I have been thinking of writing blocks and writing personal histories recently. A couple weeks ago in sacrament meeting, I was thinking about different ways to approach personal history, and I came up with the following ten suggestions:
Start with a list on the left side of several pieces of paper with all of the years from when you were born to the present. Then divide the paper into two columns, one labeled “Me” and the other "The World”. Fill out with one sentence for each year (as much as possible) the most important things that you remember have happened in your life or in the world for each year. Start with obvious things (birth, marriage, children’s birth, etc.) and fill in the rest as you think about it (less obvious things are okay- went to Disneyland, grew Tomatoes, learned to knit, started snowshoeing). This method is somewhat difficult to start, but is very easy to maintain since after you finish it you could update it once a year.
2- “I am” list
This is the easiest way to find out what would be interesting to write about. All you have to do is start writing a list of sentences starting with “I am” (or “I was”, “I have been” or even “I will be”) a ____. The list can be of anything that you are, from truly meaningful to the mundane. For example, “I am a son, I am a husband, I am a grandson, I am a student, I am a Utahan, I am a fan of Science Fiction, I am learning to be a cook, I am a Real Salt Lake fan, I am a classical music listener, I am a person who likes to snowshoe, I am a hiker, I am a U.S. citizen.” Just start writing and see what you come up with. Then go through it and add what you would like, organize it however you would like, and then take the most interesting things and write up a story about them!
3- Economic History
This is the easiest form of personal history for younger people to keep up with since it’s essentially just a résumé with a list of all the places you’ve worked. You could expand this to include income, job descriptions, lists of major purchase, lists of how much things cost, tax records, or anything else that you would think people in the future would find interesting (and to know what people would find interesting, just ask yourself what you would like to know from the time of your great-grandparents).
4- Political History
What political parties have you belonged to? What made you decide to join them? Who have you voted for (especially for President)? What political causes have you felt passionate about? Why?
5- Social/Cultural History
What sports teams have you followed? What sports have you played? What kind of music do you like? What have been your favorite songs? Have you played any musical instruments? What have been your favorite movies? What kind of art do you like? What kind of art do you own? What museums have you been to? What kind of crafts (knitting, crocheting, woodworking, etc.) have you done? What is your favorite food? Restaurant? Recipes?
6- Geographic History
Where have you lived? Where have you visited/vacationed? What are the family vacations that you remember the most? Make a list of places you have been to that have significance to you: Temples, National Parks, etc. (You can record them on Google maps, if you would like. Here is mine so far).
7- Academic History
What schools have you attended? what subjects have you studied? What have been your favorite subjects? What kind of grades did you get? What have been your favorite books? What have you learned outside of school?
8- Religious History
What callings have you had? What spiritual experiences have you had? What are you favorite scriptures? What personal spiritual insights have shaped your life?
9- Documentary Family History
Don’t be scared by the name, this is just a basic document index. Collect records of marriage, birth and death certificates, etc. for your immediate and extended family (If you can’t get the original document, you might be able to get a digital copy or reproduction). You should also collect any other documents that have a significances for the history of your family: mission calls, newspaper articles, diplomas, etc. Once you have all of these items, make a small index of them and the information which they give you.
10- “Patchwork” Story
Just start typing about a story you remember! Don’t worry about going in order or including too many details- just write! Slowly accumulate such stories and then start to “stich” them together into a more comprehensive story. If you hit a roadblock, just go on to another story. You don’t have to start anywhere in particular, indeed it might be easiest to start in the middle!