Mapping Your Way to an Essay

Monday, April 18, 2011

Several summers during my childhood, I took art lessons. My mom's wishful thinking since I never showed any natural talent. My dogs looked like frogs. My frogs looked like logs. And my logs looked like...well, OK, my logs did look like logs. But who could mess up a log? So I put away my pencils and paints in favor or pens, typewriters, and eventually computer keyboards. But this weekend I found myself back in art class when I attended the Write It Right writers' conference.

During a "Turning Memories Into Memoirs" workshop with Shirley Brosius she encouraged us to pick a neighborhood from our childhood and draw a map in ten minutes. My houses were squares with the family name printed on them, the streets wiggly lines(I couldn't draw a straight line if my life depended on it), the creek, the playground, the candy store. Shirley was right! As I drew the map memories were popping into my head that I scribbled around the edges of my map.

Although I'm not a memoir writer I do write personal essays. In the past a photograph, experience, even a smell or sound would inspire me to write a personal essay. But I've found another tool to encourage the writer within me. This weekend I've doodled maps of my college campus, the floor plan of the house I grew up in, my children's schools, even the mall where I worked my first job. I'm amazed by the list of ideas I now have for personal essays. The ideas don't even come from studying the maps. They seem to leap into my head as I'm actually doing the drawing.

I suggest you draw a few of your life maps today. And thank Shirley for the ideas that they encourage!

Jodi Webb is a WOW! Blog Tour organizer and writes the Words by Webb blog. She has written hundreds of magazines articles and is teaching a WOW Class "Finding Experts and Interviewing Them" this May.


Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Jodi,
Thanks for sharing what you learned at your workshop. I had never heard anyone suggest that as a way to tap into old memories. Sounds like a great idea to me, and one I will be sure to try.
Donna V.

hkhagan said...

That’s a great idea! Just thinking about mapping a familiar place begins to make memories bubble. I can’t wait to actually try the exercise. Thanks!

Sioux Roslawski said...

I've done this at several workshops. It is definitely a way to open up your mind and get the memories flowing...

Kirsten Cliff said...

What a fantastic idea! Thanks for sharing, Jodi. Will definitely give it a try next time I'm stuck.


Unknown said...

In the past few years, I have discovered a strong connection between the visual and my writing. Organizing my ideas, journaling and writing, in general, have benefited from that knowledge.

LuAnn Schindler said...

It's about time I see someone else using the map idea!! :) It's my favorite tool to get kids to create a personal essay. Been using this technique for over 20 years! It works because it forces them to focus on details. Thanks for sharing, Jodi.

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