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Are Family History Writing Prompts The Easy Way To Tell Stories?

First of all, family history writing prompts are not new. Nor are they a secret weapon that will do the work for you. However, they are a tool that can make it easier to complete the first draft of your family history.

Let me set the scene for you.

Family historians have skills. A lot of skills. And many of those have to be learnt as a part of their genealogy journey. Something no one tells you when you set out to discover your ancestor’s story.

You need to learn to be a researcher, analyst, historian, interpreter, translator and archivist, just to name a few. But you aren’t done yet. When it’s time to write up those discoveries, you need to add more skills such as writer, storyteller, editor, and proofreader.

You have the determination, but you also have a blank page, a blinking cursor and no idea what to write first. So you sit in front of the monitor, staring at it. Just staring. You blocked out this hour to finally start crafting the first draft of your ancestors’ story. However, 45 minutes in, the digital page in front of you is still blank.

Uh oh. It sounds like you’re a victim of the “Curse of The Blank Page and The Blinking Cursor”. That’s something every family historian trying to write their ancestral stories has been inflicted with at some point. It’s crippling and known to stop the flow of words, often before you’ve had a chance to get started. So is it any wonder that many people talk themselves out of writing their family history?

The good news is that there is a tool to help you start writing and craft the first draft — family history writing prompts.

So, let’s talk about those. About:

  • What a writing prompt is
  • Benefits of using them
  • Where to find them
  • Trying them to start telling your stories.
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What is a writing prompt?

First, let’s explore what a writing prompt is and the different types you can create. That way, you can start thinking about how to use them to craft your ancestral stories.

A writing prompt is a simple tool to help you overcome writer’s block and a blank page or blinking cursor intimidation. They’re a series of cues that prompt you to write about a specific topic or theme. Sounds great, right?

One of the things that makes them so valuable is that they work for any genre. They’re also versatile and take many different forms. Writing prompts can be:

  • an idea to build on
  • a statement to expand
  • a question to answer.

You can use them as a starting point to unlock your creativity and get the first draft of your ancestor’s story completed.

Ready to write your family history but struggling to start? Family history writing prompts maybe the answer. Learn more in the non-writers writing course for family historians — Ancestral Stories.

Benefits of using writing prompts

When writing your family history, a few things may trip you up before you really start. Such as:

  • Writer’s block, blank pages and blinking cursors.
  • Expectations and the quest for the perfect story hook.
  • Distractions everywhere you turn.

The result is that you then spend too much either:

  • Staring at a blank document and typing nothing.
  • Overthinking how to start writing.
  • Looking for inspiration or your ancestors online.

Sound familiar? If you can relate to any of those, then you’ll love using writing prompts. They enable you to start writing your stories in bite-size pieces, one ancestor and one event at a time. However, they don’t replace the story outline but are created from it. They provide the most value when crafted as a question because all you have to do is respond. That response becomes one part of the first draft of your family history.

Quick Tip
Don’t edit your newly written words until you’ve responded to all the writing prompts. Every single one. Write the entire draft, then edit. Doing otherwise will halt your progress, and you’ll quickly become demotivated.

So how do writing prompts overcome those three key problems?

Let’s take a look, starting with writer’s block, blank pages and blinking cursors.

Writer’s block is the term used to describe the creative slump when you don’t know what to write. This can be crippling when writing fiction. After all, you can only create prompts if you know what questions to ask.

The good news is that you have an advantage when compiling your family history. Why? Because you’re writing about things that happened. That means the story outline exists, and you can convert each event or milestone into a question to prompt a response.

Using writing prompts to draft your ancestor’s story means you aren’t starting with a blank page. Nor do you need to decide what to write first. Instead, you have a list of questions waiting for your response.

Next up, expectations and the quest for the perfect story hook.

The desire to impress your non-genealogist relatives with an exciting and engaging family history is intense. You want to show them with well-crafted sentences how genuinely amazing their ancestors were. However, you’ve never written stories of any kind. Yet, your expectations are high, and the pressure is on.

It’s a difficult situation. On the one hand, if you don’t hook the reader early on, they might not give it a second chance. However, on the other hand, you can’t wow them with amazing stories when you’re rejecting and deleting almost every word you write.

Using writing prompts won’t stop you from overthinking, but they allow you to get words on the page. Things like story hooks and polished sentences come long after the first draft is done. So make a deal with yourself to respond to every prompt before you read and edit a single word.

Finally, distractions everywhere you turn.

