Many genealogists aspire to preserve their family stories in writing—but it can be difficult to know how to begin! Here are 30 tips and tricks you can follow every day for 30 days.
The NaNoWriMo event held each November is a great way to incorporate these ideas, but you can use them any time of the year. Help jumpstart your writing and get on the path to telling your family’s story!
Day 1: Start with an outline
For some of us, creating an outline can be even more challenging than the actual writing! Outlines keep your writing focused and concise, plus they can help you tackle stories with multiple individuals or a long span of time.
Day 2: Keep a timeline handy
Your writing doesn’t have to be chronological, but having a timeline can help keep everything accurate and organized, especially if your ancestor(s) moved frequently! Consider keeping a timeline close by for quick reference.
Day 3: Consider the format
As genealogists know, family stories can take many forms! Consider what makes your story unique. What format or style would tell it best? From blogs to picture books, biographies and even videos, there are so many ways to tell your family’s story!
Day 4: Stay Focused
Much like genealogy research, the writing process is fraught with rabbit holes! Be sure to have a specific goal in mind for your writing. Need to define your goal? Pretend you are pitching your ancestor’s story to a producer – in 25 words or less!
Day 5: Define your ritual
Many famous writers in history had very specific routines. Creating a writing “ritual” can help you engage your brain and prepare to write. Do you like to write in the mornings or evenings? Is there specific room or place you like? Figure out what works for you and stick to it!
Day 6: Set daily goals
In addition to having a specific end goal for your project, it’s also important to set smaller goals to keep your writing on track. Consider setting daily writing goals – maybe to write a certain number of words each day, or to write for a certain amount of time with no breaks.
Day 7: Banish the Buts
Oftentimes, our brains will use the same old excuses to trick us into not writing. (Unfinished trees, lack of time, etc.) Have a strategy to overcome these “buts” before they strike. Being prepared will help you beat your brain and keep writing!
Day 8: Don’t skip a day
Remember, there is power in momentum! Make it a goal to work on your project daily, even if it’s just reviewing what you wrote the day before. As tempting as it is to skip a day, revisiting your work daily helps keep your project fresh in your mind and on track.
Day 9: Make it creative
Don’t be afraid to add creative elements to your writing project! Try writing your family’s story like a novel or a series of letters. A more creative style, as well as visual elements like photos, maps and artwork can make your project more fun, not to mention more engaging for those who maybe aren’t as genealogically inclined!
Day 10: Remember to read
It might be cliché, but one of the best things you can do for your writing is read! From books to blogs to magazines – reading other works can help inspire and guide you in your writing.
Day 11: Write what you like
Some genealogists might feel like they need to write a biography or a formal account of their family’s history from beginning to end. Don’t be afraid to change it up! Write your family’s story in a way that is engaging and interesting to you. Odds are others will find it more interesting as well!
Day 12: Include interviews
Your living relatives can be wonderful sources for your writing project. Oral histories are a great way to learn about your family’s past, plus your questions may even spark a memory about the very details you’ve been searching for. Take notes during your interviews but whatever you do, don’t forget to record them as well!
Day 13: Take a 24 hour break
If you hit a wall, put your project away for 24 hours. Refrain from researching and try not to think about your project so that you can return to it with a fresh mind the next day. It’s a simple trick, but very effective!
Day 14: Use your memories
You are just as much a part of your family history as your ancestors! Don’t be afraid to use your own memories and stories when writing your
family’s history. Sometimes revisiting old photos or objects can help jog your memory and shake lose great details for your project!
Day 15: Remember to laugh
When the writing process gets frustrating, having a good laugh can help you shake off the pressure and keep writing. Maybe you could write about a funny memory from your family’s history, or maybe the origin of one of your family’s inside jokes!
Day 16: Resist the research
This is a big one: resist the urge to research! It can be tempting to take a break from writing to do a little research, especially if you have incomplete family trees or there are gaps in your family’s story. Stay focused on your writing and remember, you can always fill in the gaps later.
Day 17: Put the tech away
When we reach a particularly difficult or frustrating part of our writing, it is human nature to just pick up our phones and start scrolling. Eliminate the distractions by putting the phone away, or maybe writing on paper instead of on the computer.
Day 18: Stay inspired
Collect examples of things that inspire you and keep them in the same place. Photos, other written works, whatever lights the spark in you to keep writing. If ever you get discouraged, revisit your inspiration and keep going!
Day 19: Use your brick walls
Don’t let your brick walls discourage you from writing your family’s story! Brick walls can add authenticity and intrigue to a writing project. Write about your brick walls as if you are a detective on the quest to crack a difficult case, or include them in your ancestor’s biography to lend an air of mystery.
Day 20: Change it up
Can’t find the motivation to keep writing? Experiencing writer’s block? Try something different! Challenge yourself to write your family’s story in a whole new way to get the creative juices flowing. Write your family story from the perspective of a cherished heirloom, or as a series of letters. The possibilities are endless!
Day 21: If you can say it…
For some people, it is truly easier said than done! If the blank page intimidates you, remember that if you can say it, you can write it. If it helps you to record yourself saying what you want to write, do it! Or just write as if you were telling your family history to a friend. Editing can come later.
Day 22: Freewrite
When writing your family history, it can be helpful to spend five to ten minutes freewriting before you start working on your project. Freewriting allows you to rid your mind of all the To-Dos, anxieties and other thoughts that could distract you when you’re writing.
Day 23: Provide context
Remember to include the historical context for your family’s history. How did current events impact your family’s story? Including details about what was happening in your ancestor’s world at the time adds context and added meaning to your project.
Day 24: Read it out loud
This tried-and-true tip helps ensure that your writing flows well and communicates effectively. Read your project out loud to a friend or a family member who can give you good feedback – and remember to be open to criticism!
Day 25: Go for a walk
Sometimes, there’s no better cure for writer’s block than going for a walk. While you’re walking, imagine a route that your ancestor walked frequently. What might they have seen or thought about on the way?
Day 26: Visualize success
This is a popular technique among athletes and entrepreneurs, but it can be easily applied to writing as well. Imagine yourself completing your writing project – what are you most proud of? What does the final product look like?
Day 27: Try a new viewpoint
Consider how your ancestors would write their own stories or their family’s history. What details would they include or leave out? What details would be most important? Trying different perspectives can help flush out your writing and shake loose details you might not have thought about.
Day 28: Read it backwards
If you’ve read and re-read your writing a thousand times, it can be hard to catch the errors and find the rough patches! Reading backwards sentence by sentence can help you spot those problem areas, as well as ensure that your writing flows from beginning to end.
Day 29: Community is key
No family history exists in a vacuum, and neither should yours! Finding a community of people to support you in your writing is key. From online groups to friends and family members, having a community you can rely on for feedback and encouragement is essential.
Day 30: Reward yourself
As genealogists, we know that preserving and sharing our family’s story is its own reward—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate once you’ve finished all your hard work! Throw a “book launch” party when your project is complete, or have your work printed and bound to preserve it for future family historians!