February 04, 2019

Preserving Your Story

Sharlene Hawkes

Sharlene Hawkes
President /Remember My Service Productions

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What is your story? What are you doing to preserve it for generations to come? Does it even matter?

The older we get, the more we think about what our family and friends will remember about us when we’re gone, and if it’s of any value. Those are deep, profound thoughts that make us evaluate what we have done and what we are planning on doing to make a difference somewhere, to someone. The reason I bring up this topic is that I am often asked if RMS Productions can help someone preserve the story (I like “story” better than “history”) of someone they love, or their own.

At RMS Productions, we primarily work on the collective stories of a military unit (i.e. 3rd Infantry Division, California National Guard, USS America, etc.), or a military-related commemorative time period (i.e., Vietnam War 50th book and documentary, Korean War 60th book and documentary, Desert Storm 25th book and documentary, etc.). But because of our specialty in collecting historical data to turn it into the “story,” we have had people approach us to produce a story for their company or themselves. For an individual, it’s a little pricey to have a full team of professionals producing your story—it takes quite a bit of time to sift through the “data dump” that we get (photos, videos, letters, interviews, writings, etc.) in order to turn it into the published book of your life, so yes, that can be costly. And this is why I’m sharing some ideas here, so you can do this yourself! (Unless you have the resources to give us a call, in which case, we’d love to help you!)

First, if you are a veteran or have a loved one who is, I would highly recommend that you go directly to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project and follow their instructions for submitting your story to their archives. That will ensure that not only will your loved ones all have access to the story, but also visitors to the archives will be able to access your story and learn from it for years to come. For example, RMS Productions spent quite a bit of time going through thousands of Vietnam veteran interviews as we published our book A Time to Honor: Stories of Service, Duty and Sacrifice for the Vietnam War 50th commemoration.

For the rest of us who aren’t veterans, here are some ideas:

 Photos First: I’m starting with the easiest way to preserve your story.

1. Create a few folders on your computer called “Early Childhood,” “Teen/Young Adult,” “Early Adult/Young Parent,” “Later Adult/Parent,” “Empty Nest,” “Golden Years”… you get the idea. Then simply go through all your photos, and drag and drop your favorites into the corresponding folders. I would recommend using those folders as the “Table of Contents” outline to publish a photo book, and of course you can get as specific as you’d like with that outline.

2.If you choose a photo book, you can be very creative by using the program My Memories (www.mymemories.com), which allows you the entire spectrum from simple to complex, or you could go with any number of other programs online. Your choice depends on whether you want to upload your photos first before creating the book. If you don’t, then My Memories is the best option, since the program resides on your computer. You could do basic white background with many different layouts of photos to choose from, as well as be highly creative using different backgrounds and embellishments.

3. Remember to include captions, or at least a short paragraph on each page to give more context to your photos.

4. You may also want to create a slide show to include music and short video clips (keep clips to about 10 seconds.

 Stories First: This method is probably the most entertaining and compelling way to tell your life story.

1. Create a document for each stage in your life (pretty much the same as what I suggested for photos). Try to assign a range of years for each document.

2. For your first exercise, open one document and quickly, in bullet points, put down a few words for each story that comes to mind from that time period. The most compelling stories are funny, emotional (happy or sad), or about a lesson you learned.

3. Once you begin, you’ll find that one memory will lead to another memory, but it does require a consistent approach. Try to set aside just 5-10 minutes a day for those bullet points.

4. After your documents are filled with bullet points, that’s when you go back and start filling in as much as you can. Don’t worry about making it sound perfect yet—you will go back later and clean up the draft. Right now, it’s important to just get the memories flowing.

5. Finally, as you go back and edit, see if you have photos that you can insert here or there to complement your stories. You probably won’t have photos to accompany your best stories, since those are typically private experiences. Don’t worry about it. The important thing is to get photos of you with the people you love. And if you won the state championship in something, you better include a photo of that in your story! 

Chronological History: This is usually the least interesting method, because it’s simply an account of what happened and where and with whom, and it is very text-heavy. This kind of diary keeping can possibly be interesting because of its historical nature, but usually readers lose interest if it’s just a bunch of facts. Even so, this is usually how people tell their story. So make it more interesting!

1. Even as you state the facts, look for the outcome. Look for what you learned, or if you laughed, or if you cried. Look for the stories within the historical account.

2. Feel free to use humor—just make sure it’s appropriate.

3. Try to add photos everywhere you can.

4. Pretend you are writing a novel—what is your title? What are chapter headings?

You don’t have to be famous or important or wealthy in order to have a story worth telling. In fact, the more ordinary your life might be to you, the more relevant you are to the vast majority of those who will take interest in your story, especially your family members. They will be able to relate to your trials, challenges, shortcomings, lessons learned, and, of course, all of life’s sweet moments.

Remember what made the movie “Rudy” such a hit? He was just a kid who worked really, REALLY hard and had one moment on the football field.   Why did someone who just had one big moment on the football field become a hero to so many? Because everyone could see themselves in Rudy. Look for that one moment that stood out in your life, maybe because you were being ordinary, not extraordinary. That’s what will resonate most with your family and friends as they review your story.

Yes, your story matters! If you can share even one “lesson learned” that will make a difference to a child, a grandchild, or a friend, then your story matters. And I’m taking a wild guess that we ALL have lessons we have learned. Good luck as you tell your story, and keep in mind that perhaps the one who gains the most from your efforts to process your story… is you.

Comments You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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