52 Weeks of Writing Ancestors Stories

Writing Challenge

Struggling to start telling your family history? Take the writing challenge to start tackling it one ancestor story at a time. #ancestors #familyhistory #writing #challenge

Have you had success in writing ancestors stories for your family and friends? Or did you get stuck before you got started? Maybe it’s because you have too many stories to tell and just don’t where or how to begin. Or perhaps you are juggling too many tasks and can’t fit one more thing on your to-do list.

I’m guilty of that last one. I get stuck in the research, working on my business or writing this blog which means that the storytelling never happens. I’m so busy encouraging others to start writing ancestors stories that I haven’t been making time to write my own. It feels impossible to make time to write a book. The idea of writing a book is overwhelming, especially when you can’t work out what you’d even write. Do you tell yourself that you need to do more research? Or that telling the stories isn’t the part that matters?

I’ve been planning to write a book about Dad for four years now, and I haven’t written a single word. I’ve thought about it dozens of times, told people I’m writing it but never make the time to get it done.

So I was thinking, this year why don’t we write together? Let’s set ourselves a year-long writing challenge and tackle our respective family histories one week and one story at a time.

Setting the ground rules

Before you decide, let’s set some ground rules to make sure that this doesn’t take over our lives. After all, the idea is to start to check off the writing projects without it becoming a time-consuming chore. It doesn’t matter if you have 15 minutes a day or 30 minutes once a week. Commit to the time you have and use it wisely.

  1. Write what you know. Don’t add more to-dos to your research plan, but use the discoveries you’ve already made instead. If you don’t have enough research, then maybe revise the project.
  2. Be realistic with your goals. One story per week means just that. You might tackle an ancestors birth, their unique nickname or the start of their award-winning rodeo career. The stories will be the bricks that build your family history at the end of the challenge.
  3. Commit to the time chunk that makes sense to you. If 52 weeks is overwhelming, then commit to 4 or 12 instead. For example, maybe you’ve just started your research, but you want to write a half-dozen Ancestor Snapshots to capture what you know. So you’d commit to 6 weeks to write the content for one ancestor each week.

52 weeks of writing ancestors stories

There are two parts to the challenge. Part one is planning, and part two is writing.

Part One: Planning

The planning phase is as important as the writing so don’t skip it. I suggest breaking the planning process up into three stages:

  1. Define your project
  2. Set weekly tasks
  3. Choose your tools

Furthermore, I’ve created a worksheet that I’ll be using to help with the planning phase. Click the link below to grab a copy. If you don’t want to use the worksheet, create a spreadsheet or setup something in Evernote, Word or similar instead

1. Define your project

What do you want to create once you’ve finished writing ancestors stories? Do you plan to

  • create a set of trading cards for a particular family line
  • compile the stories into a family history binder
  • publish a family history the blog
  • write a memoir on a specific ancestor

You don’t want to split your focus between writing and formatting at this stage, but it’s good to know how to structure the content while writing ancestors stories.

Example: My project is to write a memory book about Dad

2. Set weekly tasks

Once you have set your overall goal, it’s time to break it down until you have a list of every task required to achieve that goal. Furthermore, each task should be achievable in the time you’ve allocated for each week. If it’s not, then break those activities down further.

Then add in the amount you will spend each week on writing ancestors stories. If you are going to write for 15 minutes per day for four days, then your time commitment is 60 minutes.

Example: My overall goal is to write about my Dad’s life, so I’ll break that down into individual stories. And I’m committing to 3 x 30 minutes sessions for a total of 90 minutes per week.

My weekly goals will look something like this list:

  • Writing task for week 1: tell the story of Dad’s birth & name
    90 minutes
  • Week 2 activity: life in Canley Vale
    90 minutes
  • Writing task for week 3: the move to Cooranbong
    90 minutes
  • Week 4 activity: Dad’s early athletic achievements
    90 minutes
  • Etc.

3. Tools for writing ancestors stories

Good news, you already have everything that you’ll need to start writing ancestor stories. Remember that this challenge is only to write the stories, instead of creating the final format or design.

You can use any word processor or text editor. As long as you can add basic formattings such as bold, italics, bullets and headings. I also recommend using an app that syncs from desktop to mobile device. Such as

  • Office 365 | Microsoft Word
  • Evernote
  • Google Docs

Example: I’ll be using Google Docs to write stories about my Dad. This will also give me the option to share the documents with a proof-reader or other contributors.

Join the community

Finally, I’ve created a private group for this challenge so we can work on our family histories together. This group will be the go-to place if you:

  • have questions about the planning or writing stages
  • need help with planning your challenge
  • are looking for feedback on your writing

I’ll be posting my progress every Saturday and would love to hear about yours. We can brainstorm ideas and give each other nudges if we get stuck.

It’s a closed group, so your posts won’t appear on your feed. Request to join over 52 weeks of writing ancestors stories.

Don’t forget to grab the worksheet!


If you liked this article, be sure to check out The Non-Writers Writing Challenge series:

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