Write a memory, write a story

27 February 2017

How to conquer a blank page

The idea notebook I keep for storytelling is merely a notebook full of lists. A blank sheet of paper, a New Document in a word processor, or even a new blog post form is certainly intimidating, no matter how cool your writing pens idea notebookhappen to be. So, what’s the next step after choosing a topic from the notebook?

Keep the audience in sight (literally)

I find it helps to do my writing in a place where I can see pictures of my intended audience (grandkids, nieces, nephews, etc.) I try to keep their expectations in the back of my mind as I write. I think their reactions might be along the lines of things like:

  • Is this interesting or boring?
  • Why is this important?
  • What does this have to do with me?

I try to find something in the story they can relate to. If I’m writing about a person, for example, I might try to find something they have in common with that person, such as artistic ability or a gentle disposition. A helpful technique for me is to write out a question at the very top of the page and try to answer that question somewhere within the story.

Pen to paper!

Just write

Write, write, write. This isn’t even the first draft yet, so nobody is going to see it.

fountain pen writing
public domain via pixabay

It’s time for brainstorming, for freewriting, and for recording everything that comes into your mind when you think about your topic. It’s not the time for self-editing, self-consciousness, or self-doubt. It’s also not the time for spelling, grammar, and punctuation proofreading. It’s basically a brain dump.

The first draft and beyond

At any point along the writing part of a digital story workflow your story can change. As you pass from first draft to edited story, the initial writing and first draft are practically abandoned. During the first draft, start polishing up the grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Idea > Freewriting > First draft > Proofread, polish, more editing > Storyboard


Story structure

Sometimes the story structure is easy to figure out, such as when you’re witing a chronological biography about somebody, or perhaps you are describing a process, or even sharing a family recipe. Those kinds of stories will have the structure “built in.”

Other examples:
  • Character study checklists: useful to ferret out details¬†about people from your memory that you might have forgotten about.
  • “Top ten” lists, other lists, countdowns
  • “How-to” articles

Otherwise, you have to figure out how to structure your story and make decisions about the beginning, middle and end.


Make your story lively, but make it readable. If the goal is a digital video story, remember that what you’re writing is likely going to be the source of your audio narration, so you might want to edit the story with audio recording in mind. Read it aloud and see how the phrasing sounds.

The next writing step is storyboarding. You will likely find yourself working back and forth between the storyboard and the written document until both the written story and the storyboard feel finished to you.

If you’re ready to “call it done” you might want to print a paper copy, or save a digital copy. Also, if the story is about a person in your family tree, you might want to attach a copy to the person’s record in your genealogy program.