Now that you’ve determined who you’re writing for, the time period you want to cover and have a general idea where the information on your life’s journey is coming from, it’s time to start organizing the memories of your life.
You’ll do that by constructing a timeline for the period you intend to cover. A timeline gives you a chronological checklist of memorable events or people that affected you. An accurately constructed timeline brings myriad facets of your life together. This allows you to examine them in the greater context of your whole life, rather than as isolated, separate events. The timeline will prove invaluable when you start writing, even if you choose not to write your story in a purely chronological fashion.
If you’re doing your work on a computer, it’s easy to insert material at the proper spot in your timeline. But, if a computer isn’t available, or desirable, at the location where you’ve chosen to work, use your loose-leaf binder. Even if you do the bulk of your work electronically, it’s often easier to read materials and do basic editing, like marking up documents to merge, on paper.
The expandability of the binder makes maintaining your timeline easy. During the course of your project, random thoughts from one portion of your life will pop up unexpectedly while you’re working on something else. By jotting those random thoughts down and inserting them into the proper place of your timeline, you’ll have a written record that you can come back to later.
To start your timeline in a binder, use a separate sheet of paper for each year and write the year in the upper right-hand corner to make it easy to identify. To begin, list one major event in your life for each year. Just one event per year. Then go back and write a few sentences about each event, explaining its circumstances of the event and its importance in your life.
This is just the start. Your timeline will be your road map throughout the project. You will be adding events and details as you tell your life story.
Tomorrow: What to do when your memory fails you.
This is Lesson No. 3 of a mini-course on how to write a personal history. The course will continue throughout May, which is Personal History Month. To get future lessons delivered to you, you may subscribe to our RSS feed or get e-mail delivery to your inbox. It’s easy. Details can be found in the column to the left of this post.