Write Your Origin Story

Some of the richest and most powerful writing I see come out of Morehead Writing Project events are pieces generated by the past in which the writer explores the places, people, and events that shaped them into who they are today. These pieces are powerful to read, but are also important for the writer. We all need to understand how our past informs our present and we all have things in our past that we need to reconcile in order to move forward and make the most of our future. These explorations can be celebrations, remembrances, or cautionary tales — or you can revisit the past time and again to attempt all three types of memoir writing. Who we are is written in our DNA.

I am going to share three of my favorite ways to explore where, who, and what you come from:

George Ella Lyon‘s “Where I’m From” poem continues to touch me decades after I first heard her share this piece of writing. I am fortunate to have met her several times and spent many hours writing with her at various workshops and events. I know there are many templates out there created by well-meaning teachers, but I would argue against following such a model. Simply read about her creation process and tips for creating your own “Where I’m From” poem and start writing. If you would like a bit more guidance there is a lesson plan linked from the bottom of the page. Check out my “I Am From” poem as well. A theme explored during the 2015 CLMOOC was storied spaces and exploring the spaces that influenced our lives is another important idea for writers to explore.

Kelly Norman Ellis’ “I Was Raised By Women” is another powerful piece that can inspire powerful origin stories. I know these women even if they did not raise me and I can see their work in her words and presence. Thinking about the people who raised us can be both painful and wonderful at the same time. I invite you to study the lines of her poem and to look at the categories or ideas represented by the women who raised her. Before you begin writing brainstorm a list of people who were influential in your life and determine if you can organize these people into categories. Then further brainstorm a list of metaphors and other descriptive words employing sensory details (sight, sound, scent, touch, taste) to build your own piece. You can also take a page from George Ella Lyon’s advice and remember that this does not have to be a poem.

I’d like to conclude with a more playful and inventive form of identity writing inspired by my experiences with the 2015 CLMOOC. Our first two make cycles focused on issues of identity, first asking us to Unmake an Introduction. The idea was to do more than simply introduce ourselves, but to explore and challenge the idea of identity and how context influences the ways we identify ourselves. Check out my initial attempts to unmake my introduction as well as how others (re)mediated identity as well. The second make cycle invited us to (re)mediate and so I continued to play with these ideas of identity and others (re)mediated as well.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share an idea introduced to me by Crystal Wilkinson (an amazing writer and teacher). During one workshop, she invited us to write poems interweaving the ideas introduced by both Lyons and Ellis which resulted in some pretty interesting pieces. You could take any of these pieces to the next level with some remediation.

What places, people, and events in your past are influencing who you are and what you do today? What do you see in your rearview mirror? Now go forth and write your own origin story! Don’t forget to share them using the #JustWrite hashtag.

Rearview mirror image by Massimiliano Calamelli on Flickr.