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Just dropping by ... Autobiography plan

Contributed by Yevet Tenney Published on 24 February 2016
Writing your history

Several years ago, I taught, “Writing your Life History” for Northland Pioneer College. It was a rich, rewarding experience to help people search through the years of their lives trying to piece together the puzzle of their past.

Recently, a sister-in-law asked me if I would do a workshop for a group of ladies who wanted some pointers on writing histories. I told her I would, but I realized I had to go back years because I had filed my notes. As I traced back through my files, I discovered information I had forgotten. I thought it would be interesting to my readers to have the same pointers I gave the group of women.

Why would anyone want to write a history?

Imagine you are going through the attic of your house, and you discover the diary of your great-great grandmother stashed in a trunk. Your excitement is overwhelming. You open the yellowed pages and start to read. Page after page, you are enthralled with the fabric of her life. She tells of her trek across the plains.

She tells of treading through knee-deep snow when she was pregnant with your grandmother. She tells how her prayers were answered in a moment of danger. She relates humorous experiences about her family and her husband. You laugh with her and cry with her over the daily struggles and triumphs of her life. You have come to know her and love her.

You are excited and think that perhaps you would like to write your own history, but you say, “My life isn’t exciting. I don’t have anything to share. My life is so boring.”

Let your mind wander to the future. Imagine your great-great granddaughter finding your life history tucked away in a trunk. What would she like to read? How would her life be different from yours? How would it be the same? Do you think your great-granddaughter would be as excited to find your precious legacy in a trunk as you were to find your great-grandmother’s diary?

You write a history to be read. You write for the future. It will enlarge your memory and will help you to fulfill the promise in Malachi:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
—Malachi 4:5-6

The Lord wants us to be connected to our parents, grandparents and those who have gone before, but he also wants us to be connected to our children and our children’s children.

Why else would He have instructed His servants to write the Bible? He wanted us to know Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He wanted us to personally know Joseph who was sold into Egypt and Moses who brought the children of Israel out of bondage to the promised land. He wants your children to know you. That is why you write.

How do you write a history?

First, you need a plan. Everyone has time constraints. We have demands that must be met, but everyone has time that gets lost in the shuffle of the day. “How will I ever find time to write a history?” It’s a thousand-mile journey that starts with one tiny step. Plan to write something every day. Carry 3x5 cards in your purse. When an experience comes to mind, jot it down.

In the evening, write a paragraph to flesh out the experience. File it in a recipe holder. Some choose to file it on the computer. Make it easy, but keep your commitment.

As you start to gather 3x5 cards, file them under time line headings. The headings could be: birth to kindergarten, kindergarten to junior high, junior high through high school, career, college, marriage, etc. You could add other categories like special holidays, traditions, friends, miracles, devotions, bits of wisdom. What you put in your history depends on what you are interested in.

Think of the question: “What would I like to know about my grandparents or great-grandparents?” Your children will be just as interested to know the same things about you.

If you have a bigger block of time, you can go through the writing process, focusing your life around the “turning points” in your life or just record chronological memories. A “turning point” is something that happens to change the direction of your life. For example, when I decided to get my Master of Fine Arts instead of my Masters of Education, that was a turning point.

Another “turning point” might be when I decided to marry a man with six children. Everyone has “turning points” that shape their lives. If you focus on the “turning points,” it will give your history focus and direction. Use the writing process to put it all together.

Brainstorm for details

Brainstorming is a great way to get the ideas flowing. For example, think of everything you possibly can about your first day of school. Don’t try to write it in sentences. Just a word or two is sufficient. The first day of school: Lots of kids, small desk, Mrs. Capps, chalk on the green board, Mr. Capps (her husband, and the principal) seemed 10 feet tall, afraid, same classroom as my sister.

The list could go on. When you brainstorm, the ideas don’t need to come in any particular order. You will put them in order when you do the next step, which is to organize.

Organize your history by putting your 3x5 cards in a file, but you can also organize your ideas by making a web. Draw a circle on your paper, and write the words “My Life” in the center of the circle. Then draw smaller circles on the outside of the center circle. Write “childhood” in one circle, “early childhood” in the next circle. Write “school years” in the next circle.

When you have finished labeling the circles, return to the circle labeled childhood. Write everything you can possibly think of that has to do with childhood. Do the same with each circle. As your web is built, you have the makings of an outline.

The circles you have drawn on your web become the headings for your outline. The outline puts everything in order and helps you prepare for your rough draft. Childhood would include birth date, parents, siblings, place of birth, etc. Be as specific as you can in each category.

When your outline is finished, you are ready for your rough draft. At this point, don’t get bogged down in the mechanics. Don’t worry about spelling, word choice, penmanship or typing. Just write it down as it comes to your mind.

When you are finished, have someone else read it to make sure you are communicating what you want to communicate. Don’t get offended if they give you suggestions. That is what you are looking for.

When you have finished the rough draft, start on the final copy. Now is the time to look for misspelled words, replace over-used words with fresh ones and to make changes. Don’t get lost in the editing process. You goal is to share who you are, not to make a masterpiece of literature. Enjoy the journey and rejoice in the finished product.

Part of the writing process is publication. I am not talking about sending your finished work to a publishing company. I am talking about putting it in a book form, a three-ring binder, a spiral binder or taking it to a printing press. Make copies.

Give them to your children or grandchildren for Christmas. You are important. Writing your history will tell others and the Lord that you want to be remembered.  end mark

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