First things first – get a notebook

27 February 2017

Go shopping. Buy a notebook or two. Go try all the pens at the office supply store and buy some that you like.

You can’t do storytelling – digital or otherwise – unless you know what you want to tell stories about. A topic list makes storytelling easier, just like a grocery list makes shopping easier. The topic list gives you a temporary place to quickly put down what you’re thinking about.

I have two main notebooks:

Notebook and pencilMy daily journal is the notebook where I just write. Every day. After my husband died, this journal became the place where I could put all my “…but wait…” thoughts and the things I want to share with him every day. On most days, I write a letter to him in this journal.

I also use this journal for:

  • Writing practice
  • A safe place to write, doing my best to “silence the inner editor”
  • Scratch pad
  • A place to vent

My stories to tell notebook is the notebook where I go to save (and fetch) the ideas for the stories I want to tell sometime. It only contains lists (no actual writing). If something happens to me tomorrow, at least my family will have this book of lists. They can look over these pages of memory triggers and go ask Aunt Kris or Cousin Marlene what the heck grandma was talking about. It is a paper notebook, small, with hard covers and spiral binding. It fits in my purse or laptop bag. I keep a pen attached to it with a rubberband.

Why not use an e-notebook?

I don’t use this method for two reasons:

  1. It’s easier for me to access my paper notebook when I want to quickly jot down a memory before I forget it.
  2. In case I die, my family will have quick access to the information. There are no logins or passwords to share or try to crack, or the need to acquire a compatible PC, program, or mobile device.

I write my story reminders in a simple spiral journal. The journal has home-made topic tabs, and has a pen attached to it with a rubber band.

My storytelling notebook is just a simple spiral journal. I made tabs along the page edges, with several topics which act as list holders for memory triggers. Keeping it as simple and inexpensive as possible, I used regular notebook paper to cut small squares of paper. Each square has the topic written on it twice.

I wrote the tab topic on each side of a small, folded square of paper, and the end result is a two-sided tab you can read from either the front or the back of the notebook. I wrote toward the top of the tab, near the fold. I added tape to each side of the tab.

I taped the tabs to the pages of the notebook, and I made sure to leave plenty of extra pages between tabs to accommodate topics that might contain long lists of reminders. I staggered the tabs so I can read them.

I suppose I could have skipped the tabs all together, and made lists by writing whatever I remember as a memoir or journal. I decided on tabbed pages because I find that one memory trigger leads to another.

This is the list of topics in my notebook:

  • Food
    • (example: “freezer jam”)
    • (example: “Uncle Louie’s pickles”)
  • Crafts
    • (example: “Aunt Gertie’s ceramics”)
    • (example: “Grandma’s doll clothes”)
  • New generation (don’t forget to save a place in the notebook for current, recent stories)
  • Technology
  • Illness
  • Religion
  • Black sheep
  • Anecdotes
  • Second moms
  • Deaths, mourning, and funerals
  • Houseguests (non-relatives who have briefly lived with us)
  • Siblings
  • Vacations
  • Immigration, migration
  • Genealogical dead ends
  • Liquor
  • Easter
  • New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Halloween
  • Pets and other animals
  • Fashion
  • School
  • Family talents
  • Family friends
  • Pictures: Oldest, last, first, only
  • Christmas
  • Celebrations (weddings, reunions, graduations, birthdays, etc.)
  • Fathers
  • Mothers
  • Vehicles
  • Music memory triggers (favorite songs and bands, spanning generations)
  • Family by choice (in-laws)
  • Hometowns and states
  • Housing
  • Military
  • Sports, play, games
  • Work, careers, occupations
  • Writing and digital storytelling helpers
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