Autumn is a time to begin afresh. The cooler weather, the holidays, the first days of school. You know the drill.
This year, the miraculous emergence of vaccines gives us yet another reason to hit the reset button. We're learning how to do lots of things all over again: socialize in person, take the subway, wear pants.
What about finishing your book?
If you started—and then abandoned—a journal, memoir, family history, or genealogy project in the past year or so, well, welcome to the club. Lots of us assumed, wrongly, that a pandemic lockdown would be the ideal time to work on a Big, Important Book.
Still, setting an unreasonable goal doesn’t mean that the creative urge itself is unreasonable. Quite the contrary!
The key is to channel your energy into the process, not the finished product. Read on to discover how to begin again, with intention, curiosity, and even joy.
Why did you stop?
Don’t force yourself to “just get motivated” and start writing again. Instead, step back for a moment and reflect on your old process. At what moment did you feel the excitement and momentum drain away? And what might have caused that? Some common roadblocks:
Lack of an overall plan. If you don’t know where you’re headed, your writing journey will seem like an awfully long slog. Did you start by outlining the scope or focus of your project? A little reflection at the beginning can save a lot of misdirected work later on.
Fear of failure. If you don’t recognize what a first draft is supposed to be, you might think you’re a bad writer. Don’t critique or edit your writing in its earliest stages. The creative process is supposed to be messy, so focus on writing a lot, messily.
Too high-minded a vision. If you feel that you must keep to your original goal (a comprehensive family history, a soul-stirring memoir), you might miss an even better, simpler idea (telling the story of your parents’ courtship by reprinting their love letters, honoring a family matriarch with a recipe collection).
What do the roadblocks above have in common? The idea that there is a right way to tell a life story.
If this sounds like you, please understand that storytelling is all about trial and error. If your old process was about forging ahead with “supposed-to-be” concept or style, there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind and trying something new.
What is your goal?
Really think about this, and brainstorm lots of possible options. Don’t assume that creating a bestseller is the gold standard of personal history. Imagine that your project is completed. What about that vision feels satisfying?
Leaving a legacy. Many clients tell us they want their children and grandchildren to understand who they are. If you feel discouraged by your humble origins, you’re missing the point. Instead of searching for famous forebears or brushes with greatness, remember that your story is precious because it’s uniquely yours.
Ensuring that history is not forgotten. Recording lives as they were lived is a gift to future historians and researchers—whether relatives or academics. Everything you record about the past will be part of our understanding in the future. Do you wish you had the diaries of your great-grandparents? Well, you can be that great-grandparent to someone who doesn’t yet exist.
Providing inspiration. Recording your struggles, achievements, and failures can be a way to encourage others. The experience and wisdom of a lifetime—raising children, building a family business, discovering who you really are—can raise up others living through difficult times.
What in the above list most resonates with you? You can probably see that the theme is connection. Consider your audience, and write authentically to bring them closer to the message you really want to send.
How can you move forward?
Rather than beating yourself up for pausing your project, look at the reset button as a gift. You can reassess your writing and move ahead in a more authentic, and probably more enjoyable, way.
Create a habit. Consistency should be your goal at this stage. Set aside time on a regular basis for outlining, imagining, researching, reading, sketching. Notice that “writing” is not explicitly on that list! That’s because most of the work of writing comes before you ever set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
Throw stuff out. Don’t just pick up where you left off. Feel free to dump previous writing—even a whole manuscript!—that’s not true to your vision. That work was not wasted; it was just a warmup to the main event.
Write badly. When the time does come to craft your story, put emotional honesty first, well before technique. Creativity comes from a sense of freedom, so throw caution to the wind in your first draft. Change the point of view, start the story in the middle to create intrigue, imagine dialogue that brings the characters to life. You can always edit yourself (or find an editor), but no one else can tell your story.
As always, we are here to help! Whether you’re starting or restarting, feel free to be in touch to discuss your life history project. Partner with us to tell your story from soup to nuts, refine your vision, or give it a finishing touch. Whatever suits you, we’re thrilled to be a part of it!