Family History is not only about dead people. Your story matters as well. Are you recording it?
Far too often personal history takes a back seat or is left on the side of the road when people engage in genealogical research. It seems we forget that today we’re alive and tomorrow we’ll be someone’s dead ancestor. Let me give you three principles of how why you should be working to record your story: Keeping these three points in mind, you are ready to start writing a memoir, life story, or autobiography. But I bet you can’t start because you can’t locate the starting line. Let’s tackle that right now!
1. IGNORE THE OBSTACLES
It’s often a good idea to begin with the end in mind so you know where you’re headed. However, when writing about yourself, that end is not the details and mechanics of finalizing a manuscript or formatting for printing. The end is that you’ve written about yourself.
When you start to write about yourself, ignore all the end details and focus on the experiences and commentary you want to take out of your mind and put on a computer screen or writing pad.
- Don’t worry about your target audience
- Don’t worry about character development
- Don’t worry about developing a strong opening sentence
- Don’t worry about setting or story arcs
- Don’t worry about grammatical mechanics
In short, don’t worry about the structure of your story and just start capturing the memories you have. All of these details will put obstacles in your way. It will be easy to not write because you can’t answer the requestions related to these topics. There is a time and place to address these issues, but not at the beginning. Not when you’re just starting on your journey.
After you have compiled many of the memories into text, you can reorganize the details to craft a better story. You can develop and explain your characters and settings. You can see where the natural highs and lows of the story take place. The trick is to capture your raw material without passing them through a filter until the time is right.
2. FOCUS ON THE WHY
Instead of focusing on the “what” of writing, hone in on the “why”. Why did you think personal history was a good idea? Why do you want to tell your relatives about your career choices, your struggles, your triumphs? Why will feel better when you’ve written your story?
There are many reasons why people attempt to write about themselves, and it rarely has anything to do with reading a blog post that says, “You Need to Write About Yourself.’ Many of the stronger reasons include:
- Celebrating an accomplishment
- Detailing a challenging life experience
- Sharing your life with your extended family
- Passing on heritage and legacy
- Documenting a journey of healing
- Providing answers to a relative’s question
- Completing assignments for school or professionally
Focus on why you’re writing about yourself and that will guide you through the process. Even if your ‘why’ is a royal pain (i.e. having to write for a school assignment), the ‘why’ will direct your path.
3. BEGIN WHERE YOUR INTEREST IS PIQUED
Many writing tips say to outline, storyboard, or flowchart your projects. This is all well and good, but often the memories and experiences that are fighting for your attention need to be placated before you can tackle any other pre-writing activity. Additionally, you don’t always have to start your story at the beginning. You can start at the end or somewhere in the middle. Start writing where your restless mind wants you to begin. Then fill in the gaps between memories.
Here are a few examples:
- If you’re writing your life story or a biography, are you feeling nostalgic for your childhood home or the early days of marriage? Start with your favorite childhood memories.
- If you’re writing about a healing journey, what experiences do you not want to forget? Record those first, no matter if they relate to the pain, the recovery, the miracles, or the mistakes that caused the problem. Start with the memories that will pain you more to forget.
- If you’re writing about a specific life event (such as your military years, college years, a mission trip, sports team participation, or a career change, among others), what memories and experiences pop into your mind first when you reflect on those life events? What is training, friendships, big events, words of wisdom, or leaders and mentors? Write about those things first.
Getting started is the hardest part of writing. The next challenge is to edit what you’ve recorded. For now, just capture your memories. When you get stuck, review this video on Pre-Writing Your Personal and Family History. You should find some clues on how to continue writing about yourself.