Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Life Story Quote of The Week

This week’s quote is from Paul Tillich. I think it speaks eloquently to what we all do when we sit down and actively listen to someone’s story.

The first duty of love is to listen.

The following brief bio on Paul Tillich is from Wikipedia.

Paul Johannes Tillich (August 20, 1886 – October 22, 1965) was a German-American theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher. Tillich was, along with his contemporaries Rudolf Bultmann (Germany), Karl Barth (Switzerland), and Reinhold Niebuhr (United States), one of the four most influential Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. Among the general populace, he is best known for his works The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957), which introduced issues of theology and modern culture to a general readership. Theologically, he is best known for his major three-volume work Systematic Theology (1951–63), in which he developed his “method of correlation”: an approach of exploring the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to the problems of human existence raised by contemporary existential philosophical analysis.

Paul Tillich – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Photo by hobvias sudoneighm

A Great Web Resource for Writers and Editors

Pat McNees, a colleague of mine in the Association of Personal Historians has put together a fantastic website that is of value to both the novice and experienced writer-editor. Check it out. This what she has to say:

As a writer-editor I am often asked for advice about how to make a living as a writer or editor (or both) and how to find a good writer, editor, or proofreader. I launched this website to provide frank information both for people who want to know the basics and for those who want to dig deeper in a particular field. Those who are looking for a writer or editor might start with the job banks.

I am starting by providing links to websites and organizations useful for writers and editors, both general and specialized, with an emphasis on North America. There is an astonishing array of specialty organizations — from the National Association of Science Writers to the Cat Writers’ Association and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. As time permits I will add lists of recommended books and other useful resources (for which I welcome your suggestions), as well as general advice culled over a lifetime writing and editing and talking things over with fellow writers and editors.

—— Pat McNees

Writers and Editors – Home, index.

Photo by susannah

Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Historian.

Recently I wrote a post about the advantages of using the services of a personal historian. Today I’d like to focus on six questions you need to ask before hiring a personal historian. There are no professional bodies that certify or oversee personal historians. Anyone can hang up a shingle that says “personal historian”.  So it’s buyer beware.

  1. Does the personal historian belong to any professional associations? Belonging to an association such as the Association of Personal Historians, the Oral History Association, or the National Storytelling Association is important. It means the personal historian takes his work seriously as a professional. Associations provide their members with opportunities to learn more and improve their skills.
  2. Does the personal historian have samples of her work? Even if a personal historian is just starting out, she needs to be able to show you a book or video that she has completed. You want to be able to assess the quality of her work.
  3. Is the personal historian open to having you talk to previous clients about their experience? It’s useful to get previous client’s evaluations. While it’s not foolproof, it does allow you to have a better feeling for the person you may hire.
  4. Does the personal historian operate in a professional manner? Does she show up for appointments on time? Does he have a contract that spells out precisely what each stage of the production will entail and how fees are to be calculated? Does she answer all your queries in a prompt, courteous, and clear manner? Does he refrain from pressure tactics?
  5. Do you feel comfortable around this person? Whether you’re hiring a personal historian for yourself or another family member, you want to feel at ease. It will not be an enjoyable experience if you end up spending many hours with someone you don’t like.
  6. Before becoming a personal historian, what was the person’s previous work experience? Personal historians come from all kinds of work backgrounds. But it’s fair to say that many come with experience in the humanities. It’s not uncommon to find former journalists, filmmakers, editors, librarians, and teachers now working as personal historians. There are exceptions to every rule but you’ll likely find a more skilled personal historian coming from the ranks of those who’ve “apprenticed” in the arts. Someone with little life experience whose previous employment hasn’t lent itself to crafting skills in interviewing, writing, and editing may not yet be ready to take on a professional assignment as a personal historian.

Photo by Gareth Simpson

The life story quote of the week.

Flickr photo by Reinis Ivanovs

Flickr photo by Reinis Ivanovs

I’m a collector of quotes. Love ‘em. There’s something about a good quote that reaches out and touches both our hearts and minds.

I decided that what I’d like to do is start a “quote of the week”. At the start of each week I’ll bring you one of my favorite life story quotes. I hope it will inspire you to work on your life story or for you to help someone with theirs. Send me some of your favorite life story quotes and the best I’ll profile in my “Quote of the Week”.

