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Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog) RSS feed

How about writing letters to (stories about) your kids?

Pandemic is a wake-up call for me to jot down keepsake ‘letters’ for my kids (Bob Brody, Washington Post, 8-16-2020) And I quote:  "Back in January 2008, when our two children were young adults, I started to keep a handwritten journal, one for our son, Michael, and the other for our daughter, Caroline. Every weekend, I jotted down a few hundred words based on a specific memory about our lives together and mine before they were born." And so it began. "I took these actions, mind you, even though in perfect health. I had asked myself the questions so many parents might now be asking themselves amid the coronavirus outbreak. What should I tell my children about the lives we’ve all lived? What do they need to know about me and themselves and our wider family? The journals would ultimately serve as a keepsake, an inheritance that could be read in decades to come."


      For years I've (Pat) given a workshop at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland (and in local libraries), called My Life, One Story at a Time. It's a fairly popular workshop, one that some people repeat -- probably because it motivates them to write the stories for their kids and family and friends that somehow they just can't bring themselves to do on their own. Partly it's because they're writing and sharing their stories in a small group (which they tend almost instantly to bond with, however briefly, sometimes forming long-term relationships). More than once participants have said they are sharing stories with this group that they haven't told their friends.


     I don't know what the secret is, but one thing has disappointed me: I have a heck of a time getting any of my students (all adults, mind you) to write stories about their children!  "When you die," I tell them, "and you have written all these stories about your life, don't you think your kids are going to wonder why there aren't any stories about them?"  And they agree, but they still have trouble taking the bait (with a few exceptions--lately, especially--is the pandemic a sign that all could be over without even a chance to say goodbye?). I suspect they are afraid they will seem to favor one child over another. Maybe, like me, you've wondered if it isn't up to our children to write their own stories--why would they want us to write stories about them?  Or maybe you've thought, as I have, that would be invading their space. But what if they would love it? What if they would love it especially long after we are gone--but maybe even now?


       I hope this gets you all writing about your kids (or your nieces and nephews, or your grandkids, your friends --whatever, whoever):  Memories and stories about your kids that you can write now now and they can enjoy forever.  As inspiration, here are links to a series of wonderful posts from and about Bob Brody's letters-to-his-kids project.

Letters to My Kids (Bob Brody's blog, with links to all the posts)
To Michael: Labor Trouble (Bob Brody, 6-24-10) "You took your time coming out. I think Mom was in labor for 36 hours."
To Caroline: Your Opening Act (Bob Brody, 6-24-10) "You I worried about from the start, even before you were born. The doctor told us you were in there in an unusual position. Transverse breach, she called it."
Archives: Letters to My Kids by Bob Brody
Letters to My Kids 101: Invest In Your Past Bob Brody, on the process.
Letters to My Kids (Lisa Belkin, Motherlode column, NY Times, 6-23-2010) On Father’s Day, he took the journals virtual. He is transferring all 60,000 words onto a Web site, Letters to My Kids, one entry per week. That wasn’t his plan when he started the journals of letters, he says.
Spending Thanksgiving thanking our kids (Janice D'Arcy, WaPo, 11-23-11) The man behind the Letters to My Kids Web site is urging parents and grandparents to use Thanksgiving as an excuse to write a letter — long or short, simple or complex — to our children.
• You can find photos, etc., on Bob's Facebook page. Thanks, Bob. I'll let you know if this inspires my writing groups!

Feel free to post reactions here (or go to Bob's site and post them there!).

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A short history of the Association of Personal Historians

by Pat McNees (revised)
For twenty years, members of the Association of Personal Historians (APH, which folded in May of 2017) met at a popular annual conference, where people originally from many other fields met to talk about a new type of business: helping others tell their life stories. Here below is a brief history of the organization for those who may be curious about it; former members of the organization are invited to join the conversation through the Comments section. The term “personal historians” never became a household word, but personal histories (usually by other names) are still being produced and local groups of personal historians still meet

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21 frequently asked questions about personal histories and personal historians

by Pat McNees* (updated 9-24-18)
What is a personal history?
What is a personal historian?
Why hire a personal historian?
What is [was] the Association of Personal Historians (APH)?
What’s the point? Why would anyone be interested in an ordinary person’s story?
How is personal history different  Read More 

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Is it still a great time to become a personal historian?

by Pat McNees (updated the month the Association of Personal Historians filed for bankruptcy--but individual personal historians are still at your service)

Since 1990 I've been helping people and organizations tell their life stories. If you're nosy, love to do interviews, like shaping them into a compelling narrative, and either know how to produce and independently publish a book or are willing to learn and/or subcontract some stages of the process,  Read More 
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Memoir, biography, and personal histories (how-to resources)

Here's a gateway to life story telling resources, whether you're doing it yourself, hiring a pro, or helping others tell their stories.

Telling your story

Articles, stories, websites, and other resources about how people have told their own, their family, or their company stories)
The art and craft of interviewing
Great interview questions and guides
Audio recording and editing equipment, software, and tutorials
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Connecting the dots: Steve Jobs' wisdom

Read Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford (2005) to get a sense of what drove him. To quote him: "Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect Read More 
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Memoirs: Is honesty the best policy?

Graceanne K. Deters includes provocative copy in her website copy about the hidden story of a missionary daughter navigating a maze of religious fanaticism, and the dark side of her early life in  Read More 
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