Writing your own life story: Getting started

Many of us spend years of our lives turning the handles of microfilm readers, dulling our eyesight in front of a computer, even traveling the globe to trace our genealogy. Others take great pride in creating a scrapbook page worthy of framing. But it is

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  • Many of us spend years of our lives turning the handles of microfilm readers, dulling our eyesight in front of a computer, even traveling the globe to trace our genealogy. Others take great pride in creating a scrapbook page worthy of framing.

  • But it is just as important to concentrate on our own personal history as it is to preserve our past by searching for ancestors, or by keeping a record of our children’s smiles in scrapbooks. It’s important that our posterity know who we are.

  • So why do some of us find it so hard to carry out the edict to write our own history?

  • Why should we write ours?

  • The answer is found in the faces of children and grandchildren — to let loved ones know “who I truly am,” and “what really happened to me.” No matter how close our friends and family might be, our memories cannot be adequately articulated by others.

  • Where were you when the first man walked on the moon? How did you feel about fighting in a war? When did you know you wanted to marry dad? These questions can only be addressed by telling the story ourselves, in our own words, according to our knowledge.

  • While pondering the “why write” question, others might crop up, such as:

    • When will I find time?

    • Where will I write this tale?

    • How will I do it?

    • Where do I start?

  • Sunday is a great day to take some time and work on a life story. Set a goal of writing for only one hour, then try to stop. It’s contagious, once the memories flow and come alive on the page.

  • Keeping your own record

  • Plates of brass aside, there are many ways for us to keep a life record nowadays. Years ago, pen and paper, or a typewriter with ample white-out, were the only options. Nowadays, with technology growing by leaps and bounds every second, options include:

    • Keep a running document in a word-processing program on a laptop, personal computer or even a Smartphone.

    • Save e-mails to and from friends and family in a document. That, in itself, would be a hefty journal when printed out. (Don’t forget page numbers.)

    • Tech-savvy people can utilize the World Wide Web by creating a blog, short for Weblog. Friends and family members can read it instantly and make comments.

    • The old standby — a good store-bought journal or diary, if the thought of technology or cyber-space might cause hives to form.

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  • Journaling versus keeping a diary

  • Though a diary is for brief writing or record keeping, a journal is used to pour one’s heart out. Interest lies in the details, feelings and using all five senses. How did the sky look, the green apple taste, the rose smell, the cricket sound, the sweater feel?

  • Explain everything as if telling someone from a foreign country who doesn’t know you or the customs where you live. Our posterity will not know the activities in our unique time period. Use exact names when telling about friends, neighbors and places, and exact dates events take place.

  • Use descriptions and other fun facts, such as, how big, what color, how fast. An interesting detail to include while writing is “how much it costs,” especially in ever-changing economic times.

  • Journaling also makes it possible to work out a problem in one’s life, just by writing about it. This creates a learning environment for our children. They need to know how dad handled that exact quandary, or that mom had the same setbacks — and look how they overcame them.

  • Religious leader Spencer W. Kimball said, “What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved?”

  • So now that we know why it’s important for us to write our life story, when to write and how to do it, one question remains — where to start?

  • If using a word processing program, one can begin anywhere in one’s lifetime, and cut and paste into chronological order at any time. Another option — write by topic: faith, school days, courtship, funny things our kids said. Or start at the beginning: My name is... I was named after... It doesn’t matter, as long there’s writing on the page.

  • Spencer Kimball also said this about journaling: “Just do it.” It’s still good advice today. Help your posterity know that “you lived” and “this is what you did.” And they'll be glad you did.

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Susan Knight is an award-winning journalist from southeastern Pennsylvania and happy Utah transplant. Contact her at: .

Website: http://www.susanknight.blogspot.com

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