18 Writing Tips: How to Tell Personal and Family Stories

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Seventeen years after my grandfather Bob passed away, my father planned a family reunion in a park in northern Utah. Before the meeting, he invited his four siblings and his children to email him their favorite memories of Grandpa Bob. He compiled the memories into a 16-page document and printed copies for everyone.

One of my favorite posts came from my cousin, Natalie, who ended it with an apology: “I’m not a good writer, so I hope everything I’ve written makes sense. I’m sad my memory isn’t better.” That surprised me. The stories Natalie shared were interesting and specific, full of details and funny sayings my grandfather was known for. His words painted a vivid picture of him that made me miss him deeply. I did not notice in that collection of memories any ungrammatical sentences. That is not what matters. What matters is authenticity, voice and perspective. What matters is that our stories are told, in all their imperfect glory. Would you like to make this the year of telling your family’s stories ?? Let these simple suggestions inspire you to put pen to paper. Take ownership of your story & tell How To Write A Memoir.

You are absolutely the best person in the world to write your story and that of your family. You are the only human being born on this earth who has your unique perspective and life experiences. You know all the details. You were there. JK Rowling couldn’t tell her story better than you.

Tell your favorite stories out loud

One of the reasons my cousin’s words came so alive to me is because her relatives are all great verbal storytellers. They gather, reminisce, and repeat some of the same stories over and over again. This practice adds structure to fragmented memories, making it easier to write them down later.

Create a timeline of major life events

In a notebook or computer document, write down each year of your life. Leave a page or two between each year. Now start adding up all the big turning points that divide your life into chapters: being born, going to school, moving, changing schools, meeting religious milestones, learning to drive, graduating, getting a job, changing jobs, marry, have children. Unhappy events such as divorces and deaths will also be listed. Write down names, places, dates. If the only thing you ever complete in your personal history is this list of important events in your life, that is much better than nothing. If you’re inspired to follow, you’ll have a great framework for writing a complete personal story.

Be specific

Add as many relevant details as you can when sharing a memory. If you make a general statement, think about the evidence you would include if you had to prove that you are telling the truth. For example, my cousin Natalie wrote, “I remember my grandfather always took great care of things.” If she had stopped there, it would still have been a true statement about my grandfather, but it became all the more memorable when she added this detail: “If I used the weed eater, I would clean it up and put it back in the box.” Well this tells a story about how careful and meticulous my grandfather was. Not only did he keep the original box for years and years, but he also took the time to clean the dirty turf equipment before putting it away. I loved that detail;

Just start

It doesn’t matter how late you feel about writing your personal story. Start somewhere, and start today. Even if you don’t have time to delve into the past right now, make it a regular habit to write down and collect your current thoughts and memories. The important thing is to capture them while they’re still fresh, because you can always organize and rearrange your memories later. 

revive the memories

Make a list of stories to tell

Not sure where to start your personal or family history ? Start by making a list of the stories you want to write eventually. Then make them one by one. Think about the anecdotes you find yourself repeating over and over again–such as the disaster you barely avoided, that crazy coincidence, that time you found yourself in front of a famous person. If someone ever says to you, “Yeah, you’ve told me that before,” that’s a sign that the story is important. Add it to your list.

Forget the timeline

I know I told you to make a timeline, but there’s no rule that says you have to write your life story in chronological order. You can use the timeline for reference only, so write your stories in the order you want . After all, he doesn’t remember his life in chronological order. Memories tend to come to you randomly, triggered by the strangest things. By writing your stories, you can add any structure you want to your memories. Leave them in random order. Group them by person or place. I have an encyclopedia-style document on my computer in which I list the memories under alphabetical headings: “Adventures with Jodi,” “Body Oddities,” “Curds (Cheese),” and so on. (Yes, I actually have a story about curds (cheese.

Use memory triggers

Photos, keepsakes, clothing, and other objects can be wonderful memory triggers. Look through the photo albums of your relatives’ homes and take note of the stories that come to mind. So add them to your list of stories you want to tell. Plan a visit to a neighborhood or city where you have once lived. Take a walk with the notebook in hand, and take note of the memories that occur to you. You can also use questions or write messages, like the ones in the #52stories project , to trigger memories and stories.

Allow thoughts to filter through.

It’s hard to make stories pop out of the blue; our memories just don’t work that way. If you are using the writing tips, or trying to answer a list of questions, read them all at the beginning of the week. So put them aside, and get on with your life. You will be surprised how much you can remember after allowing a question to linger in your mind for a few days.

