Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

May 7, 2008

words + photos : wednesday

Today I want to focus on the words.

  • What if you collected stories the same way you collect supplies?
  • What if you did your journaling first, rather than last, in your creative process?
  • What if you began paying attention to your life in a way that enabled the stories to free-flow from your fingers onto the page?
  • What if you encouraged your kids (by example and through encouragement) to be the kind of people who grow up telling their own stories?
  • What if you truly valued your individual story and life experiences and were brave enough to share them with others?


[ this is scrapbooking : part of a series on Simon's journey from Life Artist ]

I am one of those people who actually enjoys the process of adding the written story to my layouts. I begin most of my pages with something to say or a specific story to tell. Sometimes the words have been thought out (or written out) in advance and other times they are gathering together as I am grabbing my supplies and printing my photos.

Overall, what do I want to say?

  1. I want my stories to be real. Real to me means that I leave a part of myself within each story. I want to leave evidence of my existence in the words I chose.
  2. I want some stories to be long and complete. I want other stories to be quick – maybe just a few words to complement a photo that really needs few words to communicate a message.
  3. I want to tell stories that celebrate our everyday life as well as stories that deal with our challenges.
  4. I want to grow as a writer. I know that writing helps me know myself better.
  5. I don’t want to be bound by fears of misspellings, grammatical errors, etc. I just want to tell my stories.
  6. I want my stories to show that I was paying attention to my life.

What do you want to say?


[ MacJournal screenshot ]

How do I keep track of the stories I want to tell?

  1. Blog Posts : I have talked some in the past about using your blog posts as the content for your layouts. This has become routine for me. Remember you don’t have to create a public blog – most programs give you he option of creating a private blog. Writing while you are living through an experience (even everyday life) is completely different than going back and trying to document something after the fact.
  2. Not all our stories are shared on this blog. Many of them go into a program I use called MacJournal. I use it to keep track of daily thoughts, stories, lists, etc. I have folders for me, Chris, Simon, Family, etc. Many of those words will end up on a scrapbook page or in a minibook. An easy way to do this if you don’t have a Mac is to set up a Word document (or a folder with other topic folders inside) just for stories. Keep it on your desktop for easy access. Does anyone have a journal-type program they recommend for a PC?
  3. I also carry a Moleskine notebook with me for on the go thoughts. Over the last couple of weeks I think I finally made the move to one notebook (it was just getting to crazy with too many random books).
  4. If my notebook isn’t with me I have also been known to use my phone to jot down story ideas as well.
  5. I don’t write everything down. I tell stories I am inspired by at the moment. Sometimes I will be reminded of something to document at a random time – this is when a notebook or a computer file really comes in handy for jotting those things down before they are gone.


[ from A Designer's Eye for Scrapbooking ]

Writing techniques:

  1. Start each sentence in your journaling with the same word. In the layout above about my Grandpa I used a bunch of choppy sentences that say things such as, “A family man. A farmer. An educated man.” Inside the pocket is a note he had written me. Another favorite of mine was a minibook recently where each page began with the word “sometimes.” There is no right or wrong for documenting your stories with words.
  2. I journal both on the computer and by hand for my layouts and projects. It often depends upon the length of the story and how much I care about getting the details right. I tend to be more organic when I write by hand (both in sentence structure + overall feel) and more structured when I use my computer.
  3. Make friends with your thesaurus. I refer to my computer version often.
  4. I aim for a combination of feeling + fact. Sometimes it is heavier on one or the other but in general I like to include some of both. The facts ground the story and the feeling gives it heart.


[ from CK  Studio A February 2007 : read the journaling from a blog post here ]

Things to keep in mind as you focus on the words:

  1. You only have to tell one story at a time. Tell one story. Move on to the next one.
  2. Break your story down into manageable chunks. Some stories are super overwhelming. Where do you even begin? When you are documenting a story remember that you don’t have to start at the beginning. Start in the middle. Start at the end. No one will ever know where you began your process. Write the easy part first and then move on to the tougher portions (or vice versa).
  3. It’s ok to begin a project without knowing what you are going to say. It’s ok to create layouts that  have just a few words. Often the process of creating the page can help you identify what is most important and what you want your words to communicate. The key is to make sure you add that story before you move on to the next project.
  4. Keep writing. Confidence comes with practice. Confidence comes with accepting your own personal voice.
  5. Everyone has their own issues related to writing. It is a very personal thing. Telling our stories is a very personal thing. Identify your own biggest writing challenge and begin working through it. Practice and patience with yourself are a couple things that will help you tackle those issues.
  6. Your family will thank you for taking the time to include the words (even if you are not there to receive the thanks).


