1. Identify a Keepsake
First, you’ll need to determine which keepsake you will write about. Keepsakes, mementoes, souvenirs, and heirlooms are very similar. A keepsake is something with sentimental value. A memento is a reminder of a past event. A souvenir is something kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event. An heirloom is an object that belonged to a family member. So from my perspective—mementoes, souvenirs, and heirlooms are all keepsakes.
Hold your keepsake in your hand, or position your body so that you can study it. Equipped with several sheets of blank paper and a pen, write everything that flows into your mind pertaining to your keepsake. Keep writing thoughts for at least ten minutes.
Ask yourself questions: What is the keepsake? Where did the keepsake come from? How long have I had it? Why is it special or significant to me? Why do I keep it?
Listen as the keepsake tells you the story. Your job is to be the conduit and write the story on paper.
3. Organize your Thoughts
Some writers don't organize their thoughts before they start the writing process, but I do, and if you are a first-time writer, organizing your thoughts may help you with flow. My two favorite techniques are bubbling and outlining. You can learn more about bubbling and outlining by googling the terms.
4. Start Writing
In my workshops, I always encourage writers to give their stories a working title (i.e. Paul's Truck, My Daddy's Rifle, The Sun Catcher, Julie's Tiffany Lamp). The title will allow you to dive in the deep water of your story without first defining your keepsake or memento.
Now, just start writing sentences based on your topics and notes. Just write. Elaborate on the topics. Tell your story and resist the urge to edit your work.
5. Develop a Hook
Now that you have some words on paper, it's time to start the polishing process.
Master storytellers place their strongest writing at the front of their story. It's called "the hook," and just like you hook a fish, the objective is to hook your reader in the first few sentences. I suggest you start your story with some action or interesting dialogue. You may have to play with the beginning several times before you get it just right. That's what writers do—write, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite.
Several years ago, I took an online writing class from Eva Shaw. She urged the students in the class to pick up a copy of a Reader's Digest and flip through the pages. She said, "Pay attention to the way the writers start their stories." I did it, and it really helped me understand "the hook" concept.
If you are still struggling with the beginning of your story, pick up Ava's Man by master storyteller Rick Bragg and read his prologue. Look at the way Olive Ann Burns started her classic Cold Sassy Tree. Look at the first chapter in Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood.
6. Revise More
After you draft your story and select a strong beginning, edit it. Slowly read your story aloud (over and over again) and fix problems. Make sure your subjects and verbs agree. Check for consistent verb tense usage. Look at spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar. Remove unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs. Search for stronger words to replace dull words. Construct smooth transition sentences and paragraphs. Think about the sequence of events in your story and consider moving paragraphs around to make the story flow better. Use strong, action verbs. Really work on your descriptions. Add in dialogue to break the monotony of the story.
7. Revise Again
Set your story aside for a couple of weeks, then pick it up and revise it again. Share your story with a friend or another writer and ask him or her for suggestions.
At the end of Project Keepsake, I included a chapter titled, "Writing About Keepsakes" that goes into more detail about the writing and revising process. I included examples in the chapter that will help you understand each of the tips. I also facilitate workshops and coach aspiring writers on this topic. To schedule a workshop at your church, school, or club, contact me.