”Branching points are the turning points in our lives—the events, experiences, or insights that significantly affected the direction or flow of our life journey. Branching points are the experiences that
shape our lives in some important way. They may be big events, such as marriage, travel, a move to a new city, or retirement. Or they may be small events, such as reading a book or going on a hike. Big outcomes may have small beginnings. // Think of your life as a branching tree. Your life has many points of juncture—branches that sprout after pruning, others that atrophy for lack of nourishment. Or think of your life as a river. Where is the source? Where did branches add volume, strength, or speed? What were the impacts of storms, flood, or drought? What dams or logjams caused you to change course? What are the events that caused the turning points?" From Telling the Stories of Life Through Guided Autobiography Groups by James E. Birren & Kathryn N. Cochran James Birren is one of my heroes. I discovered his books when I was leading a writers group at the Randolph Senior Center in 2008—the group that became known as the Hale Street Gang. Dr. Birren was the founding dean of the Davis School of Gerontology at USC. He developed Guided Autobiography (GAB) as a method for helping people document their life stories. His method is very similar, in fact, to the one I was already using when I discovered his books in that it relies on a supportive group of writers who share their stories by reading them aloud. From the GAB website: "Guided by a trained instructor, participants are led through themes and priming questions that evoke memories of events once known but filed away and seemingly forgotten. Each participant writes a two-page story on a particular theme each week, brings the story to class and reads it to a small group of receptive classmates. Writing and sharing life stories with others is an ideal way to find new meaning in life and to put life events into perspective. While connecting with one another on their journeys of self-discovery, participants feel enlivened by the group experience and gain a greater appreciation of their own lives and of the lives of others." Exercise Write a couple of pages (up to 1,000 words) about a turning point in your life. You can start by making a list—of critical choices, for example, or influential people, or conflicts, or beliefs (where do they come from?), or lessons (how were they learned?), or mistakes. Experiment until you find the one story that wants to be told. Don't worry about writing style or whether you're doing the exercise right. Think of it as practice and allow yourself to write freely. Surprise yourself. Writing Tip Write straight to the emotional core of things.
“You are writing about your childhood, the time when you found everything so interesting and felt things so deeply. You are writing about your adolescence with all its roller coaster emotions, idealism, and realizations, and about your continuing development as an adult. Don’t be too distant. Write with care and truth and with empathy and understanding for that child, that young person, and the person you are now. Try to understand what he or she was feeling. Help others to learn from that child’s experience, from the experience of a human being trying to make sense of life.” —James Birren Further Reading The Korongo Story: A 2-min video that I put together to illustrate the concept of turning points. You can view it on the Korongo Blog . Do You Have a Favorite Book About Writing Memoir? A list of books and other resources that I've used in my life-writing groups. Posted in the Korongo Writers Forum. Writing Your Legacy: The Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story, by Richard Campbell and Cheryl Svensson. Based on the program developed by James Birren. Telling the Stories of Life Through Guided Autobiography Groups, James E. Birren & Kathryn N. Cochran