The best gift you can give is “relative” to writing.

By Jim Kepler

Wondering how to stand out from the crowd at gift-giving time?

Whether you’ve just started writing or are a seasoned pro, you can create a truly unique gift of memories. Write your family history.

It doesn’t have to be a full-blown genealogy. Instead, make it a remembrance of significant events in your life and the lives of your relatives.

Start with milestones. Jot down important memories of holidays, births, graduations, marriages, careers, and get-togethers. Then fill in the blanks around each happening so that you put your reader into the story.

Think about who was there and what they said, who was wearing what, what the setting was like and why it stands out in your memory. Include your own point of view to personalize the feelings you had at the moment.

It’s interesting to remind your reader about your and their reactions to notable events. But it’s just as interesting to recall a child’s perceptive comment, kitchen aromas, music associations, conversations, and unexpected pleasures.

A lifeless recitation of historic facts won’t engage your reader. A colorful portrayal of experiences and how your family responded to such facts will. Make your story flow from one occasion to the next, always explaining and describing the scene and characters involved.

Family histories are excellent starting points for beginning writers. They’re fun and relatively (pun intended) easy to write. Your readers will understand the situations you describe and put themselves into the stories. When you receive feedback—and you will—thank the reader and ask how he or she thinks you could improve your writing. Of course there will be different memories and impressions about events you shared. But what you really want to hear are comments about the writing itself. Veteran writers can use this opportunity to explore new techniques: First or third person? Dialogue or narrative? Fictionalized or reportorial?

A word of caution: Avoid dredging up events best forgotten, diatribes about religious or political points of view, or anything else that might set people’s teeth on edge. Keep in mind that this is, after all, a gift. Make your family and friends happy to receive your remembrances and eager to read more of your work.

Wondering what to do with your family history once it’s done? Don’t regard it as finished and forget about it. Professional writers never throw away their writing. Instead they save it as a starting point or a component of a lengthier piece on the same or a related topic.


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