Personal Stories How-to

Why Write Your Story?
1.     Your example, your problems, and your triumphs will strengthen and motivate others, and will help policymakers to understand the problem in a personal way.
2.     Writing your history now can also provide you with an opportunity to evaluate your life. It may help you clarify your direction in life.
3.     Serve as basis for testimonials
4.     Material for advocating
5.     Useful to use to introduce your child to a new service provider
6.     Basics for the letter of intent in your will

How to Begin Writing
As you begin writing, do not be too critical of your writing skills. Get the information, stories, feelings, and  events recorded first.  Later you can polish what you have written. These suggestions may help you to  begin.

  • Begin your narrative at an important or exciting point in your life. You do not have to begin by listing your date of birth.  Get your readers/listeners interested.
  • Do not worry about style, grammar, and punctuation at this point. Write however feels most comfortable for you.
  • Include information about the location of the story or the local history at the time. Describe situation.  Try to include the emotions of the participants. Give enough detail to make things interesting. Do not let your writing become a list of dates and places without stories and background to bring them to life.
  • Be willing to laugh at yourself. Let your personality and humor come through.
  • Do not be afraid to write about your weaknesses as well as your strengths.  If you feel comfortable writing about mistakes you have made, include what you learned from them and what consequences you suffered.  Always be truthful and honest about your life. If something is too uncomfortable to share,  just exclude it and move on.
  • Be careful about extremely sensitive issues, especially if other people were involved. You want to be very careful not to libel or embarrass others.
  • Remember your story doesn’t have to be told in chronological order. Digress whenever you feel like it. These digressions might just be the most interesting parts of your story!

Potential Subjects for your History
Listed below are general topics you might consider as you prepare to write.  

  • Challenges and how they shaped you
  • Stories of your life experiences
  • Stories or comments about you contributed by others
  • Hopes and Dreams
  • Your/or child’s value in your family and in society
  • A list of life events in the order they occurred (a chronology)
  • A list of the 10 most important things in your life now and details about them
  • A health chronology if there are health issues that might affect your descendants
  • Personal convictions and learning experiences
  • Childhood memories
  • Funny or embarrassing experiences
  • Examples of your talents (poems, artwork, songs)
  • Other Things to Include

In addition to writing about your memories, you may want to include some of the following items of interest.  They can be part of the body of the history or can be added as an appendix.

  • Dreams for the future
  • Your feelings about social, or personal issues
  • Lessons you have learned
  • Photographs of family, friends, homes, yourself at milestone ages
  • Feelings about loved ones
  • Excerpts from journals
  • Newspaper articles about you or events you took part in
  • Copies of certificates (such as birth, graduation, awards, record of meds)
  • Masterpieces by you or your child  (art, poems, book reports, prizes, awards, certificates)
  • Accomplishments

Where to Start:  Real Value in Your Personal Words and Feelings
Review and evaluate what you have written. Writing a first draft is only the beginning of the process.  Some of your best writing will happen as you review what you have written and revise and rewrite sentences that don’t work as well as you would like them to. A trusted friend, your spouse, or another family member can help with this process. Ask yourself and other reviewers the following questions:

  • Does the reader/listener feel involved and care about the outcome of the stories?
  • Do the stories flow well? If not, how can they be improved?
  • Parents, go home and ask your child what should be included
  • Does anything need to be clarified?
  • Are the sentences too long or complicated?
  • Is there too much detail?
  • Are there any spelling errors?
  • How is the grammar?  Often grammar mistakes become obvious if the material is read aloud.
  • Are the same words or expressions used too often? Do too many sentences begin with “I remember”?
  • Is it clear and organized?
  • Do the stories need to be shortened or do more details need to be added to make the stories more meaningful or enjoyable?
  • Are the characters explained and described so the reader knows them?
  • Are names, dates, and places accurate?
  • Is the proper tense used throughout the history?
  • Write ideas on note cards then when finished, number them in order
  • Exchange your written stories with another class member, if you feel comfortable. Give them time to read the stories, and then let them ask questions about the stories. Encourage them to get clarification and additional details about the stories and to give suggestions.

Questions to Prompt Personal Recollections

  • When and where were you born?
  • What were your childhood fears?
  • What were your childhood dreams?
  • What health challenges did you have?
  • Describe your present home.
  • Do you live alone, with a spouse or with others?
  • What makes you happy?
  • How have national laws and events influenced your life?
  • How has technology changed your life?
  • Where do you fit in the family?
  • What family rules did you have?
  • What did your parents value?
  • Who were your earliest friends?
  • Where did you play?
  • What kinds of games did you play?
  • What were your favorite family activities?
  • Were you a happy child?
  • What made you mad when you were a little child?
  • What are your earliest school memories?
  • How did you get to school as a young child?
  • Did you do well in school? What were your successes and failures?
  • What did you like most about school as a young child?
  • What did you like least about school as a young child?
  • What organized groups did you belong to, (Scouts, 4H, and so on)?
  • Who were your friends?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What was your first job?
  • What was your job through most of your working life?
  • Why did you choose your career?
  • Tell about successes and failures in your career.
  • If you had a chance to choose another career what would it be?
  • What has been your biggest responsibility in your adult life?
  • What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your life?
  • How has the relationship with your parents changed since you became an adult?
  • How much rent did you pay per month?
  • What were your biggest challenges in raising your children?
  • What would you do differently in raising your children?
  • Have you fulfilled any childhood dreams during your adult years?
  • Tell about any major diseases you have had.
  • Have you had any major accidents?
  • Tell about any surgeries you have had.
  • Are you physically active?
  • What do you do for leisure?
  • What sports do you participate in?
  • What physical or mental challenges do you have?
  • Who are your friends?
  • What is the best thing about your community?
  • What would you like to change in your community?
  • Have you been involved in your community?
  • What career changes have you made as an adult?
  • If you could change the world, what would be different?
  • What is your advice to those younger than you?
  • What are your dreams for your children and grandchildrens future?
  • What is your greatest achievement?
  • What would you like people to know about you?
  • What awards and recognitions have you received?
  • What do you still want to accomplish in life?
  • Do you have any major regrets? Can they be remedied?
  • How have you changed during your life?
  • What pleases you most about your life?
  • What have you done to make your world a better place?

Good web resource:
Adapted from