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Listen to Others Stories

Listening to others life stories can be a great way to get ideas for stories you might write about your own life. It also helps to hear how people look back at their own lives and put them into perspective.

Here are some places you can find personal stories:

  • Follow The Moth on public radio or listen to stories on podcasts or on the website .
  • StoryCorps allows you to record a memory from your life to be stored in the Library of Congress. You can listen to others stories on public radio and on their podcast or website.

Family life and traditions

Family life and traditions are precious to us. Here are some ways to start a story.

  • My family celebrates birthdays by . . .
  • We always had a special dinner on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Easter, and other special days. We enjoyed . . .
  • As I child, I was assigned chores which included . . .
  • I remember the family values that my parents shared . . .
  • My favorite family tradition is . . .
  • We had special names for our grandparents, aunts, and uncles which were . . .

In the News

Do you remember a news story that changed your views or influenced your life?

  • When “I like Ike” was a slogan.
  • When protests of the Vietnam War were going on?
  • When the first men landed on the Moon?
  • When the first atom bombs were dropped?
  • Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?

Write a stories about things that were covered in the news. Tell us where you were at the time. Did you know anyone who participated in the event? Did something you read about in the news change your life’s trajectory?

Quick List – Something Unexpected

Take five minutes and write down three to five times in your life when something unexpected happened that caused a change in your plans. Don’t “think” as you write the list. Just make it as quickly as you can. List everything that comes to your mind without evaluating it.

It could be anything, large or small, that caused you to see a new path forward or influenced you:

  • a car accident
  • an unexpected job offer
  • wining an prize or award
  • a sudden death
  • a time when you read a book or saw a movie that caught you off guard
  • a friend’s reaction
  • meeting a new person
  • getting fired
  • an old friend getting in touch after many years

Pick one of these times and explain the changes in your life that resulted. Write a story about how it happened and how it influenced you.


Online Writing Classes

There are many online classes on writing your life story or just writing. Eventbrite offers many good ones, both free and for a fee. “Eventbrite is a global self- service ticketing platform for live experiences that allows anyone to create, share, find and attend events that fuel their passions and enrich their lives.” Search for “writing” or “life story” in the search bar at the top of the page and you’ll find events almost every day. Click the Price filter on the left and choose Free to find the free events. And narrow the time frame by clicking the Date filter. You can search for events near you or online events.

  • Detroit Public Library, Music, Arts, & Literature Department offers writing classes, journaling workshops. Write Something is a bi-weekly workshop with writing prompts provided by the Library facilitator. Keep checking back as the classes are added to Eventbrite about a week before they occur.
  • Virtual Writing Hour with the National Portrait Galley starts with a five minute “writing break” about anything to warm up. Then the leader shows an image from the Gallery and gives a prompt based on the image. Everyone writes for twenty-five minutes and then any one who wants shares their story. This is so popular it is sold out through July 2021.
  • Bronx Art & fun Hub holds poetry and prose creative writing events.

Just a few of the opportunities at Eventbrite

Storytelling through Photography

Photographs help you recall the times of your life and also help you share those stories. Look back through your images for story ideas.

Share the photos you find with friends who were with you and compare your memories. You’ll be surprised at the memories that will surface when you share your photos.

Digital Photography School provides some tips for using photos in your stories.

Describe the Sky

Make a list of all the words you can think of to describe the sky at different times of the day and in varying weather conditions:

  • Dawn – Morning – Midday – Dusk-Evening – Night
  • Clear – Cloudy – Overcast – Rainy – Stormy

Here are some resources to check out after you make your list.

Library of Congress Searches

One interesting place to search is Chronicling America. The site contains many complete digitized newspapers from 1777 to 1963. Anything prior to 1924 is very likely to be out of copyright so you can use stories or photographs you find.

  • Try search for the local paper where you or your ancestors lived.
  • Try searching for individual names. Newspapers used to print names of people registered in local hotels and those traveling by steamship.
  • Try searching for company names where your ancestors worked or business they owned.

The Library of Congress Photo, Print and Drawing site is also worthwhile to try searches.

What Do You Carry

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a hard book to read about individual soldiers in Vietnam and they items they carried with them. The book is described on Amazon (available as paperback, Kindle and audio) as follows:

One of the first questions people ask about The Things They Carried is this: Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories? The title page refers to the book simply as “a work of fiction,” defying the conscientious reader’s need to categorize this masterpiece. It is both: a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dramatic force and tension of a novel. Yet each one of the twenty-two short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own.

You can read The Things They Carried online at Kentucky Skills Lesson Bank.

Consider some of the things you’ve kept from childhood, things you have on the shelf or in a box where you take them out and look at now and then. What have you packed up and taken with you every time you moved? What small item do you carry in your pocket. Write about your relationship to the item, the person who gave it to you and what memories it brings back to you when you hold it.

Favorite Transportation

What’s your favorite mode of transportation: car, train, airplane, bike or . . .

Start this life story with one of these phrases:

  • My first car was a . . .
  • I once went on a long bike ride . . .
  • My favorite way to travel is . . .
  • We traveled across the country on a train . .

Be sure to include:

  • Special memories of who you traveled with
  • Photographs, postcards or letters you wrote while traveling

Writing about your first car, include:

  • Memories of learning to drive, who taught you, what was something funny that happened
  • School driving class
  • Taking the driver’s license test and test drive
  • Your first time driving alone
  • Cost of fuel, did you pump your own gas?

Four Word Story

The most famous short story is Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story, For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

A few examples of sad short stories are:

  • Combat boots unlaced forever.
  • Population zero, plus us.
  • We’re out of chocolate.
  • The phone never rang.
  • Meanwhile she moved on.

Here are lots more examples of sad stories.

Try writing a happy story in four words.

How about a four-word horror story? Here are a few prompts:

  • The email didn’t deliver.
  • I didn’t hit save.
  • Rain in the forecast.

Think of your own four-word horror story and share it with us.

Frozen Water

It’s said there are many ways to describe snow. Write down as many words as you can think of that describe frozen water or winter storms. Then check out some of the lists.

Read The Washington Post article There really are 50 Eskimo words for ‘snow’ for more information on anthropologist Franz Boas who studied the life of the Inuit people in the 1880s. “Mentioning his observations in the introduction to his 1911 book “Handbook of American Indian Languages,” he ignited the claim that Eskimos have dozens, or even hundreds, of words for snow.”

  • StudioKnow offers 47 Eskimo words for snow with meanings.

50 Words for Snow is a studio album by English singer-songwriter Kate Bush released in November 2011 with seven songs against a “background of falling snow.”

The Scots language beats them all with 421 different snow-related words and expressions. Hear some of them on the BBC.