Day 24 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge featured guest author Jean-Francois de Buren. He gave an excellent list of things to think about while working on a family story project. Lots of great food for thought here:
- The story must be personally resonant. The story must be meaningful to you first and foremost. If you are not moved by it, do not proceed, it will simply be too difficult, and the result will be lackluster. While you might be writing your family story to ultimately share with other family members, this cannot be your primary motivation. If you write for others in the hope of receiving praise for your efforts, you will never receive the level of acclaim you desire, no matter how effusive it is.
- Start modestly. Start small and see where it the story takes you. It does not need to be a multi-generational epic to have impact.
- It should feel original to you. While any great story will have timeless themes, the story should still feel real to your family. What you write will inspire others to be sure, but in ways that you can never predict, nor should you try. Authenticity is key here. If you do not believe in what you are writing it will come through.
- Be forthright. Don’t be afraid to search for and tell the truth. Family stories are often embellished over time, and the stories we choose to tell say something about us. What really happened can often times be more interesting than the stories that were handed down. If you don’t know what “really” happened, feel free to offer open-ended questions that will leave the reader thinking. Have a point-of-view.
- Think about milieu. Historical context is critically important. Your ancestors certainly did not leave their home countries on a whim. What was the social, religious, racial tenor of the time?
- It should have drama. It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on facts and figures when it comes to family history, but that alone does not make for great storytelling. Wade into the emotions of your ancestral protagonists. If you were in their shoes, what would you have felt, what would you have done?
- Trust yourself. This is critical. The story that you will tell has waited for you to tell it—own that fact. Once you get into the story and feel the emotional power, it will take you where you need to go.
- Give yourself a deadline. The process cannot be fully open-ended. A goal is key. It could be a deadline to finish the first chapter, the first 20 pages or the first draft. If you are committed to the process, the muse will marshall the resources to assist you. Showing up matters.
- Revise and edit. Once you feel it is exactly where you want it to be, let two people whom you trust to look at it. Take a deep breath and know that the comments are there to make your work better. Their tasks are different, so chose wisely. One is looking at the story from a macro level. Is the story compelling? Does it have drama? Would someone who does not know me or my family want to read it? The other is looking at the story from a micro level. Checking grammar, spelling, syntax and sentence structure.
- Enjoy the process. Let go of the fear of failure, the final product is already within you simply waiting to be expressed. Take the plunge.
Here are two of Jean-Francois de Buren’s projects that you might be interested in. He wrote about his literary journey with his ancestor http://www.common-place.org/vol-13/no-04/tales/ and an adaptation of his ancestor’s journals can be found on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Voyage-Across-Americas-Journey-Henri/dp/2940531021/