Personal History -- Write or Record It?

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Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. (Sir Francis Bacon

Consider writing your personal history rather than recording it. Not that recording is any less valuable, but the act of writing has many benefits. Here are some things to consider:

Events Revealed Only By Writing[edit | edit source]

Some events and/or ideas will only be revealed by writing. You will find that, as you write, other memories relating to what you’re describing will pop into your mind. When I was writing about my dating activities in high school, I started to remember the girls that I was afraid to ask out. Made me think how afraid of girls I was in my teens which reflections I included. Don’t fail to record these additional items. They, in turn, will often suggest even more things and/or ideas. This is the fun part.

Don’t take the initial memory lightly. That memory is very valuable and the one your mind thought was the best one to illustrate the question you were looking at. I’ve found, most of the time, that the first one was usually the best one even though I could think of even more.

Helps You to See What You Really Know[edit | edit source]

Someone once said, if you cannot write about an event in your personal life, do you really know what happened? This may seem a bit harsh, but I think there is much truth in it. If you do have difficulty, it may show that you need to try and find out more from other people who were there or just take more time to think before you write.

Writing Makes You More Precise[edit | edit source]

Writing helps you to become more precise in your recollection. If you have to wrestle with what would be the best word or phrase in a certain case, you will come to know the value of the written word. Thus, you’ll think more clearly and with greater precision.

Compared with writing, conversation is oftentimes imprecise. This is one of the main reasons why I feel that writing a personal history is better than recording it. How many times have you been asked: “What did you mean by that?” or “I don’t understand what you mean?” Seeing your words on paper might show you just how fuzzy your recollection really is.

Makes You More Sensitive to Language[edit | edit source]

Writing helps you to be more sensitive to language. The act of thinking about what you are going to write demands that you consider who will be reading it and how you should state what you have to say.

This process makes you more sensitive to expression. Writers are always looking to improve their style and pay attention to how other express ideas.

Writing is Permanent[edit | edit source]

That writing is permanent may seem obvious, but compare writing with a phone call. How many phone calls are recorded or written down? If the call contained some important ideas or concepts and was not recorded, you could not go back to review it. Memory quickly fades and points made in a conversation can be lost. However, if these ideas are written down, they can be reviewed and rethought.

Writing Helps You to Think in Ways That You Can Not Do in Conversation[edit | edit source]

Writing creates meditation. Much more than sitting quietly and listening to one’s thoughts. And it will bring you nearer to the fountain of your thoughts than anything else.

Here we can think in detail about the issues of life and reduce the vagueness of thought. Ironically, you will probably be a better conversationalist because you have taken the time to think and record your thoughts. You’ll find people will want to hear your opinion. You will also find that those with similar opinions will gather to you creating a source of lasting friendships.

Makes You Think Longer About Your Life[edit | edit source]

If you were to ask yourself what you have learned or accomplished in life, you probably wouldn’t have the patience to give a lengthy dissertation in your head. I don’t know about you, but holding a single subject in my head for a long time is really tough to do.

If you were asked to tell us in your own words, your answer wouldn’t probably be very long either. And, if you’re like me, after the dissertation was over, a hundred other things will come to mind that you could’ve or should’ve brought up as well.

The Mind and Writing[edit | edit source]

As you start to write, you’ll find, as I did, that you remember more. One event described seems to remind you of another. Memories long forgotten will come to mind.
The mind is a wonderful place, and if given a command that you want to start remembering about this or that, with a pen or computer in hand, it will respond. It thinks you’re really serious.
I’ve had more than one person say to me that they felt like a spectator watching what was coming out of the end of their pen or on their monitor. They are often astounded at what they remember, even events fifty or sixty years ago. It happened to me over and over again. And I feel sure it will happened to you too.

Evaluate Your Life[edit | edit source]

One of the great benefits in writing your personal history is that it gives you a chance to tell yourself what you have accomplished and learned. You almost have the chance to relive your life all over again.

As you think about your life you may conclude that you really did do more than you thought. You might feel a little better about yourself. You might find it good therapy to write about how the events in your life affected you. That reason alone is enough to make writing a personal history truly worth the effort.

Recount the Stories Others Have Told You[edit | edit source]

There are a lot of stories we have heard from others that affect us. Stories of our parents struggles with poverty, for example, may have given us a real appreciation for the ease we may have in our lives now. These stories can be either what we have heard or read that have had a profound effect on us. Writing gives you a chance to see just how deeply the stories you’ve heard over the years have affected you.

Getting Rid of Bad Judgments[edit | edit source]

As you look at memories from your present vantage point, you can see if your judgments of people or events were valid at the time. Getting them out in the open again and writing about them gives you a chance to see if there is some ill feeling that you may have harbored over the years that now seems a little silly and should be gotten rid of.

Additional Items Come to Mind In Rewriting[edit | edit source]

Now rewrites, I think, is one of the greatest benefits of writing as apposed to recording. Rewriting many times brings to mind details that I didn’t think of the first time through the experience.
Your conscious mind may tell you that you are finished, but I think the subconscious mind continues to go through its memory banks if it thinks there is more to be revealed. Then, whenever it wants to, it brings them to your conscious mind. Often, when you least expect it. Because of this sometimes annoying phenomena, I carry around a small notebook to catch these items, since they usually don’t return.

Look forward to the rewriting process. I’ve had related items come to mind on the second, third, and fourth rewrites, too.

It’s Hard to Insert New Items into a Recording[edit | edit source]

If you’re recording and you come up with additional items, it is hard to find the places on the tape or disk where you want to put it. If you just want to retell the event because of the additional things you’ve remembered, you have to record over the existing part. However, if you use a computer to record you life story, inserting material is, of course, much easier, but still adding material is much easier in a word processing program than in a recording.

You Will Never Be Satisfied with the Finished Product[edit | edit source]

One last piece of advise. I guarantee, that you’ll never be completely satisfied with what you written or how you wrote it. You’ll want to rewrite it. Perhaps many times. But don’t get frustrated at how long it seems to take to get it right or that you can’t seem to get it right at all. Hang in there even if you’re not completely satisfied. In fact, I am beginning to think that not being completely satisfied is normal.

My wife enjoys painting pictures but is constantly taking down various “finished” ones hanging around the house and touching them up here and there. It’s just a fact of life. Even the great painting masters and music composers were rarely ever completely satisfied with everything they did.

Again, just keep in mind that never being completely satisfied is normal. Figure that there will be rewrites -- probably many of them.

Just look at the first draft as your skeleton and the rewrites as adding flesh to the story. I have come to view rewrites is the best part of writing and look forward to what my mind will come up with next.

See also[edit | edit source]

What to do with the genealogy and family history I collected