Having one foot in the writers’ community and one foot in the family history crowd, the question surprised me. I don’t think it would have come up in an authors’ group. Writers look at it as both, not either or. Probably because “platform building” has become a necessity as authors’ are increasingly forced into functioning as entrepreneurs. They wield whatever tools they can put their hands on and use effectively. Blogging and Facebook come immediately to mind.
Writing coaches can help us with everything from developing a story arc to using better grammar. But, as storytellers, that’s not always what we crave. Great writing is, well, great. But family storytellers don’t just want to write better; we want to form connections through stories of the past. We want to connect with our readers, our family, and our family history.
How to Form Connections through Stories of the Past
This isn’t just another writing hoop to jump through. It’s not hard to form connections through stories of the past. It’s more of a question of writing with passion—and letting a little more of yourself shine through your writing.
Inevitably—or at least nearly so—bloggers post summaries of their RootsTech experiences. Speaking and serving as a RootsTech 2016 Ambassador has been a whirlwind. I learned a lot and met a ton of wonderful people. It’d be nice to tie it up with a nice bow as I leave Salt Lake City.
On the other hand, it seems inappropriate.
Summaries feel like something has ended. And, although the conference is over—and I have the weariness to prove it—in many ways it hasn’t ended.
There are apps that will compile your Facebook posts into a book—like a personal version of World book Encyclopedia’s Yearbooks. It’s an interesting idea, but does it make sense to use social media to tell your stories?
If I were to compile my posts into a story, I’m not even sure I’d be interested in it. Last summer, for instance, I posted various pictures of birds, frogs, and turtles distributed between public confessions about lame-brained things I’d done. If I bore myself, how would readers receive it?
But perhaps that’s my fault. I wonder if people would be more invested if I put myself more “out there.” On the other hand, even though I’m willing to wear my heart on my sleeve in speaking engagements, books, and this blog, something about social media makes me more emotionally reticent. Baring my soul isn’t quite like putting my life story on a bumper sticker, but it’s on that spectrum somewhere.
I want you to like me. I want to connect with you. I hope to move you with my words, and with the heart and soul I put behind them.
I’m going to tell you secrets. I’m going to show you the side of me that I’d prefer to keep in the shadows, or better yet, in the closet. You’re going to come to know my darkest moments, to understand my fears.
Am I really suggesting you write like that? Yeah, sort of. Perhaps not in these words. Perhaps not even in second person. However, I am advocating putting your heart, pride, and maybe even your dignity on the line.
When I first heard the prompt “Write about your memories of your first home,” my first reaction was, “Oh yeah, write about the place I can’t remember.” I wasn’t alone. The woman next to me offered aloud, “My first home after I got married?” She grew up as a military brat. She couldn’t even remember the number of home she had lived in, much less any details about the first one.
Of course, she was right. There’s several ways to adapt this prompt into something that will resonate with you and your readers. The point is to get your memories to paper and to connect with others through your stories. For instance, in addition to writing about your actual first home,
One of the most rewarding parts of sharing your memories and stories is those moments when the big picture comes alive. When you see in someone’s reaction that you connected. Writing with your heart on your sleeve increases the likelihood of that happening.
The memory collector has a different role than the average narrator. You’re part of the story. You add context. When you expose your more vulnerable side, you allow readers to see the world through your glasses.
It comes down to building trust with your readers—your loved ones. The better they know you, the more they will trust your vision—your filter—of the stories you’re telling. More importantly, writing with your heart on your sleeve helps form that palpable the connection with your readers.
We’re in an age of retouched photos. We remove blemishes and correct lighting and exposure. We can even remove wrinkles, whiten teeth, and eliminate extra chins. We can… But should we?
Retouching the Past or Telling Who We Are?
When we write our memories and stories, retouching the past is tempting—maybe even necessary. Retouching stories, just like re-touching photos, can be a way of drawing attention to what really matters and eliminating extraneous details. Unless it’s integral to the story, maybe we can leave out that Miss May had three hairs growing out of the mole at the side of her nose and that each hair grew in a different direction.
My scattered brain loves lists. They calm and organize my distractible why-did-I-come-into-this-room brain. When my brain isn’t preoccupied with finding my glasses or coffee cup, lists feed my creativity.
Lists can be the memory-collector’s best friend. To illustrate this point, I found myself making a list about making lists.
Lists help you remember
Lists, if you don’t forget where you put them, are more permanent than memory. They can become an Idea Bank to store your ideas. (Hmmm… That’s a section of Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. )
You don’t have to be writing a memoir to want to tell about the turning points in your life. In fiction, the turning points are plot changes that keep us turning pages and wondering what will happen next. When you’re sharing your memory episodes, however, it’s more about revealing how you got to the point you are now.
You don’t have to have walked on burning coals to get to where you are for your account of life turning points to matter to your loved ones. They may face similar forks in the road in their own lives. Knowing how you made your choices will strengthen connections. It’s possible that it will help them figure out their own dilemmas.