Friday, August 13, 2010

A Microbiography of Significance by Kay Marshall Strom

Author Kay Marshall Strom has been so gracious in sharing her articles on the craft of writing for our Manuscript Mondays, as well as tips for writers on a recent Writer’s Journey Wednesday. This Fortifying Friday, she’s giving us take a peek at her own journey. Welcome, Kay!

A Microbiography of Significance

I’ve just passed another birthday. I can attest to the fact that inside everyone in the second half of life is a thirty-five year old asking, “Hey, what happened here?”

Life, that’s what. The best possible school for writers.

For years I taught a class for really senior folks called “Writing Your Life Story.” The class baby was 69 years old. The oldest member was 99. I started with the Microbiography assignment: In one hundred words or less, write the significance of your life. It was fascinating to see what people who had the advantage of looking back over a lifetime of memories considered worthy of their hundred words. Most of the men described what they had done for a living. Many of the women used their words to talk about their children.

I always smiled at these entries and responded, “This is all so interesting. But I want you to tell me about you!”

Most of my senior students seemed genuinely stymied. One time a woman wrote exactly one hundred words describing all her perceived faults and shortcomings, including the fact that she never finished a secretarial course she started in her twenties. Imagine vexing over that for half a century!

Then there was the dapper white-haired man in his eighties, always jauntily dressed in a sport jacket and wool Scottish tie sporting his clan’s plaid. Charles was his name. He began his microbiography this way: “At the age of sixty, I got a retirement watch from the railroad and went to work as a volunteer repairman for anybody who needed my free help. That was when I became a person of significance.”

What a wise man, that Charles! Significance is not about success; it’s about consequence. It’s not what pads the checkbook; it’s what gives real meaning to life.

I’m looking back at twenty-seven years of writing. I’m finishing book number thirty-six. And I don’t intend to stop any time soon. I’ve done just about every type of writing imaginable: articles, short stories, television scripts, school curriculum, advertising copy, greeting cards—you name it, I’ve tried it. I wrote to pay the rent and I wrote to put my children through college. Not any more, though. Now I’m writing for significance. Whether fiction or non-fiction, my topic is social justice. My goal is to give a voice to people who would otherwise not be heard.

Maybe I, too, will live into my eighties or nineties. Maybe I’ll even blow out a hundred birthday candles. Maybe . . . but then again, maybe not.

However many my years, I want my microbiography to follow the advice of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who said, “Do a little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Kay Marshall Strom is the author 36 published books. Her writing credits also include numerous magazine articles, short stories, curriculum, two prize-winning screenplays, and booklets for writers. For 10 years Kay taught writing classes through the California State University system, during which she designed and directed the Writers Certificate Program for Long Beach State University. Today her writing and speaking take her around the word.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much,Kay! I really enjoyed today's article.

    I think deep down most people have a desire to be significant - to make a difference. I do! And like you, I'm hoping that one of the ways I'm doing that is through my writing.

    Blessings on your work!


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