Writing Our Personal History

As we leave another year behind, now is a good time to reflect on the past and remember – while we still can.

Many readers of Paper Notes keep journals of one kind or another. Many also have only recently made journaling a part of their lives. But when you find yourself wondering what to write, don’t forget to widen your thoughts and remembrances to the distant past. We all have a unique and very personal history that can be saved for ourselves and future generations with just a few minutes a week.

Consider yourself the archivist of your personal history, charged with the responsibility of documenting and preserving your life and times. We all have those great memories we are certain we will never forget. Yet, as one year rolls into the next the mind has more to remember, catalog and file away. Those “unforgettable” memories suddenly become the ,”Oh yeah! I had forgotten that!” moments. Writing your personal history now can preserve those moments forever.

Am I suggesting writing a memoir or full-blown autobiography? Not unless you want to. I am thinking more of preserving your history by writing nuggets from your life – one memory at a time. Here’s a few thoughts and ideas to help you get started painlessly.

  • Begin a page in your notebook simply for writing down memories you want to expound on later. For example, you may write, “Tenth birthday party, magician, guitar.” That will be your trigger to write later about the excitement of your tenth birthday. Don’t assume you will remember five years from now. When a memory you want to capture comes to you, pull out your notebook and write it down on your page of triggers.
  • You can begin anytime, or you can collect a few of these memory triggers before you begin writing your history – literally one scene of your play at a time. Some may call the short piece of writing about a particular memory an “essay.” Whatever you choose to call it, it will prove to be a valuable part of collecting your history.
  • Just one page, maybe even a couple of paragraphs, is all that is necessary to preserve many of our memories. But you’ll probably find there’s more you remember, and more you have to say about your sixth birthday, than when you first listed that special time as a trigger to write about later.
  • Remember as you write, the rules you learned concerning journalism: Who? What? When? Where? and Why?
  • If you were to just take one memory per week and write a page or so, this time next year you would have 52 essays to place in your personal history archive. Think of the value this will have for you twenty years from now (after you have captured 1,040 memories). Priceless.
  • Are you maybe thinking that there is just not that much to write about? Do you think your life hasn’t been that exciting? You’ll soon discover after keeping your triggers for awhile that we remember many things over time that we thought we had forgotten. The key is to jot that memory-trigger down in your notebook and capture it before it’s gone – maybe forever. All of our lives have unfolded the same way, one day at a time; and we have all had hundreds, if not thousands, of experiences worth preserving.
  • Go ahead, grab the key and open the vault to the memories of years gone by. Fill it with memories and nuggets of your life and soon, you’ll discover that being your own personal historian can make for great writing time and be a lot of fun at the same time.
  • While writing down personal history, you will obviously be confronted with questions about what (and what not) to write about. Should you really write it exactly as it was? What about the sad and unhappy times? Should you name names? What about the feelings and emotions some memories bring to the surface? There are different answers and different choices for different people. I’ll address some of these things soon in a follow-up post. For now, you can take the step of capturing memories in three words in the form of those memory triggers. Or, if you’re ready to take the plunge – start writing about that tenth birthday party!

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