Tips to write your memoir with an audio recorder


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This is a post I have been thinking about for some time. If you read my series, The Art of Being Prolific, number 2 in the series is about recording yourself. This helps to find time to “write” in virtually anyplace and at any break in your day. Whether you are early for a meeting, or running errands or commuting to and from work, using your digital audio recorder can work wonders when it comes to getting your story out.

However, when I first began to write that blog post, one thing I shied away from was conquering the early stages of recording yourself. After all, talking into a recorder is an awkward experience at first. I believe this is because people, in general, are used to speaking to another person – a responsive person. Sitting alone in a car, or a room, can prove to be difficult. But, over time, learning to tell your story into a digital recorder is faster and often more empowering than writing it down.

Though, before we get to that comfy relationship with your digital recorder, you will need a little ice-breaker moment and some cuddling to ease your anxiety.

In this post I would like to offer a few tips to help your first recordings go smoothly while avoiding the need to think too much, or try to recall information on the fly. This will help your experience become more fruitful, and your eagerness to use audio to tell your story that much more creative.

Pretend you are telling your story to a friend

The difficult part about telling your story to a digital recorder is that your recorder will not provide the “oh’s, ah’s,” and expected, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” That is why many people quit this process before they start. While this will need a degree of imagination, trying to pretend you are telling your story to a friend, as you likely have before, is a great way to overcome your awkward conversation with a digital recorder.

Know what you want to talk about

This may seem obvious, but when it comes down to recording yourself on audio, many people suffer because they have no idea how they want to start. Essentially, they are winging their story. This tip does not mean that you need to write out everything you want to talk about, that defeats the purpose. However, what I am saying is have SOMETHING to talk about before you begin talking. If you are writing your memoirs, perhaps you want to spend your five minutes talking about your first date in college or your first adulting job interview.

Knowing what to talk about should be considered the story you want to tell. Not your whole story, but perhaps a chapter or section in your book. Don’t try to get it all out at once. In fact, you don’t need to say much into a digital recorder for you to eventually get a lot of words on paper. I’ll give you an example. Just yesterday, I interviewed a woman for just under four hours. For an interview it doesn’t seem like much, but the word equivalent is about 39,000 words.

Now, in your car you are doing this a few minutes at a time, but this example shows that within a short period of  time you can accomplish a lot.

Create bullets beforehand

When you are telling your story it is helpful to provide yourself with a few bullet points. This will help you recollect your memory without stuttering through your story. When we tell a story to a friend we may be animated, excited, and have a specific reason to tell that story. However, alone with your recorder some of those elements don’t exist. Creating bullets can help you through parts you struggle to remember.

Taking our first date example, let’s break it down:

  • Why was I going on a date?
  • Why was this date unique?
  • How did I meet the person?
  • Where did we go?
  • The person snuk out on me before paying the bill
  • I had to find a ride home and my phone wasn’t charged
  • I met my next date waiting outside for Lyft

Your bullets don’t need to be more than a few words so long as you can recall information using them.

Create a list of questions

Don’t know how to tell your story, why not just create a list of questions. In the bullet point section I listed a few questions. Sometimes it is easier to pretend you are in an interview than it is to just tell a story. Creating a list of questions to record yourself answering can help you piece your story together. When you transcribe, you will still have the same information as you would by recording yourself telling your story, but with questions you provide yourself a little more context to what is happening, and often helps to jog your memory.

Invite friends over

I actually did this in college nearly 25 years ago. I had a bunch of stories, and a couple friends “4th floor Fricker” came to my dorm room and listened. I didn’t know how to talk into a recorder back then and just couldn’t get it right. Having my friends there to respond to the story and ask questions was more helpful than I could have imagined.

Working with a digital recorder to tell your story will be fast and you will get a lot done. The two things you’ll also realize is that it is crazy-awkward, and when you transcribe you will have accomplished much more than you could have imagined.

I’d love to hear your stories and tips about recording yourself as a means to write your book. Please feel free to share in the comments below!

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