Writing about your childhood memories and family stories is one of the best ways to preserve and reflect on the milestones and events that shaped who you have become to pass on to your family to treasure. Unless you do, they will definitely fade from memory or the details will get fuzzy, or worse, they'll be lost from your family legacy forever.
But how do you capture those memories, especially if you're not an experienced writer?
1. To get started and keep yourself encouraged, aim for writing about a single memory at a time, not writing a book.
Even for experienced writers, a book feels like a huge project that's going to take a long time to complete and causes many to procrastinate from ever getting started. Writing about a single memory feels doable.
2. To stay encouraged, begin writing stories focused on one very specific memory at a time, like your favorite vacation or your family's favorite recipe with a brief bio about the creator and ways it's been modified. Give as much detail as possible with all five senses. Accounts of single experiences, memories, and adventures can grow into quite a collection over time.
3. Resist the urge to write your memories chronologically. That doesn't work for most people. You can put them in time order later if you wish.
4. Keep a journal or digital notepad to jot down a memory when it pops up. You can expand on it later when you make time to do it. Usually, just a few words or sentences will enable you to recall the whole memory later.
5. Indicate the date or approximate date it occurred, but make a note or symbol to remind yourself to verify later when you edit.
6. Write the first draft by hand or typewritten, whichever is comfortable for you.
7. Later when you've made corrections and are pleased with a later version, type or dictate it into your computer, or have someone else do it for you. Make additional copies on an external hard drive, flash drive, or print, and keep them in separate places.
8. Create a place to keep your collection of single stories. A file on your computer is an easy place to start. Again keep "saving" and making additional copies. See #7 above.
9. Give your growing collection of stories a title, even though you can change it later if you wish.
10. Add a copy of a photo or memorabilia relevant to the memory if you have one available.
You still have to decide the format you'd like to share with your family or with the world, but at this point you have done the most important part. You have gotten your life story written, and are ready to polish it.
See the image above to see how my friend and colleague, Lynette M. Smith, is packaging her life story. She began writing about her various memories years ago. As she recalls events and experiences, she writes about each memory in detail and includes a photo if available.
As she creates them, she types each story, puts each inside a plastic pocket and stores them in a binder. She named her collection Lynette's Vignettes and created a Table of Contents. At the time I'm writing this she has completed 27 stories. She has written about the day her son was born, her fascination with arrowheads, a special vacation, making her wedding dress, her reflections on 9/11, and other memories that are special to her.
Even though Lynette is a published author, she has decided not to make her life stories public. She has instructed her husband to share her Lynette's Vignettes binder after her death with family and friends at her celebration of life event.
How do you want your life stories shared?