Last month I went to a writing workshop with the writer Terry Tempest Williams. Since writing is the art I feel most passionate about, and since I admire her work greatly, I soaked in everything she said. I took copious notes and I am still, three weeks later, thinking about her writing advice. Using it. But the thing that continues coming back to me is the thing I wrote largest (in big block letters so I wouldn't forget) in my notes:
Only I can tell my stories. Only I have my voice.
And seriously: when the universe tells me something more than once, I tend to listen.
"Voice" in writing can mean several things. The most immediate one is the way your writing sounds—your style, in other words. And while embracing (and developing) that journaling voice is important, it’s not the voice I mean.
"Voice" also means what you have to say. Both what your life has taught you and how combine in this voice. Since no one else but you has had the experiences that have formed who you are, no one else has the same voice as you.
No one but you can tell your stories.
In one of my earliest scrapbooking layouts (made, in, oh, about 1997, go ahead and imagine the gingham patterned paper and the photos cut into hearts and stars), I wrote a bit of journaling from my baby daughter’s perspective. "Mommy fed me" and "I played with toys" and "I love being alive" and other such statements filled up the space. Even before I stuck it down, I hated that journaling. Some people can pull that off, but not me. It didn’t feel authentic to either my style or to her. How could I know what she thought?
I can’t. I only know for certain what I think.
Sometimes with scrapbook journaling it’s easy to lose our individual voice. After all, quite often we’re writing about things that happened to someone else—babies or teenagers or spouses or parents. (This is why I think more of us need to make layouts about ourselves, but that’s an entirely different post!) Unless we had the journaling responsibility over to the subject (something I’m also a fan of!) or only write about what happened, the only stories we really can tell are filtered through our own perspectives.
And whether you’re writing about your own experiences or someone else’s, only you can tell your story in your way. Here are three different ways to write about someone else while still including your (significant!) story:
When you look at the photos you’re scrapping, what do you notice that no one else might? Or when you took the pictures—when you were involved in the experience itself—what did you think, feel, remember, understand, or feel strongly about? That is a perspective no one but you can write from.
In this layout:
the impetus for the journaling is the look of adoration on my youngest child’s face. When I saw it on the print I immediately thought of how often I see this look on his face when he is with his older brother—but how the age difference between them means that his brother doesn’t see it. My perspective on their relationship is necessarily different than their perspective; writing it down helped me get on paper what it might take Nathan (the older brother) a while to figure out.
Behind the Scenes
What happened before the experience in the photos? How did you organize or plan it, or was it totally spur-of-the-moment? What was the impetus?
Here, I journaled about how a comment in January inspired a picnic in March:
This is also a story only I can tell because I’m the only one who remembered Kaleb’s cute longing-for-spring comment. (I made sure I remembered by writing it down!)
Memory as Inspiration
Is there a memory of yours that your photos take you back to? Write it down! I’ve found that many of my own childhood memories come streaming back when I watch my kids just being kids. Sometimes they like hearing those stories—sometimes they’d rather stay in the moment of their own experience. Weaving your old memory into the experience in the photo is a way of telling your story without interrupting.
On the day I took these photos, we were swimming at my sister’s pool, and for a few minutes I was overwhelmed with memories about her husband, who was killed a decade ago. But as I witnessed my boys run, splash, shriek, and play in the water, I thought about just how happy those sights and sounds would’ve made my brother-in-law, and I decided to be happy myself as a way of honoring that. I tried to capture that same idea in the journaling.
How do you convey your perspective in your journaling?