Write Your Personal History

January 26, 2011

There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy and a tragedy. – Mark Twain

Consider writing your own story.

There can be many reasons for doing this, among them: to put your life in perspective; to create a record for your children or other loved ones; to create ties to a photographic record; to record your participation in events during your lifetime; to document medical issues that might be of interest to later generations of your family; to chronicle lessons learned from your failures and successes; to reflect on your loves and passions; and many others. If you think this is a project you might want to undertake, you might begin by writing down your motivation(s).

Unlike a journal/diary (see the December 2010 post) which is written for you, a personal history is expressly being written for others. Maybe it is a limited audience; maybe you don’t want it read until after your demise, but it is being written for others. So you need to ask: for whom am I writing? Your choice of audience(s) will help frame your writing.

How much do you want to cover? While your story could begin with your progenitors and proceed to the present day, you may want to limit your scope to some extent, at least initially. Consider jotting down a timeline of the major events of your life (birth, parents, education, military service, work, marriage, children, friends, health, housing, etc.) and reflect on whether you want to do a summary of the highlights, focus on particular events, cover the entire story or some other mix.

If writing seems like too much work, you might consider making an oral recording of your history on tape or digitally.

If you have difficulty figuring out how to get started or how to organize your history, therememberingsite.org can provide assistance (Note: there is a $50 registration fee but you can also access a lot of useful information without registering).  A couple of books that can be helpful are: Legacy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Your Personal History by Linda Spence (Swallow Press, 1997) and How to Write Your Own Life Story by Lois Daniel (Chicago Review Press, 1997).

Another alternative might be to employ someone to interview you and write your story for you. If this approach interests you,  personalhistorians.org offers various resources.

You might also consider assisting a friend or a relative with writing his or her own story. This could be a way to try out personal history writing before tackling your own; or, if you have already completed your own, working with someone else could provide you with a new, fun project. Assisting a parent in writing his or her story could also help you develop some additional perspective on your own.

R. Kevin Price


© 2008-2010 R.K. Price