What to do when the story is stuck inside of you?

“If there was a steel beam between two skyscrapers, what would you walk across it for?”

These common “Would you Rather” questions come up all the time. Some folks will cross for money, family, their pets, or to obtain world peace.

My teenage daughter had a priceless response.

“I would never do such an idiotic stunt.”

Another teenager challenged her response by saying, “What if another person catches you Spiderman did when he tried to catch Gwen Stacy from such a drop?”

My teen quickly pointed out that the physics again would not hold up and that her neck would snap, much like the cause of Gwen Stacy’s death.

I love this story because my daughter’s responses tell you a number of things about her. For one, she really pays attention to the questions she is asked. Secondly, she evaluates situations for chances of survival before determining her course of action. Third, she reads a lot! I failed to mention that she knew all of this from reading the book, The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios.

What does this have to do with writing personal history?

Now, what does this have to do with you?

  • Have you ever felt stuck when attempting to write your personal history?
  • Have you ever felt you don’t have a story to tell?
  • Do you not know where to begin?

You can use questions to trigger your natural responses to situations, real or fictional. You can also use memory triggers to refresh your memory about past events.

Your responses to such triggers could review your personality and interests, much the same way this group interview question encapsulates my daughter.

A journal prompt that has a ridiculous answer.
Not all journal prompts are fantastic, but your responses to them are priceless.

Some of the best memory triggers are known as writing prompts.

Where can you find writing prompts?

There are books full of questions and lines where you can write questions about yourself.  One personal memoir question book boasted 348 pages of questions with plenty of room to write responses. For many, this is a great resource. For others, the format is approach is too formal and not very specific.

You could search online for:

Many of these questions are perfect. Since they’re not in a bound book, they are more casual which allows you to cut them up and place them in a jar before you hand write your responses in a journal or notebook. You could copy and paste the prompts in a digital document file (Google Docs, MS Word, etc) and then answer as you are inspired. You could also use a Journaling app.

When you do find writing prompts that trigger your memories, be sure that your answers are more ‘real’ like my daughter’s and not phony like the Miss Congeniality movie answer to every pageant question is, “World Peace.”

Choose questions that strike your fancy and really help paint a picture of who you are. Then, answer them as you would with a favorite beverage in hand while talking to your closest friend.

If you would cross a steel beam across two skyscrapers for your a really large brownie, go ahead and provide that answer. Yours doesn’t have to be like my daughter’s, just be sure you are being you.

A Few More Tips For Getting Unstuck While Personal History

While you’re answering questions in your true voice, don’t feel the pressure to answer every writing

1. Select questions that are narrow in focus that you are capable of answering.

A wide prompt would be, “Tell me about your childhood.”

Oh dear. That was a long time ago and I would not know how to begin answering that.

A more focused prompt would be, “You grew up watching a lot of early morning cartoons, which were your favorite and why?”

For me, this is a great question which I can answer fairly easily. If you didn’t grow up watching early morning cartoons, you can’t answer this question. So, although narrow in focus, you would skip such a question because it doesn’t apply.

2. Respond to questions that inspire you.

Not every question will resonate with you.

In a writing class once, someone said her favorite prompt is “What was something that turned out better than you expected?” Many individuals around me quickly started writing from their memory bank. I sat there stumped.

So, I would do well to skip such a question. You can come back to them later or not at all.

3. It’s okay to modify a question

Back to the question just mentioned, I could answer when I modified it. The thought came to my mind of the story of how I turned out better than my mother-in-law expected. When I modified a writing prompt, I was able to write about the day I first met my soon-to-be mother-in-law.

Once You’re Unstuck You’ll Love Writing Personal History

Writing a personal history can be extremely overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be because you have access to memory triggers to get the writing engine started. Once you’re moving along at a steady pace, you won’t need triggers and prompts.

You’ll want to add more to a story that a prompt triggered. You’ll want to write about something in your life compeltely different. Perhaps you’ll want to write about the stories behind pictures in your photo album.

There are so many possibilties after you get pass the rough start. Get going and enjoy the journey.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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