  1. Collect other people’s memories

Consult with siblings, cousins, children, and other relatives for help filling in memories of a person or event. Natalie talked to two of her sisters before writing the final memory list that she sent to my dad. I am very grateful to all my cousins ​​and aunts for contributing their perspectives, despite any insecurity they may have felt writing them. We now have a complete picture of this man we all love, those who knew him as a young father and those who knew him as an elderly grandfather, those who saw him daily and those who visited him a few times a year.

keep it simple

Write it by hand

I know what some of you are going to say. “But I have ugly handwriting. I hate writing by hand. Writing on a typewriter is so much easier.” Let me ask you this question: Has it ever happened to you that she has come across a recipe from her grandmother that was written by hand and she has not thought, “Oh, how I miss it.” Your letter is unique to you. Her family will wish they had some of her words written in their own hand. And they won’t judge you for sloppy or imperfect handwriting. They will treasure it as a piece of yourself.

Write the same way you speak

Forget formality and grammar rules. Just do the best you can to let your authentic voice shine. The more your written words reflect the way you speak, the better. It can take years for even professional writers to find their “voice” and feel comfortable with their style, so don’t worry if you feel uncomfortable writing at first. If you feel stuck, pretend you’re telling the story out loud to a friend. Actually, speak each sentence out loud, and then write down what he has said. It’s that simple.

Don’t worry about grammar and spelling.

There’s a saying I want you to repeat to yourself over and over again: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And what does this mean? Perfection is not the goal. If that’s what you’re going for, you’re not going to get anything done. The imperfect story that has been written of a life is infinitely more valuable than the perfect story that is never told. So don’t worry if you’ve struggled in school with sentence layouts and can’t tell the subject from the predicate. If he knows how to speak in coherent sentences, he too can write a coherent story.

Write in list form

Lists are a great way to break up your prose, making it easier to write and more fun to read. The options are endless. Here is a short list of things you can list in your journal:

  • Cities where he has lived
  • Schools you have attended
  • Songs that remind you of high school
  • Favorite books or movies
  • Quoted texts or sayings that your grandfather always told
  • Traits he inherited from his grandmother
  • Recipes that remind you of home
  • Personal Injuries and Hospitalizations
  • Childhood mischief from which he ran away
  • Pets that were owned by your family

make it last

Make it a regular practice

The more you exercise your writing muscles, the easier and more naturally your words will flow. Set aside a block of time once a week to journal, as the #52stories project encourages you to do . If that seems overwhelming, write every other week or once a month instead. You could also choose one month of the year (perhaps the month of your birthday) when every day you write briefly, either about your current life or about your past or family history. Do what it takes to remove the barriers and make journaling fit your lifestyle, even if that means carrying a small journal in your pocket or writing all your memories in a note file on your smartphone .

Keep Multiple Journals

Writing long form in paragraph style is just one way to capture the memories about your life. I have such a journal, but I also have other types of journals. I have a file on my smartphone where I capture spiritual ideas and great moments! I have miniature notebooks where I capture the funny things my children say. Several times in my life, I have used a blank wall calendar as a journal, writing inside those little squares one memory a day. I did this for my daughter from the day she was born until her first birthday. I’m doing it now for my little son.

Heal everything you write

Everything you write about yourself matters, so collect it all. If you’re giving a presentation at work and share a personal anecdote, take it out of the presentation and save it to your personal story. If you share a personal experience in a Sunday school lesson, save it. If you speak at a relative’s funeral, definitely save it. Search social media for stories you’ve already shared and save them in a format that’s more like an archive.

Make some of your stories permanent

Some of what you write will be just for you, and that’s okay. But some of what you write will really matter to someone else, such as the story of your child’s birth, or memories of a beloved grandparent. Store the most important memories in the FamilySearch app, in the Stories section, where all the data is archived and backed up in the cloud. If it’s a story about your grandfather, save it to your profile. If it’s about your life, save it to your own profile. All stories remain private for as long as the person is alive, but will eventually be visible to the entire extended family.

you decide what to do

Don’t let your doubts keep you from preserving the important stories of your life. Don’t let your insecurities keep you from helping your children (and grandchildren) see their parents and grandparents the way you’ve seen them. There’s no better time to start preserving your most important family histories. There is no better person than you to do it.

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