So this week’s quote is from Dr. Edward Keller:

“Memories are times and places that connect our lives. I feel that lives are viewed too modestly by their owners. But lives are precious pieces of time and are as unique as fingerprints.”

Here’s a little backgound on Dr. Keller written by Richard Volesky, from Inspire magazine.

Syrup sandwiches, homemade cottage cheese, sod houses, good times and bad – those are the things of which stories are made.

Dr. Edward Keller, a Dickinson dentist who retired in 1996, knows that very well. He has created a fulfilling second career by writing seven books and self-publishing five of them, resulting in a total of 25,000 copies. In the works is a new children’s book receiving final touches from David Christy, a Fargo illustrator.

The books mostly relate to Keller’s German-Russian roots and his early years while growing up near Strasburg, where he was born in 1927. The stories are memory pictures of his life while on a farm and attending a one-room country schoolhouse during the Dust Bowl era.

Read more here.

Warning: Faith Will Not Save Your Documents When Your Hard Drive Crashes.

Flickr photo by ryan

Flickr photo by ryan

I had a very nasty experience last year. I turned on my computer and the screen froze. I rebooted and an alarming message told me that my hard drive was being erased! In panic I closed everything down. Then with my heart racing I carefully started up my computer again. I prayed that everything would be just fine. Well, you know where this is going. A screen popped up informing me that there was no hard drive to be found!

Years of work was wiped out in a flash. I had no one to blame but myself. I knew the importance of backing up my work. But in the years I’d been computing I’d never had a serious problem. I was operating on faith. Faith that everything would continue to work just fine. I learned my lesson. A painful one at that.

Now I have a separate external hard drive and software package that automatically backs up the contents of my hard drive every night when I’m sleeping. This is a good start but it doesn’t protect my data should my house burn down. Now I’m looking into ways that I can also backup material off site.

Here’s what I’ve found that you might want to consider. The two Internet sites that come highly recommended are and Both of these are reviewed by Walt Mossberg in The Wall Street Journal. These services are easy to set up and they run automatic backups so you don’t have to remember to do anything manually. Both have unlimited storage and run about $50 a year.

So, if you’re like I was and are still operating on faith, stop right now. Get yourself either an external hard drive or an Internet service to backup your hard drive. Your documents are too important to be lost.

Do You Make These Mistakes When Writing Your Life Story?

Flickr photo by L_Dan

Flickr photo by L_Dan

I’ve helped people edit their life story and found that these are some of the most common mistakes.

  • Writing in a voice that’s not your own. Write the way you talk. Your life story is for your family not for the general public. If you think that you have to sound “learned” or “writerly” then you’ll only succeed in sounding phoney. People want to hear your story in your voice.
  • Writing long convoluted sentences. Simple is better. Look at your sentence and see if it wouldn’t be better broken down into two or even three sentences. Remember Hemingway.
  • Beginning almost every sentence with “I”. Hey, it’s your story and I know it’s hard not to keep saying “I”. Take a hard look at one of your paragraphs and see where you can cut some of the “I”s
  • Repeating the same word or phrase over and over and over again. Sometimes it works…like my preceding sentence. On the whole though “writing ticks” can be really distracting to the reader. Go over your work and see where you can drop some of your repetitions.
  • Failing to think of a beginning, middle and end for your paragraph or chapter. A quick way to lose your reader is to fail to give them a sense of where you’re going. You might want to tease your reader with the ending and then build their curiosity as to how that ending came to be. Or you can start more conventionally at the beginning and work to a conclusion. It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re clear about the path you’re taking.
  • Mixing several different topics, ideas or themes into the same paragraph. Don’t create a jumble of thoughts. It’s like getting lost in a giant crowded shopping mall without any clear exit. It creates confusion, stress and claustrophobia. Check to see where you could drop some passages and put them in another section of your story.

Can you add anymore “mistakes” to this list? What are your main writing “sins”?

Here’s a Wonderful Way to Preserve Memories.

I came across this wonderful site called Voice Quilt and really wanted to draw your attention to it. It is remarkably easy to use and of high quality. Check them out.

How It Works

Try us for FREE!