[ The full words + photos series can be found here: monday, tuesday, wednesday, thursday, friday. ]


  • 1.
    Molly said…

    This week’s information is like something people would otherwise pay (a good deal) of money for. It’s a mini primer, based in so much practical experience. A keeper, for sure. Thank you.

  • 2.
    Martha said…

    WORDS ~ NEED to work on – I love to pick paers, embellies and alter something but I want to take that passion and put it into a legacy for my daughter and grandson!!!!

  • 3.
    melody ross said…

    you never cease to amaze me. I am loving what you are doing this week, it is so much what I believe at the core of me…and it is inspiring me to get back into that part of myself again…….you are such a huge gift to the world….

  • 4.
    Jeanette said…

    One thing I am discovering about myself since I began scrapbooking and blogging is that I do enjoy telling the story behind the photo. And I do enjoy sharing thoughts.
    The motivation you are providing with regard to journaling is wonderful. I am fully MOTIVATED now. :)

  • 5.
    Amber said…

    Hey there! I have your Vera Bradley bag – I am assuming you will be at CHA Summer (where I saw you last year with my Vera bag – and then you signed a copy of your book and gave it to my mom for me in Vegas)? If so, I will bring it; otherwise you gave my mom your address and I can send it to you!

  • 6.
    Susan E in VA said…

    I love how you always come back to the basics of what scrapbooking is all about. I love how every now and then you remind us (with a great article, by the way) of the things we shouldn’t lose sight of. Thanks!

  • 7.
    Linn said…

    Thank you so much for taking the time (many hours, I’m sure) to put these posts together for us. It’s so inspiring!

  • 8.
    KellyM said…

    Ali, I just wanted to tell you that you really inspired me with this post and I plan to start with my journaling going forward. I know I will really enjoy my process more this way, not starting with photos and ending up at the journaling. Thanks for this series. KellyM in MN

  • 9.
    Ida said…

    LOL I have a lot of journal books too….I guess you’re over that phase.
    You can check here for a lot of journal software
    and Ali if you can spare a minute, pls collect Mother’s Day Award here

  • 10.
    kelly said…

    So great. I like the part about being brave enough to SHARE the stories. That’s why I need to work on. In scrapbooking… and in life. But, it’s all the same thing isn’t it. Scrapbooking is a mirror of our lives… it should be at least.
    Have a great week.

  • 11.
    DeDe Smith said…

    Wow! How amazing is this! You truly inspire me!
    Can I just make another suggestion for journaling software for the Mac?
    Try Journler! It’s awesome!

  • 12.
    christen said…

    i’m really enjoying the series this week, thanks so much!

  • 13.
    Melissa said…

    I use Microsoft Office OneNote the way you use MacJournal. I have tabs for each member of the family plus a few others. The one great feature is that it auto-saves your work with every keystroke. I can easily jot down something quickly and move to the next task without the worry of saving and naming the file. The next time you pull up the program it starts you right where you left off.
    Looking forward to tomorrow’s word + photos!

  • 14.
    Deirdre said…

    I am going to print out that opening line: “What if you collected stories the same way you collect supplies?”
    Though since starting to blog, I’m making progress.
    Also wanted to share a program I have on my PC called Life Journal. (
    Positives–you can tag your entries into several catagories, search by date, and more.They offer a free trial.

  • 15.
    Lynda said…

    Ali – Your blog this week is absolutely inspiring! I’m tingling from the creative thoughts that are bubbling up within me. I so love your perspective and the “real”-ness that you present. Keep it coming!!! I’m off to grab my notebook. You are blessed with a very special gift.

