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Aging & Society

How to Be Your Own Storyteller in 7 Simple Steps

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You know the saying, “a picture is worth 1,000 words?”

There’s a lot of truth to it. But for future generations, I would argue that words are as meaningful‚ if not more so, than photos. We’ve all flipped through old photo books wondering who such-and-such might be. Words, however, have a different kind of magnetism and allure. That’s why it’s important to learn how to be your own storyteller.

As a journalist and ghostwriter, I’ve seen the tears of joy that written words and captured memories can bring to a family. A written story is a tangible piece of history that you can hold, and pass down not only to your grandchildren, but your grandchildren’s grandchildren. The hardest part, of course, is getting started. Here are some tips to help you fill that first blank page, and many more.

  1. Think about what you want to write. This isn’t a big decision that must be made before putting your fingers to the keyboard, but it’s at least something to consider. Do you wish to write about a particular period of your life, like successes at a job or military service memories? Maybe you want to pass along favorite recipes in a family cookbook, or your musings on life for future generations. Perhaps you want to share what it was like to be a mom or dad for the first time. Maybe there’s a story of family members coming to America, or even a mystery to share. Find something you’re passionate about and dive in.
  2. Just don’t over think it. Putting your pen to paper can often be the intimidating part. People can feel stymied, trying to find their “voice,” or choosing the perfect first sentence. I always advise people to think about it like this: tell the story you’d want to tell at a cocktail party. Keep it casual, comfortable, real. Don’t aim for perfection, just start typing and see where it takes you.
  3. Involve the family. If you’re working on a memoir to share with your relatives, tell them that. Ask them if there are things that they’d want to know about your life. See if, when considering your life, they think any themes come up that might help shape your story. In the end, it’s bound to be an interesting conversation.
  4. Consider your own questions. Think about the things you wish you knew about your parents or grandparents. What did their usual dinner look like? What about special occasion meals? What did they do for fun? What were some favorite singers and songs? Favorite books? Write down a list of questions you wish you could ask them, and then answer those questions, yourself, on paper.
  5. Look through old photos. Pictures are like time capsules. They have the power to stir emotions and memories you may have long forgotten. If you need inspiration, this is a good place to get it.
  6. Write a letter to yourself. If you’re having trouble thinking about where to start, try this. Recently, when I hit a milestone birthday, I decided to write a letterto my 20-year-old self. It brought up a lot of happy memories and emotions I didn’t quite expect. It turned out to be an excellent exercise in reflection, and I felt better for having written it.
  7. Have fun with it. Writing doesn’t have to be serious and dramatic (although it certainly can be!). Don’t be afraid to get creative, and try shifting your perspective. For example, rather than writing about your own life, perhaps you have a beloved family dog who’s seen you age from a very different point of view. What stories do you think that dog would tell? Give yourself permission to laugh and enjoy the process. It’s bound to show in the end product.

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