Step 1 Step 1
Pick an heirloom-quality keepsake that will play and preserve your VoiceQuilt. View this Step >

Step 2 Step 2
Pack it with memories by inviting loved ones to phone in greetings and toasts. View this Step >

Step 3 Step 3
Create a “best hits” list of recorded voice messages and have it shipped in your keepsake. View this Step >

VoiceQuilt Keepsakes Are Personalized With Voice Messages.

See How Easily You Can Write Your Life Story Book.

Flickr photo by re_birf

Flickr photo by re_birf

How many of you have sat down with the best of intentions to write your life story? Or have tried to get someone else to write theirs? I’m continually encountering people who started writing several years ago and haven’t progressed much beyond their first chapter.

Why is that? Well there are several reasons. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the time. Many people today are suffering from time deprivation. Trying to fit one more thing into a busy schedule seems impossible. For others, sitting alone at a desk and composing sentences is a chore. The words just don’t seem to come. Some people don’t know where to start. Should I organize my life story chronologically or thematically? Should I include my ancestors or just my immediate family?

So if you find yourself nodding in agreement with what I’ve just said, here’s a solution. Hire a professional personal historian. You can find someone in your area by going here.

Here are seven benefits to hiring a personal historian.

  • A personal historian can manage your print and video project from beginning to end. No need for you to learn all kinds of new software programs.
  • Being interviewed by a personal historian who is an empathetic listener is more engaging than working on your own.
  • Talking to a neutral, non-family member can be easier than being interviewed by a friend or relative.
  • Personal historians are skilled at asking just the right questions to bring out comprehensive and nuanced stories.
  • A personal historian can help edit your story and bring clarity and “readability” to your work.
  • A personal historian can ensure that your story will be preserved in a professional and attractive manner.
  • Lastly, and most importantly your life story will get done.

You don’t have to be a famous to be recognized.

My grandfather, Jesse Weeks

My grandfather, Jesse Weeks

As a personal historian, one of the great myths that I continually encounter goes something like this, “My life hasn’t been all that interesting. Why would anyone want to read a book or watch a video about my life?” I usually respond to such arguments by asking, “If there was one person among your ancestors you could read about and discover something of their life story, who would that be?” Invariably people have little trouble coming up with a name or two. And when I ask, “So, what about that person interests you?” I’m told it’s because they want to know how that relative lived, so long ago. Or they’ve heard bits of stories that whets their appetite to know more. No one I talk to ever says, “Oh, I want to read about Aunt Mary because she was famous.”

We are intrigued by family who’ve come before. How did they live? What dreams did they have? How did they cope with love and marriage and loss? I think we know deep down that something of who we are today is a result of those who came before us. Call it DNA or something more intangible.

So, to those who say their life story isn’t interesting or worthy of preserving, I say think to the future. One day someone will want to know about you – just as now, you want to know about a long lost relative.

Remember someone in the future wants to hear from you.

Are you afraid to say what you need to say?

Thanks to Jill Paulson at A Matter of Memories I was introduced to “Say What You Need to Say” by John Mayer. I think it’s a terrific reminder of how important it is to talk to those we love and say what we need to say. It has become, at least for now, my anthem for the work I do as a personal historian.

At the end of a person’s life, whether from age or a terminal illness, it has been shown that giving people an opportunity to tell their life stories can be of real benefit. But we don’t need to wait for death to be knocking on our door, we can start today to capture our memories and the memories of loved ones.

I’ve included the lyrics to “Say What You Need to Say” because it helped me appreciate John’s song even more. Enjoy!

Say What You Need to Say

Take all of your wasted honor.
Every little past frustration.
Take all of your so called problems,
Better put ‘em in quotations.

Say what you need to say

Walkin’ like a one man army,
Fightin’ with the shadows in your head.
Livin’ up the same old moment
Knowin’ you’d be better off instead

If you could only…Say what you need to say

Have no fear for givin’ in.
Have no fear for giving over.
You better know that in the end
It’s better to say too much, than never to say what you need to say again.

Even if your hands are shaking,
And your faith is broken.
Even as the eyes are closin’,
Do it with a heart wide open.

Say what you need to say

Say what you need to, Say what you need to…

Say what you need to say.