  • 16.
    Nicky Anderson said…

    Love it Ali – again, have to get more down to doing this stuff, especially Brody’s story!!

  • 17.
    Theresa said…

    My favorite photo tip. Take the pictures and then take more. I grew up with film and the idea of wasting film was unheard of. The digital camera makes it easy to take a lot of photos I just need to remind myself that its ok to over photograph because I have a delete button.

  • 18.
    Karla said…

    beyond informative. This post hits home for me in so many ways. I’ve always struggled with journaling. I find that the majority of my pages are lacking essence. I really enjoyed reading this ( and again :)
    Thanks so much Ali! Whew…better get to writing!

  • 19.
    Teresa said…

    Wow…thank you so much for this post! I really enjoyed reading it and it encouraged me to write more little things. Even though I do not have children yet, I believe that there are so many things to capture and to tell stories about. Usually is use little or no journaling because I think that the picture tells the story. Then I think about my children and grand children…they might want to read more about it… And you are right, it is not only the Birthday or Christmas every year that make life just so amazing, beautiful and adventurous.
    Thank you!

  • 20.
    Suz said…

    Ohhh….Ali!! Thank you. Your are so wonderfully talented and inspiring not only in regards to your design style but with your written word. Thank you so very much for sharing your time, knowledge and talent! You simply rock!

  • 21.
    Joy said…

    Ali, thanks for doing this article series. I’ve been looking back through my scrapbooks (kind of evaluating like you did with your anatomy of an album project) and I’ve realized a couple of things: 1) I am doing okay with journaling, but a lot of it is written to my children in future tense, and there is very little notation of milestones (like “David is six months and he is doing…etc.) so I have realized that there are a lot of stories I want to tell (and soon!) before I forget them. 2) You’re helping me to realize that not every single page needs a long drawn out story behind it; it’s okay to be short and to the point.
    So thank you, thank you, thank you for this article series! It’s really been making me think and evaluate!

  • 22.
    cmdeb said…

    You are sooooooo real! Sooooooooo right on target. THANK YOU for always sharing with us. Pictures without the story are meaningless to future generations.

  • 23.
    Camille said…

    Ali, I am loving words + photos week. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such insightful ideas with us. I am learning so much.

  • 24.
    Mel said…

    This post is so inspiring! I just finished several layouts without a lot of journaling and now I want to go back and write more. Thank you!

  • 25.
    Emily said…

    Your posts this week have been incredible. So where my mind has been going lately. Keeping it simple, keeping it real. You are such an inspiration. I was going through some of the ideas I’ve saved from various magazines last night–the ideas I’ve held on to are the ones with a timeless quality, and probably more than half of them were your articles from CK. You really help me to see the big picture, no pun intended.

  • 26.
    Tona said…

    The words , for me, are VERY important. It’s what got me interested in scrapbooking in the first place. I wanted to document LIFE. (The little stuff & the big stuff. Although I believe you learn more about someone through the little stuff). My hope is that when someone reads one of my pages that they have learned something about me or my family. That’s why I also try to write the words instead of printing them. I usually resort to the printer when I have a long story to tell or I have a space issue.

  • 27.
    Carolyn E. said…

    i am SO enjoying and loving this weeks words + photos!!!
    THANK YOU so much for inspiring me and motivating me!
    quick question? how did you manage to pull all of your notebooks together? i have the same problem and am trying to figure out a good notebook to pull them all together.
    Thanks again!

  • 28.
    Nicole said…

    I think someone’s already mentioned OneNote but it’s a fantastic program for journaling on a PC. I think it comes with Vista.

  • 29.
    Carrie said…

    You obviously put a lot of effort into these posts. Great reads, my friend.

  • 30.
    jen said…

    Thank you Ali for sharing these valuable tips about photos and words…appreciate mostly the one on words as i usually try to journal as much as i could for the LOs i do, as i so fear one day when my memory fades, and the pictures alone fail to remind me of what they should be reminding me of, the words would guide me back onto the sweet memory lane…
    something i would like to work on in terms of my photos would be to be able to capture photos of objects, people and places from as many unusual angles as possible…

  • 31.
    Stacey said…

    I don’t comment often, but I read daily. You are an inspiration to me 100 times over. I am LOVING this series and I plan on printing it out to read and re-read!!!
    Thank you for your encouragement and your practical tips. I also keep a notebook, but I never thought of using blog posts for scrapbooking! Great idea!

