Workshop: Getting Started (lessons from Franklin)

  1. Listing your life. Benjamin Franklin, you will see, was into lists and schedules. But lists that were highly autobiographical: that he used to reflect on and improve his life, his learning. So one way to think about autobiography is to start simple: list out in 5-10 minutes, as best as you can remember, the key points of your life to this point. Perhaps sketch out a timeline. This is listing–but even in this you are starting to select and craft, since you can’t list out every hour of every day. For future workshops, you can get back to this list and focus in on a particular point.
    1. this will be a key focus for us when thinking about our own autobiographical writing: how do we move the writing away from a listing of events or a resume to a narrative that conveys complexity, emotion, excitement–the kind of things readers will want and our lives deserve.
  2. Imitation of Life: One of the main ways we will talk about doing this in this course is to think more about the how rather than the what: move beyond what happened to how–and use this focus on how to extend to your writing. Think how to write about how the experience/event happens. And in starting to address the ‘how,’ you will begin to think more about imagery and ideas that will have more texture and complexity, even symbolic resonance. Let’s borrow an example from Franklin: writing about how he learns to write and teaches himself style by imitating the essays he finds in the Spectator (it is the New Yorker of his day). [page 83]
    1. Use this as a prompt: Franklin’s passage focuses on key ideas in his autobiography–self-education, learning by imitation, the importance of ‘style’, self-improvement. Explore/compost (5-10 minutes) various memories you have of imitation, self-education, being a writer or learning to write, wanting to improve yourself or a skill–or most broadly, important memories you have from your education.
    2. A key to Franklin’s how, going beyond the what of the memory: notice how he focuses on the image of writing–and focuses in here on the metonymic imagery of writing (copying, imitating; life and learning as revision, editing, fixing errors like a printer corrects proofs): that is, images or symbols that represent something about his life and derive or relate to  that life, are somehow connected to it.
      1. What is a metonymic image that might factor into your autobiography? [think how Agassi uses imagery of tennis]
      2. In contrast, what might be a metaphorical image/symbol you might use? [using imagery of tennis to talk about your life as a marine biologist]