We live in a world where distractions are just one click away. A website to view, a new worksheet to check out or a cute animal video to watch. These can make it hard to focus on the task, especially when it’s not going well.

Concentrating is hard when you aren’t 100% sure what you’re meant to be writing. So you decide to spend five minutes searching for inspiration. However, that turns into a 30-minute YouTube rabbit hole of watching research tips and pets with quirky personalities.

Writing prompts make it possible to craft your stories in bite-sized pieces, one question or event at a time. So you only need to focus for short sessions—5 to 15 minutes—to write the response. Use a timer to keep yourself on track and write until the alarm goes off.

Writing prompts are a valuable tool to use when crafting your family history.

They’re easy to create and simple to use. Plus, they help balance out three primary reasons why people don’t progress on writing their ancestor’s stories—high expectations, not knowing what to say and struggling to focus. So, whether your goal is to write one story or a complete family history, writing prompts are a helpful tool to have in your arsenal.

Where do you find writing prompts?

You have two options for family history writing prompts, either use generic ones or make your own. Both options have their pros and cons. It depends on your story outline, writing experience and how you work.

Several genealogy bloggers and websites publish generic writing prompts that you can mix and match to start telling your ancestor’s story. They are easy enough to find online with a quick search for “family history writing prompts”. These are generic questions that you can use for any of your ancestors.

Generic prompts are a great starting point, especially if you don’t have a specific story outline in mind. Also, consider using these if you want to get some writing practice. Or to explore different perspectives or approaches to telling your family stories.

The other option is to create your own prompts based on the story you want to write. You can make these specific to your ancestor, but that doesn’t mean they can only be used once. Look at the particular aspects of the question and highlight the parts that can be adjusted for other ancestors. For example, this may require changing a person’s name, place, event or occupation. Or adjusting the number of children, siblings or spouses.

Ready to write your family history but struggling to start? Family history writing prompts maybe the answer. Learn more in the non-writers writing course for family historians — Ancestral Stories.

How to create your own family history writing prompts

The good news is that creating your own prompts is easy and stress-free. The easiest way is to convert the story outline into a series of simple questions. Those questions are the writing prompts you’ll use to craft the first draft of your ancestor’s story.

If you don’t have a story outline, you can still create a set of custom family history writing prompts. Try these steps to create a list of questions to use.

Review your research and convert each discovery into a question focused on your ancestor. For example, if they moved to a new country, the question might be, “what was it like for my ancestor to emigrate?”. If they lived during a challenging period, your writing prompt could be “what challenges did my ancestor face during the [name of the event]?”

Include questions that focus on your ancestors’ daily life, hobbies, interests and pastimes for that era and location.

Finally, include any other questions that come to mind as you review your notes.

Using your research findings and other historical details, you can create writing prompts tailored to your ancestors to write an inspiring family history.

Try family history writing prompts for yourself.

Writing a family history is a challenging project. One that can take more time than you expect and create a few headaches along the way. And that’s not taking into account the other hurdles you encounter, such as:

  • Need more confidence in your writing skills.
  • Believing there are no exciting stories to tell.
  • Writer’s block, blank pages and blinking cursors.
  • Expectations and the quest for the perfect story hook.
  • Distractions everywhere you turn.

Let’s face it; there are many ways you can talk yourself out of writing your ancestors’ stories.

The good news is that some fabulous tools help you. Such as family history writing prompts. They won’t write those stories for you, but they will help you craft the first draft. Custom and generic prompts work to get words on the page, so experiment with both to decide the best fit for you.

  • Spend 10 to 15 minutes and try writing prompts for yourself.
  • Choose a prompt to answer.
  • Gather the information from your research discoveries.

Write out your thoughts and ideas to respond to the prompt.

The response can be short. Aim for 3 to 5 paragraphs, so between 9 and 25 sentences. Don’t overthink the process. Focus on getting your answer on the page. You’ll have time for editing once you’ve written the rest of your ancestor’s story.

Need help creating your family history writing prompts?

Check out Ancestral Stories, the non-writers writing program for family historians. This program is designed for first-time family history authors focusing on converting research to a character-driven narrative. You’ll learn more about using questions to craft the first draft as you go from outline to story in easy-to-follow steps. Click the banner below to learn more and enrol in this self-paced training today.

Ready to write your family history but struggling to start? Family history writing prompts maybe the answer. Learn more in the non-writers writing course for family historians — Ancestral Stories.

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