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Researching and Writing Family History: It's Like Saving for Retirement





“I’m not there yet!”

This past weekend, at the OGS Conference in Toronto, Ontario, this was the number one response I received from people passing by my booth in the Expo Hall. The question I asked; have you started writing your family history stories? Over and again I heard the words, “I’m not there yet!”

Most of them meant they still had plenty of research to do before they were ready to start writing. I can understand that I still have a boat load of research myself to do.

What I tried to impress upon attendees at OGS this weekend was that they don’t need to have their research done before they begin to write. In fact, I would recommend dipping your toe in the writing water long before you think you’re ready. Look at it like a retirement plan. In life, you spend lots of effort making a plan for retirement while you are still working. Learning to write your stories is like that pension plan. You begin to build up those skills now, so that when you're ready to draw on them they will be waiting for you in abundance. 

We all know your research will never be complete. Many told me about their overflowing boxes of research and digital files and that if they didn’t start doing something soon, it would likely all be lost.  Their children weren’t interested in inheriting their boxes of genealogy stuff.  They realized they needed to bring their stories together into a story or book that they could leave as a lasting legacy for future generations.

Write and Research at the Same Time

If you’re not there yet, as I heard from so many this weekend, then let’s start by doing a little writing for the sole purpose of developing writing skills.  Just as we file a little away money every pay day into our savings, pension plan or retirement plan, you can also learn to write a little every day or week while you are still researching. They just need to be two separate tasks scheduled separately and given a small part of time in your busy day. You can continue to work on research while at the same time exploring the craft of writing. 

Start with a Journal

Grab yourself a small journal or start a binder in Evernote, or open a file in Word and every morning with your coffee in hand write for 15 minutes. A writing journal isn't a diary, but a place to expand your writing abilities, a place to build your skills, think of it like the bank account or the piggy bank or that stash you have growing under your mattress. A little bit at a time, growing your resources and knowledge. 

By starting small and spending some time now developing your skills, you’ll shorten the learning curve when you’re ready to write your stories later when you have more of the research.

Look at your surroundings and events from your day and write about them, recreate them as scenes on the page. A writing journal can help you to convey a setting to the page through detail and description or bring people to life through characterization. A writing journal will encourage you to find your writing voice and style.  You don’t need to wait for your research to be done to begin to learn these skills now.

Use a Writing Prompt

If you need a little help, consider using writing prompts to spark writing ideas. Writing prompts are like those monthly withdrawals, they inspire you every month to tuck that money aside. A writing prompt can do the same thing; it can motivate you to write a little each day growing your skills. If you’re a new family history writer writing prompts are excellent tools to inspire daily writing.  Here are some writing prompts to get you started.

Don’t let your need to do more research stop you from growing and acquiring the writing skills you’ll require. Start now, when you are ready to write you'll be rich in knowledge and practice. 



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