For today’s article, I reached out to Mary Harper, indexer of print and ebook publications. An experienced professional with over 600 indexes to her name, Mary gives us the lowdown on a piece of back matter that, like good health and youth, we don’t appreciate until it’s missing. [Read more…] about Why Your Client’s Book Needs an Index, and Why You Shouldn’t Do It Yourself
It happened a couple days ago. I was working on a draft for a storyteller whose first language is German, second language is Spanish, and third—of which he has a firm hold—English. He’s an intelligent, articulate guy, though not a reader nor a writer. In other words, not the kind of guy to throw out the phrase “in a fit of pique,” no matter how piqued he may be [Read more…] about Fantods, pique, or outburst? Matching your word choice to your storyteller
Chad Elliot grew up a shy, home-schooled kid, but that didn’t stop him from becoming Seattle’s preeminent improv coach. In this episode, Chad talks about how he adapts improv techniques to help people improve their communication skills—not just on the stage, but in their personal and professional lives as well. We explore how we can adapt those same lessons to improve our interviewing skills, and what it means to be the best listener for our personal history clients.
Some of the things we cover:
- Chad’s childhood and the winding path that brought him to where he is today
- Tony Robbins, hitchhiking, and ballroom dancing
- Using dance as a way to break through social fears and to experience the physical power of touch
- Keith Johnstone’s influential book, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre
- Improv and its opportunity for people to be more expressive and better communicators
- Viola Spolin and letting go of the ego
- Leveraging the power of Meetups to attract new students and hone your teaching skills (brilliant idea, Chad!)
- Brenda Ueland’s beautiful treatise on the gift of listening to others
- The main reasons people go into their own heads and stop listening to others
- Paying attention to the gap between body language and what someone says
- Establishing a sense of trust as a personal historian working with a new client
- Using counterintuitive methods to turn off your own limiting filters
- Story scavenger hunts
- Taking a lesson from the great interviewer and journalist Cal Fussman
- Priming your mind, then letting go
To connect with Chad, visit him at seattleimprovclasses.com. And be sure to check out his book, Improv Manifesto: 7 Easy Steps to Confidence, Creativity, and Charisma—Even if You’re Shy!
If you like the show, help spread the word by leaving us a review on iTunes.
Show notes, episode #3
There are two major skills you need for life story writing: writing and interviewing. Today were going to talk about what’s probably the more important of the two—interviewing.
Choosing the right environment for the interview is crucial. Make sure it’s someplace where your storyteller is at ease. (This will usually be in their home, or, occasionally, at their office.)
Recording gear and set-up
- iPhone or iPad vs dedicated recorders
- the importance of having a backup recorder
- optimal placement of the recorders
- also recommended for your gear kit: extra batteries and an extension cord
- start the session with the date, name of the storyteller, and interview number
- don’t expect yourself to be perfect at the beginning
- the more you practice (on friends, relatives, the barista at your coffee shop…), the better you’ll get
- the advantage of practicing on non-paying people before you take on paying clients
- the importance of active listening
- getting the details to bring their stories to life
Show notes, episode #2
Annie Presley is co-author with Christy Howard of the Read This series of guided journals, big, beautiful books that encourage people to gather the practical information of their lives and their personal stories, all under one cover. It’s a different take on legacy projects, something the two authors were inspired to write after one lost a parent at an early age and the other nearly lost one too soon.
In this interview, we discuss how the authors are on a mission to change the world, one book at a time. Their first book, Read This When I’m Dead, deals with weighty matters in a fun and irreverent way, adding levity to the difficult end-of-life discussions our culture shies away from.
In this episode, we also talk about:
- their target audience of female baby boomers
- the hunger for stories Annie never knew about her own mother, who died when Annie was just a girl
- the practical value of gathering data in one place and how it helps family members at the time of a parent’s death
- how we shouldn’t fear talking about death, and solving the pain point felt by both the elderly and their adult children in addressing the topic and collecting the information
- obits, the new “selfies”
- how pets and possessions can be used as a way access and frame life stories
the trend for family history and family mission statements
- Annie and Christy’s innovative approach to marketing their book through presentations, and identifying the clients most likely to benefit from the Read This books (hint: they connect with the same people who can help personal historians reach their target clients)
- writing in collaboration with a co-author, and the need to take breaks from each other
- the benefit of having a partner or an outside reader
- Annie’s conversation with John Grisham—yes, the John Grisham!
- the need to knock on doors and make phone calls to get in front of the right people
beta testing a book club
- and much more.
It’s a great conversation full of actionable ideas that we can use to grow our business as personal historians. I hope you enjoy listening to Annie as much as I enjoyed speaking to her!
Links and resources discussed:
Cowork Waldo, I didn’t give it more than a brief mention, but this was the coworking office where I rented desk space for a year and a half when my house was too full of kids for me to be productive. Circumstances and my needs have changed, but I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a workable work environment if you plan to make personal history your career.
readthis.guru, where you can order all of the Read This books and reach out to Annie and Christie
Createspace.com for print-on-demand book publishing
John Grisham’s A Time to Kill
Reach Annie and Christie at readthis.guru.
