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First steps: use webbing to get ideas

What you see above is an example of a common prewriting tool called a web, a bubble map, or a cluster map. Using a graphic organizer can help generate ideas for writing your life story.

Begin in the middle of a sheet of paper. Put the main topic in the middle and circle it. My example uses the word TOYS. In every child's life, toys are important. Sometimes our choice in toys (or the toys that were encouraged or forbidden) has larger applications for our lives than just play. Exploring your toy history will usually bring up some memories you thought forgotten or will give insights into your personality or interests that you didn't expect.

Around the firstword, put whatever categories or words pop into your mind about toys. I started at the top and put my favorite kind of toy: paper dolls. I drew a line to connect that bubble with "toys."

Then I thought about my first toys. I remembered a photo my mother had of me playing with trucks at age 3. She mentioned with some chagrin that I preferred playing "cars" in the dirt to playing with my dolls. I connected that bubble with "toys" and also connected some related ideas: "wood ramps" and "photo overalls" to record what had come to mind. On the line connecting the "trucks" bubble with "toys," I added my age. To the top of it all, I commented "tomboy" and drew arrows to the proof.

(Note: I added a lot of details here right away. On the other hand, all the details I added to "paper dolls" were done much later. Why? Because that's how my brain worked. There are no rights and wrongs here. This is just a tool.)

I continued around the circle with "Betsy Wetsy Christmas." I know this will make it into my story, because it is my earliest painful memory and my earliest awareness of my own sins (selfishness and resentment).

Next toys I added were "jacks" and "dolls." Over to the left I decided to make a category for the toys that "Daddy made" through the years and connected those toys and comment bubbles. As ideas began to pour, I added more details around the map, finally ending up with comments of other pastimes and how I usually played.

Try it. See what memories "bubble up" from your subconscious. Let the ideas take you where they will. If you get the urge now, go ahead and write. If not, the map can be saved for later use.

NOTE: Check the Web for interactive graphic organizers and interactive webs if you prefer to work onscreen.

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