I am writing a memoir for my MFA thesis. This memoir (mentors permitting -- and barring a radical change of mind on my part) is going to be written in two parts. Part one will cover early childhood through my 18th birthday and part two will cover ages 18-41. Part one will focus on my father who began to raise me when he was little more than a kid himself. Part two will focus on my own adulthood, which began very suddenly when I got married and started my own family at 18.
Two time lines were necessary to my planning because I wanted to notice and draw out connections between my father's life and mine – ways in which our stories are eerily similar and ways in which they are conspicuously the opposite of each other.
For anyone interested, here is the method behind my writing madness.
Making the Timeline
Step 1: Get a very long piece of paper.
Step 2: Using colored masking tape (sold with art supplies, scrapbooking stuff), mark off two parallel lines in two different colors. This could also be done with highlighters, but the tape can be peeled off and moved – a definite plus!!
Step 3: My two lines ARE NOT to scale. I marked my ages (and dates) on each line separately, spreading them out proportionately because my second line covers fewer years than my first. If they covered the same time period, I would have made them to scale – two inches per year, for example.
Step 4: I used different colored tape to block off significant life markers – like the four houses we lived in each in a different color running parallel to the timeline. I find that many of my memories are "tagged" chronologically by location, so this helps me organize my memories. I also marked the birth of each of my five children on the timeline.
Step 5: I wrote in the chapter titles (or tentative titles) for chapters I have already written and those that I am planning IN PENCIL in the order that I envision they will appear. For chapters still in the planning phase, I used the large amount of white space to jot "notes to self" on what will be in those chapters.
Step 6: I used bright yellow tape to "connect the dots" between the two timelines, noting events and themes in my father's story and mine that I want to develop or explore. These don't line up neatly chronologically, so these lines criss-cross all over the place. But as I get deeper into writing part 2, these connections will keep me focused so I don't lose my theme in a jumble of anecdotes.
Basically, what this project has accomplished is helping me to orient myself in time and organize my chapters in an order that makes the most sense. It has also helped me to identify and visualize connections between the two stories – which will allow me to tell my story in a way that is (I hope) satisfying to the reader in a "coming-full-circle" sort of way.
Remember: Leave lots of white space for jotting notes and always, always, always use pencil!!