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How to Write a Personal History

Have you been thinking about writing down your life story? In this post, learn about different styles, what to consider, and how to write your personal history.

A few years ago, I started a local writer’s group with a friend. During our first meeting, we took turns introducing ourselves and told the group the type of writing that we were currently working on and what we hoped to eventually write.

How to Write a Personal History

Overwhelmingly, our writer’s group was full of aspiring personal-history writers. It is a very popular idea, yet many people get stuck before they even write their first sentence.

My goal with this article to help you think about why it is important to you to document your personal history and inspire you to finally get started. Your story is important, and it needs to be told to the world.

Why is a Personal History Important

It is important for individual members of our civilization to write their own personal history in order to add their voice to the historical record of our time. On an individual level, writing one’s life story can be a fulfilling activity, providing an opportunity to see how we were able to overcome the obstacles and challenges that we faced.

The finished product, which is the document that we create through the process of writing our personal history, can be useful in the future for genealogy, treasured by our family members and friends, and used by historians decades or centuries from now to understand more about what life was like during our time.

What is most important to understand about the importance of documenting our own story is that when we write our own story, we get to control the narrative. We decide what is important to include and which details to leave out.

Most of us will not have stories written about us after we are gone. Even those individuals who have been notable in this life to a point to inspire someone to write a story about them will almost certainly take issue with the way that their life story is told.

So, why not write our own life story to leave for the future? There is no one more capable of telling your story than you.

Different types and styles of personal histories

There are different types of personal histories that anyone can create. They range from a handwritten document in the style of a journal to a complete autobiography or memoir bound and published in hardcover.

A simple life story can be written in Microsoft Word on a laptop and it can be as short as a few pages. Those who are feeling more inspired can write a lengthy memoir, which is more similar to a novel, or even a detailed autobiography that is hundreds of pages long.

What you decide to create is up to you. You are the author of your life and the story that you will write.

How to Write a Personal History About Yourself

There is no correct way to write your own personal history about yourself, but there are some important aspects to consider before you get started.

Decide your goals

One of the first things that you should think about before you decide which type of family history you will write is why you want to write your story. There are many reasons that people want to write their personal history:

  • To write and sell a book
  • To help others
  • To explain their story to their immediate family members
  • To document their story for future descendants, historians, and genealogists
  • To inspire
  • As a creative or cathartic release
  • To build a writing career
  • To leave as a gift for your family

As you know from the previous section, there is a wide variety of types of personal histories. The list of reasons that people want to write their story is even longer.

Before you get started, spend a bit of time thinking about why you want to write your history and what you hope will happen to it. Will it be published in a book or on a website somewhere, or will it sit in a manila envelope in your file cabinet?

The answer to this question will help you choose your style and method, as well as help you decide exactly how to tell your story.

Some people wonder when they should write their life story. Is it okay to write a story about your life when you are young, or should you wait until you are older and can tell a more complete story?

The answer to this question is in your goals for writing your story. If you are young and feel like you can tell a story today that can motivate, inspire, encourage, or heal, then you should write your story today.

Another great reason to start writing today, no matter your age, is that you will be able to document your life so far and add to it later.

Consider your family history

Many people don’t realize that their family history has influenced their personal journey. However, if you take the time to think about it, you will probably notice how your ancestors’ decisions affected your life even generations into the future.

Depending on the reasons that you are writing your personal history, you might want to include stories or details explaining how you came to live where you do, and how the people in your family tree helped shape the life that you have lived.

Think about who has been influential in your life

Almost everyone has a few people who were major influences, both positive and negative, in their life. When planning how you will write your story, you can think about who these people were in your own life and how you might illustrate their influence for your readers.

For many of us, an influential person might be a parent, grandparent, or other close relative. Other people may have had a very close relationship with a professional or academic mentor who helped guide them to their future goals.

Including details about how these influential people affected the decisions we made in our lives will help bring a greater understanding to future generations who might otherwise be left wondering. It is also a great way to pay tribute to those people who helped guide us in positive ways.

Choose which major life events or stories you would like to highlight

My great-grandfather wrote a lovely life history that began with his childhood and ended with details about the great-grandchildren that were born at the time of the writing of his history. Of course, this means that he did not go into very much detail about most events in his life.

I have found his story, and those written by other ancestors and relatives, to be very helpful in genealogy research. I’m grateful for their efforts, regardless of what they decided to include.

When considering your life story, decide whether you would like your history to be an overview of your entire life as you view it, or whether you would like to focus on some of the experiences that you have had that you feel are most important to document.

Naturally, with either of these options, you could always include a little bit of the other. For example, a “life overview” could include a bit of detail on a few events and a story about your important events could include an introduction or interspersed chapters with background details.

Begin your history with an exciting story

No matter who we anticipate our future readers might be (our children or grandchildren, or strangers), we want them to read our story from start to finish. Otherwise, why would we bother writing it?

This means that we must start our story in a way that catches our reader’s attention and keeps them interested in what we have to say. If we do a good job with this, we are likely to hold their attention throughout the entirety of our personal history.

The best way to start a story is by beginning with an exciting event that the reader will be sure to want to hear about. Sometimes, a great personal history begins with the start of an exciting story and tells bits and pieces of that story throughout, holding the reader’s attention until the very end.

One of the best personal histories that I have read in the past few years was written by a member of an R&B band that was famous during the 1970s – they even performed on Soul Train! He began his story with the description of an event that left the reader needing to learn more about.

The chapters of his book included background events and details of his life. Occasionally, there were important events that moved the first story forward.

The final chapter of his personal story was a “resolution” of that first story that he told to open the book. My friend’s particular story was sad, so I was not left feeling that there was a happy ending, but I was very impressed with how he was able to keep the reader’s attention throughout the entire book by holding back the resolution to that first story.

Don’t worry about telling stories in order

When we are writing our personal history, we can write it in any order that we want. This means that we can start with the present and discuss how events from the past are important today.

Or, we can mix-match stories from the past and present in any order that we want. It is our story, after all.

The only thing that we should take into consideration is that we want to tell the story in a way that is interesting to the reader and does not confuse them. If we do jump around, we should make sure that we include enough details and explanation to help our reader follow the story.

Leave anything out of the story that you want to

Our life story belongs to us and no one else, and it is not a confessional. We do not need to include details or stories that are embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about, unless we specifically want to include those things.

In addition, it is important to note that we should not include these types of details about other people – especially living people – if we believe that we could cause harm or embarrassment to them. Our life story is about us, and not necessarily about anyone else.

Use descriptive words and details about places and events

During your writing, there is a good chance that you will be detailing people, places, and events that no one else will write about – ever. Your personal history is great opportunity to write describe your story in a visual way in order to provide the only documentation that will exist for the stories that you will tell.

You have the freedom and liberty of artistic expression to write your story in a way that will help your reader see and experience your story just as you remember it.

Conclusion

I truly hope that this post has helped you understand what you should take into account when considering how to write your persona history. In addition, I hope you are inspired to get started writing!

There is no better person to write your history than you, and so if this is something that you have been thinking about doing for a while, there is no better time to start than now.

If you have any questions about something that you have read in this post, or if you would like to include some of your own ideas and suggestions for writing your personal history, I would love for you to include them in the discussion below.

Thanks for reading today!

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