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Tell Your Tale

Tell Your Tale
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BY MARY JANE HORTON

Not everyone is a writer, but everyone has a story to tell. And tell it you should: for yourself, your kids, their kids.  In our technological world, our stories are on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – but those probably won’t endure the test of time.

So write it down. Here are some tips on getting started.

Take time to gather your thoughts This doesn’t have to be an instantaneous project. Think about what experiences in your life have been important, memorable, or just fun. What do you want your children to know? If you don’t have children, what do you want to remember years from now? Just gather all of these thoughts together to start. It is a great thing to do, anyway, even if nothing comes from it – to remember where you came from and really get in touch with your earlier years.

Talk to your family and friends This is a great way to reconnect with people you may not have spoken to in a while. Tell them about your project, ask for stories about you, your parents, your extended family. You never know what you might come up with. Do your kids have some special memory you may have forgotten? Does your mother’s aunt have some wild stories about your mother when she was a teenager?  Ask open-ended questions like: “What was life like for you when you were a kid?” And if that doesn’t work, get more specific, such as: “What kinds of friends did you have in high school? Were you a good student?” You should be able to loosen people up after a while. If they are shy or say they can’t remember, lend them a tape recorder and ask them to talk into it when and if they remember stories …  anything. You will probably be surprised about how much material you get.

Journal At first, and especially if you are intimidated by a blank word document, write down everything in a journal. You can do it before you go to bed – it’s probably best to do it at the same time every day – or when you wake up. Don’t worry about style, using full sentences, or anything, just write.

Break it down There are many ways to approach the form of a family or personal story. First, figure out what it is. Is it your story with “guest appearances” by other people? It the story of your immediate family, your family of origin? Or if you are married, is it the story of your combined families. You may have one idea about how big the story will be and it might morph as you get into it. But it is always best to start with an idea of what you want to do.  Here are some other ways to approach the breakdown:

  • Location If your family is far and wide but there are specific location that have lots of members, you may want to write location by location. For instance for me, it would be the New York Hortons, and the West Coast Hortons. Each group has a different story.
  • By ancestors If you know a great deal about your ancestors, which many of us – unfortunately – don’t, you may want to start with the oldest person you know and tell stories in a family tree form. (And if you want to research your family tree, http://www.ancestry.com/ is a great place to start
  • Starting in the present and going back Current or recent stories are probably easier to access. So start now – write down stories about the last few years – and then go back from there. Once you are warmed up, you will probably be able to think of more about the past.

Outline Once you have your main ideas, try to brave that blank page and out them into an outline. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t even have to stick with it, but – just like any piece of writing – it is probably best to have some sort of structure. And then you can always deviate.

Photos Whether or not you plan to add photos to the end product or not (it is easier and less expensive not to), they are a great way to get thinking about who is in your family, who your important friends are, what they looked like at a certain time in their lives, what trips you have taken, all the place you have lived.  Spread them out and take a trip down “memory lane.”

Write Put some favorite music on, take lots of breaks to get up and stretch, look at your pictures, have a cup of tea, but write, write, write. Don’t second think what you are writing, just let all of it out without going back at all (you can do that later). It is such a freeing experience to get it all down, and you will be thrilled with yourself. Depending on how “professional” you want your finished project to be, you may want to hire a professional editor to tweak it before the finished product. If you google “copy editor” or “manuscript editor,” you should come up with reasonably priced options. Or go to your local school and try to find a literature or writing major.  Or see below for help from companies.

“Publishing” I put this in quotations because it can be as simple as going to Kinko’s and having the whole thing copied. Other inexpensive options include putting it all on a CD or having it copied and bound.  Many self-publishing companies will help you with the editing and formatting of your book, and they are getting less and less expensive by the minute. You can get anything from a paperback book to an heirloom quality leather book. Here are some of the companies:

 

 

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