WRITING FAMILY HISTORIES: GETTING STARTED
by: Tee A. Corinne
Thank You Tee for Sharing this wonderful information
One of the things I do for a living is teach classes on Memoir and Family History Writing through a local community college. I though I would share with you two of the handouts I give to my classes. --Tee
WRITING FAMILY HISTORIES: GETTING STARTED
by: Tee A. Corinne
You are the only person who can tell your own story in your own way. Do it now.
Write out a potential Table of Contents
Start with the beginning.
or Start with the way you tell the story in your head.
or Start anywhere and organize later.
Writing is a way to understand how you are thinking.
Start writing before you have all the details.
Leave a _______ wherever you don't remember a name or date and come back to fill it in later.
Do not worry about spelling.
Be wary of cleaning up other people's grammar or changing metaphors.
Do not put words into other peoples mouths if they didn't say them.
Imagine what you want the final book to look like. Find a book that looks similar and write description of it (size, number of pages, type of binding, etc).
Create small projects that can be easily completed and shared such as family holidays remembered or a description of a single person or a couple and their children.
Identify and date, in pencil, all photographs.
Descriptions of climate and geography will broaden your story.
Stick to the facts.
Clearly identify all speculation.
INTRO TO MEMOIR WRITING by Tee A. Corinne
Anything can become a doorway opening up the past, opening up memories.
What have you done already? What do you want to do as a whole project: Self? Immediate family? Known ancestors? Unknown ancestors? Who is your primary audience?
Consider also your secondary audiences: historical researchers and cultural historians.
Make a special place for all the material related to the project you are working on. Three ring binders work well and help you organize your material. A box or a file drawer are also good. Keep track of how much you have done.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List quickly, without thinking about it, the events/ideas you want to cover in your writing.
Make a list of turning points in your life, places where you made life altering decisions and major events. Order them chronologically.
List existing family histories dealing with the people about whom you want to write.
MAKE OTHER LISTS:
Important dates, where events occurred, places lived, names of spouses or significant others, full names of relatives and friends and your relationship to them, schools attended, names of pets, make and model of cars.
Whenever you want to write something, but don't know what, take a subject from your one of your lists and write about it.
Cluster writing or Mind Mapping is a way to give your mind the chance to organize material before you start writing it down. It is an idea-gathering process. Put a word or phrase (perhaps from one of your lists) in the center of a piece of paper.
Write all the associated ideas that come to your mind around this central core, in no particular order. Do it in 5 or 10 minutes, or over a period of several days.
In Dump Writing you literally dump what is in your mind out onto the paper. Start with the first words that come into your head. Keep going. Don't stop to think. It is useful initially to work with a timer. Set it for 10 minutes. It that seems too long, set it for 5 minutes. If you find you still have more to say, write "10 minutes" in the margin, reset the timer and keep going. This will let you know how much material you can produce in a specific amount of time. It is probably much more than you would expect.
QUANTITY PRODUCES QUALITY
Just keep writing. Don't worry about whether or not it is "good" writing. Don't worry about spelling. Editing can always be done later, but only you can write your story.
Sit or lie in a comfortable place. Close your eyes and think about what the final version of your autobiography might look like. Is it an unbound manuscript or printed book? How big? What is the title? Open the cover. Look at the table of contents. What does it say. Open your eyes and write, quickly, what you have just imagined.
What are some alternative titles? Funny ones? Overly serious ones?
Keep a list even of titles you think you would never use.
USE ALL FIVE SENSES
Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell to make your writing lively and vivid.
HOUSE AND PLACE MEMORIES
Think about a house that you lived in or that someone you want to describe lived in. What did it look like? Are there sounds associated with it? Tastes: what foods were eaten there? Touch: what did house feel like, furniture, bathroom, floors, rugs, curtains, walls. Smells: can you remember different smells from different rooms?
Cooking, smoking, flowers, wood, cleaning fluids, polishing fluids, mildew, animals?
Use the 5 senses to describe geographic places of importance to your narrative.
What was the earliest movie that made an impact on you?
What do you remember about it?
Were cartoons shown with it? Newsreels?
About how old were you when you saw it?
Were you alone or with other people?
If others, who were they?
Do you remember the theater in which you saw it?
What was the theater like?
