Photo courtesy of Melissa Gruntkosky via Flickr.
One of the hardest parts of writing a personal history, a memoir, or a family history is deciding what to write about. And that difficulty is compounded if you feel you can’t remember enough about what’s happened to you to write anything significant about it!
There’s an easy cure for this difficulty, though, if you have any aspirations of sharing your stories with others: write about your life more often! Journaling, blogging, or finding other ways of regularly recording your experiences as they occur is a great idea. But if you haven’t been able to motivate yourself to do that yet, this week provides at least one great annual date on which to get started: New Year’s Eve.
OK, OK, I’ll admit it. I’m biased and heavily practiced in using Dec. 31 for personal self-reflection, because it is also my birthday! But anyone can use New Year’s Eve as a day of remembrance for themselves and their family. Here are a few suggestions for how to utilize the waning hours of 2015 to capture the highs and lows of your year, so that you’ll have a rich trove of images and stories to draw upon if you want to write something later about this period in your life!
How to Remember Your Year
Build a time capsule for the year that has just passed. The PBS Parents website has a fun list of suggestions that families with young children can use to celebrate New Year’s Eve. One of them, building a time capsule for the year, is one that anyone in any type of family/group could adapt. They advise families to “pack a shoebox or empty tennis ball canister with keepsakes like photographs, blue ribbons, drawings and written memories of the top ten moments of the year.” I would expand on that, proposing that you get creative with both the container (as long as it has some durability, in case your capsule remains “in suspended animation” for some time) and what you put in it.
Recount your favorite holiday moments in the sweet afterglow of late December. One journal topic that should be fresh in your mind is what this holiday season has been like for you. Amber Lea Starfire, on her “Writing Through Life” blog, has some great writing prompts to get you journaling about your holiday memories. Here are several I really like.
- At the end of each day from December 22nd through the 31st, list five things, positive and/or negative, you want to remember about that day.
- Play the role of journalist. Write a headline capturing the character of each person with whom you interacted on that day. Have fun with this: make your headlines ironic, silly, full of exaggeration.
- Write a paragraph describing scents unique to your holiday celebration: include holiday-specific foods, spices in the air, perfumes, and so on. How do these scents encapsulate the holiday for you?
Take some time to journal about your year. Some people like to party like it’s 1999 (or whatever year represents your wild youth) on New Year’s Eve; others are more drawn to a quiet, relaxing evening setting. And some folks probably wouldn’t mind doing a little journaling before they go out to celebrate! Regardless of your signature celebration style, you can spend some time on Dec. 31 writing about highlights and patterns that have been the hallmarks of your year. Tehmina at Epreneur TV has an intriguing list of 30 reflection questions for New Year’s Eve, including:
- What was your biggest life lesson this year and what did you learn?
- What did you accomplish this year that you are most proud of?
- What is your biggest disappointment or regret this year?
- What unfinished business do you have from this year?
Write about whether you kept your New Year’s resolutions for 2015, and whether that even matters. An interesting thread you might want to keep track of for later (when you write a personal history or a memoir) are your aspirations for change and how well you met your self-imposed challenges. The charming blogger Colleen, who writes about her exercise adventures on RunningAndBlogging.com, compiled a personal history of her New Year’s resolutions related to running, as well as a few other personal habits. Here’s a sample:
“2013: Exercise 3 hours per week. I had finally figured out that setting mileage goals just got myself hurt, but this was a boring resolution that I don’t think I ever kept track of at all. I definitely didn’t do it, at least not until August by which point I had completely forgotten about it.
And then 2014 came around, and I had finally realized that workout related resolutions don’t always go that well for me – or I’m just bad at setting realistic ones, so I changed it up a little bit.
2014: No more cell phone games. Not at all exercise/running related, but I recognized my cell phone game playing ways to be interfering with basically everything in my life that I actually cared about. Things like school, work, working out, going to bed at a reasonable hour, looking at people in the eye while spending time with them … Assuming I make it the rest of the day without playing a cell phone game, this is the first resolution I have actually remembered and accomplished (other than the half-marathon in 2009, which was different because it was just a one-time thing), meaning that I am officially part of the 8 percent of people who keep their NY resolutions!
Use a personal history app to record a few recollections for posterity. Before any grown-up festivities start in the evening, you could use StoryCatcher Pro to record some reflective end-of-year video diary entries, or the Timebox photo organizer app to annotate your phone’s photo roll and help you recall vital details about the images later. Or you could read this post about using Evernote to store personal memories and memorabilia, and then try it out. It’s perfectly fine to use smartphone/mobile technology to help you organize your thoughts!
The questions to you
- Do you journal, blog, or take other steps to record your personal experiences on an ongoing basis?
- What have been the high and low points of 2015 for you? How will you capture this information if you think you might want to convey it in a personal/family history project later?