Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Your Life Story

About ten years ago, I encouraged a former co-worker to encourage her parents to write down their life stories as a heritage for her and her daughter because they lived through times and experienced events that we never will such as World War II.

Now, it's time for us to start doing the same because even ordinary life has details that future generations won't comprehend unless we leave a record of what it's like for us.

For example, what was air travel like before the TSA and 3-1-1 bags?

Do you remember where you were and what you felt when you learned about the assassination of JFK, the Oklahoma City bombing, or the events of 9-11?

How did you connect with your friends before email, cell phones, and text messaging?

What was it like listening to music before you got your first iPod or MP3 player?

How did you spend your time before Facebook, Twitter, "NCIS" reruns, and LOLcats?

Do you attend noodle rolling gatherings at church? What is noodle rolling?!

What were your favorite pet(s) and other memorable animals?

Did you meet and fall in love online or in real life?

What were the joys and pain, hopes and fears you experienced on the birth of each of your children?

And, how did you spend your summer vacations?!

For Christians, our life stories are testimonies of God's faithfulness.

This was confirmed last night when my friend brought it up during our dinner together. "That's interesting," I commented. "Just last week, I was thinking that I should encourage my blog readers to write their life stories."

"But, Gail, I'm not a writer," she said. "Will you help me?"

"Sure, in a limited way," I replied. While I won't do any of her writing for her, there are tips I didn't hesitate to share:

1. Don't worry about grammar. Write conversationally as though you are talking to your best friend or a close relative.

2. Read aloud what you wrote because hearing your story is the best way to catch awkward-sounding passages so you may improve them.

3. Don't worry about sequence. If you make each vignette a separate file using the format of Topic-MonthYear.doc for the filename, it'll be easy to organize them into chronological order or by topic after you're finished writing them and when you're ready to collate them to make the first draft of your book.

4. Back up, back up, BACK UP! because recreating something from scratch is agony. Trust me on this!!! If you don't already have an external hard drive, get a USB drive, burn your files to a rewriteable CD or DVD, upload them to a cloud storage site and/or email a copy to yourself, and print out a hardcopy of each file and store them in a 3-ring binder where it, not only will serve as a primitive backup, but will also be easier to review and redline when you want to change something.

5. Double-space when you type so that there's room to redline when you proofread and edit. Generous margins will also help. I recommend that you set the top and bottom margins at 1" and set the side margins at 1.5" which will also provide room for the holes needed by the binder rings.

6. Thoughts about what you should write about will flit in and out of your mind while you go about your daily business. Keep index cards or a steno notebook or anything similar at hand to jot down a reminder of these thoughts. Perhaps, a small hand-held tape recorder will be easier. Debbie Roome's article, "How to Write Your Life Story" has a list of topics you may want to address.

7. After everything's written and organized by chronology or topic, reread it with an eye for a recurring theme or something you may use to compose the opening and conclusion that may be either a summary or a look toward the future.

8. Set the first draft aside for 6-12 months so you may return to it with fresh eyes to polish it.

9. Rinse and repeat. That is, after your second draft, take a shorter, 3-6 months, break from it before returning to polish it into your third draft.

10. Finally, keep a journal because your life story is a continuing saga that won't end until the day you die. Add to your autobiography as your life unfolds using your journal as your rough draft for the new material until you feel you've conveyed all the lessons you've learned and described all the places to which you've traveled and the interesting people you've known.

Please share your dreams and goals, joys and disappointments, and let your descendants get to know you and the life you have instead of letting the evidence of your existence and the lessons you've learned disappear through time leaving only your genes and your name behind.

Write on!

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