Did it have a balcony?
Were you allowed to sit there?
What was the bathroom like?
What was the concession stand like?
Did you eat anything at the movies?
What kinds of smells were associated with it?
Write about movies in general, favorites, least liked, terrified of.
Write about books, music, art, and/or philosophy--whatever was central to your life or your family life. Make it vivid. Cite events. Give it a context and a history.
HOLIDAYS AND OTHER CELEBRATIONS
Holidays often define a whole cultural environment: history, songs, food, dancing, food, gifts, traditional activities and behaviors, and more food. Which ones were celebrated in your family. What made them special?
What made them awful?
Who would be present? What happened?
Was it or wasn't it important in your family? What did you think about it when young? How have your thoughts changed?
Basic genealogy will help you gather a picture of how your immediate and distant ancestors moved through time. Doing a pedigree chart for yourself and a family group sheet for your family will organize information for you and for others who will want to understand your writing. It will also help you understand how to read the charts for useful information.
WHO AND WHAT GETS LEFT OUT
Some people and events are often left out of family history stories in one period in time and then a shift in values will occur and make it possible to discuss openly what had previously been hidden, lied about or "forgotten. See how much you feel comfortable in saying and then push yourself just a little. One hundred years from now it might be just the piece of information that someone is looking for.
DEALING WITH ANGER
How was anger dealt with in your family? If people swore, who did it and what did they say? If it was done in another language, did you understand it? How has your understanding of anger changed?
DEALING WITH JOY, ACCOMPLISHMENT, RECOGNITION
What have you accomplished that took concentration, hard work, or struggle?
What is the larger historical context for this accomplishment? What stood in your way? How did you succeed? If you were to brag outrageously, what would you say?
DEALING WITH DEATH, GRIEF, LOSS
How did your family deal with death and grief. What are your specific memories? How was it explained to children? Did you continue your family's pattern or do you deal with loss in a different way? How?
WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY HOW
What are the photographs you want to see reproduced in your book?
List them first from memory. Pick one of the remembered photographs and tell everything you can about it: when taken, where, who was in it, who took it (if known), was there a special occasion? Do you know anything about the camera used? What are people wearing? What is in the background? Go and look at the actual photograph. Is there more there than you remembered? Is anything written on the photograph, front or back? Copy the information down.
Who sent to whom? When? Where? What was going on? Would maps help in describing situation? Do you have photographs of those involved.
HISTORICAL EVENTS and EVENTS OF PUBLIC INTEREST
Wars, natural disasters, first time occurrences, record setting events. How old were you? Where were you living? How did it affect your life? Your family's life? If in the more distant past, who was there?
What happened to them? Look at whole families, groups of people, towns, cities, countries. Relate the personal to the larger whole.
DEALING WITH WRITING BLOCKS
Sneak up on writing. Gather everything you need into one place. Get comfortable. Decide to just write a little bit and then maybe a little bit more.
A technique used by Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones is to write out the words, "What I really want to say is..." and keep going until you feel you are not really on target, then write the original phrase again and keep going.
Stuck? Go with the resistance. Write down exactly what words you are hearing in your head, then just continue writing what you wanted to write in the first place.
Tackle the scariest or hardest part and get it over with.
Some writing blocks are caused because you think you "shouldn't" write about something, yet it gets in the way, demanding attention. Write it down. You can always throw it away.
What is the most important thing for you to have other people know about you or about your subject? Write it down. Now. Ask yourself this question at different times as your project progresses.
Reading something out loud to yourself or to someone else is a good way to gain a broader understanding of what you have written. Other people can often help with spelling and punctuation, but be careful of letting them change the way you say things or the words you have chosen to use.
Wheneve you wonder what you have left out, make sure you have answered who, what, where, when, why, and how.
Some people start at a particular point and continue in a direct chronological way until they have covered the material they wish to write.
Others write of events and people in no particular order and assemble them later (rather like stringing beads). Still others create the effect of a collage, mixing stories, poems, recipes, whatever. First person? Third person? The method that is most comfortable for you is the right way for you to work, precisely because it is comfortable.
GET STARTED KEEP GOING FINISH UP
Get started. Keep going. Finish up. Get Started. Keep going. Don't worry.
You will know when you are finished.