry, especially Haiku poetry, in my writing classes. Memoir can include both prose and poetry, as well as photographs.

Katya Sabaroff Taylor, M.Ed., (2006)