Thanks for joining me for this early episode of my new Life Story Coach podcast. As a working personal historian, I get the question all the time: “What is personal history?” My overall aim with the show is to create a space for conversation about the field of personal history and life story writing (and making videos and audio), both for people already working as personal historians, and for those of you who may be new to the field. Or maybe you’re just curious, and thinking about shifting into a new career as a full-time writer.
What is personal history anyhow?
Honestly, most people have never heard of it. Even now, after working for years in the field, I still get a blank look from people when they ask me what I do for a living and I tell them, “personal history.” It’s no wonder, because the term is so ambiguous.
Here’s my definition: Personal history is the craft and business of helping people record their life stories and family histories.
These legacy projects can take the form of a book, an audio recording, a video, even a website, but the type of life stories I create are books, printed and bound long-form narratives with some images. I write in first person, that is, in the storyteller’s voice. My goal is to capture not only their stories, but also their voice, to create a narrative that they would have written themselves, had they been a writer.
So, who are these storytellers, and why do they want to do a book or other legacy project about their life? And who are they doing it for?
I’ve been asked to speak to many groups and on the topic of what is personal history, and I’ve never yet addressed one where at least someone—usually more than one—had dabbled with writing their life stories. Let me be clear. These aren’t writers groups. These are groups of financial advisors and estate lawyers and businesspeople—people who don’t consider themselves writers, and don’t necessarily have the urge to write. What they do have the urge to do is preserve their memories, to pass along the stories of their lives to their kids and grandkids.
The desire to reminisce and reflect back on our life is a natural part of life, especially as we get older. If you who studied psychology or education, you’ll remember Erik Erikson’s developmental stages—the steps we each pass through in life, stages defined by specific needs relating to our sense of identity, like the baby’s need for nurturing from its parents or the middle-aged, empty-nester’s need for a sense of deeper meaning in life. In later years, the need revolves around reflection, looking back at our lives to find that sense of meaning, to make sense of this long ride of life. The yen for telling stories, of course, isn’t new; after all, we tell stories about ourselves and our experiences all throughout our life. But in the golden years this need sharpens and intensifies.
And it’s not just about making sense of our lives for ourselves. It’s also about the desire to pass that accumulated wisdom on to the next generations. It’s a way to connect to younger generations, to say, “I get it, the world of my youth was different, let me tell you about ME, not as your parent or grandparent, but about me as a person.” Because all the great stuff an elder has experienced and learned, all the fun times and sadness and challenges and joys? Those are treasures, valuables in the truest sense to pass down to their heirs. Because those people they love today, and the generations who will follow, they will have fun times and sad times and challenging times too, and wouldn’t it be great if they knew how someone upstream in the stream of generations dealt with all that?
People don’t need the research to tell them what a gift it is to leave this is for their kids and grandkids, but it’s there anyhow, study after study that have identified traits like greater resiliency and stronger sense of self-identity among those who know their family history, those who know their roots. These people, the odd Joe or Mary who’s struggling to get stories down on paper, or who are just thinking about it and wishing for it, they know by instinct that it matters. It matters that their stories get recorded. What gets recorded gets remembered.
And that, my friends, is how we can help.
Because even the folks who think they might possibly some day maybe want to write a book, even most of them come to realize, no way! Writing is hard!! And takes serious, concentrated effort. And a set of skills way beyond what they were taught back in high school composition class. Not that someone has to be a professional writer to successfully wrangle their own story down onto the page, but most people either know they have no desire to write a book, or they find out pretty quickly that they don’ t want to do it. And yet, the desire to have their story recorded persists.
It’s a little like the days of old when a scribe would set up at the local market or maybe the train station, and for a fee, they would write the words someone wanted to send to someone in a letter. The words—the stories, the thoughts and reflections and memories—we all have those, but many, many people need help in getting them down. In recording them. And that’s why we have the field of personal history. To help people record their stories.
And the ones who really get it, the ones who understand the value their stories have, and the value of recording those stories, those are the ones who will invest their time and their money in creating a legacy project. And probably most of them right now don’t even know you and I are out there, ready to help them. And when they find out, just like I’ve seen over and over again in the past seven years that I’ve been doing this, they will heave a huge sigh of relief, because they know their stories will not be lost, that they don’t have to do it by themselves, that it will get done. The best part is that they have no idea how powerful the process will be for them to sit down with us and tell us their stories. But that’s a topic for a later episode.
Share your thoughts.
I hope this has answered your questions if you’ve wondered, what is personal history?, and, how does it benefit people? If you’re just beginning your personal history career, or if you’ve been at it for a while and have thoughts or inspiration to share, leave a comment in the show notes. And please take a moment to leave a review on iTunes or whichever platform you’re listening on. It’ll help others find us and keep the conversation going.
Thanks for listening, and until next time, happy writing.