Write the story of your life

Portrait of Carmel Bird by Lisa Roberts

Carmel Bird was interviewed on the radio recently about her latest book, Writing the story of your life: the ultimate guide to writing memoir. She suggested listeners work ‘to the sound of ticking’, while doing one of the writing exercises she has devised for it.

Here is that writing exercise, as it appears on page 8, with a note she sent to accompany it.

Expanding the Facts by Writing Them Down Under Pressure

Think of a clock or a watch that had a special significance for your in childhood. Write a description of it. Then keep writing for twenty minutes. Observe and enjoy the way the facts blossom before your eyes like Chinese paper flowers. Setting yourself a strict time limit for a short piece of writing is very effective. You may be amazed at how much you can write in such a short time. It is only human to respond to the pressure of a time limit and to rise to the occasion. People in writing workshops are frequently quite shocked at how much they can write in even just five minutes, under pressure.


People really need the context though, in order to take what I am saying seriously and to understand that every word of the exercise matters – eg – UNDER PRESSURE is highly significant – they can’t just meander along with it and pay half attention – real writing (as you know of course) is always like doing an exam – there is a time limit and there is the imperative to concentrate and do the best and to get it right. And then there is the word DESCRIPTION – which I have put in italics in the book – but they need to understand that they are working like a camera – that they are just DESCRIBING – they are not making up a narrative, telling a story, or commenting on emotions etc etc, that this is just the FIRST exercise in a set of 28.

Carmel Bird, 2007