  • 32.
    Erin said…

    Super article, Ali. What struck me most was the beginning where you talked about collecting our stories rather than supplies-yes, I need to do that. Thanks for the encouragement in my journaling. Erin :)

  • 33.
    Wendee said…

    Wow, thank you Ali. The journaling on the “live is for living” l.o. really spoke to me. I needed a nudge to get out there and experience more. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  • 34.
    Janie said…

    Ali – you are doing an incredibly important and wonderful thing by encouraging us all — with practical advice/solutions as well as your always-inspiring examples — to capture our stories. If it’s possible, I’m an even bigger fan of yours since tuning into this new feature you are doing. THANK YOU and know that many appreciate your taking the time to share these important concepts.

  • 35.
    Tracey Mc. said…

    What you’re doing here is SO IMPORTANT, Ali!!
    The photos and the words – plain and simple.
    the Core of Scrapbooking – then, now, and forever!!
    Thank you for sharing your writing tips and techniques – so very helpful and inspiring.

  • 36.
    jc said…

    I just want to say thank you. You inspire me to live life, love life & record life. Not just for my children, but for myself.

  • 37.
    Trina said…

    Ali–I am loving your posts this week and look forward to it every morning! I especially love todays post because it rings so true for me. The journaling is the part I struggle with the most. I used to love to write,in fact, I once thought of a career in journalism. I even took a creative writing class in high school (many, many years ago!) but these days I feel very insecure about my writing, like it is not good enough, or that what I have to say isn’t all that important. I like your ideas and I think I’ll be purchasing MacJournal today! Also think I better get myself a little notebook for my purse and jot down things that strike me in the moment! I think my biggest struggle is the fact that I get so caught up in the moment that I forget to look for the small things that really end up being the big things, ya know? Guess I need to work on that, too! Hahaha
    Thanks again for all your inpiration! You are still my favorite! “See” you tomorrow!

  • 38.
    alyssa said…

    The very first line of your post grabbed me. It’s so provocative and so telling. Even though I’m a writer in much of my professional and personal life, the way you expressed this – the idea of what we collect – is so powerful.
    I sometimes have the impression that people collect supplies as some sort of badge of honor. But how much more would we honor ourselves, our loved ones, our experiences if we collected words this way? And what a powerfully different connotation “collecting” might have.
    Your series is simply amazing. Thanks you.

  • 39.
    Mary said…

    I’d love to hear how you handle difficult times in the journaling that you scrap … not the inspiring story of “how we got through the job lay off and now things are better than ever” but journaling something difficult such as a teen hitting a bump in the road.
    I love your opening point “what if you collected stories the way you collect supplies?” That is a great thought and it won’t leave me soon. So many supplies look dated a year later but my family loves the stories and reads them again and again and again.

  • 40.
    Mary said…

    I wanted to add that I keep lots of notes in simple text files on a jump drive – that way it’s accessible anywhere on any (well I really don’t know about a Mac but I’d have a hard time believing that a Mac couldn’t read a text file on a jump drive.)
    I’m considering starting to journal my thoughts, etc. on such a file. Naming it Journal_mm_yy.txt would probably keep things manageable. I could also add little notes if the journal entry has been scrapped.
    I love fun software but often these simpler, more “rustic” solutions end up working day after day.
    I also have a personal wiki stored on my jump drive and it has a place to add a journal entry on a daily basis. Since I use it to rack my professional work as a software developer, I hesitate to add personal journal entries there.
    If I was a SAHM I would use that wiki for both in a heartbeat – google “Monkey GTD wiki” if you are interested … it presents your projects, lists and work in a dashboard format and does have the journal entry feature if that interests you …
    mmmm… maybe I need to start a scrap wiki so I can track projects, supplies, classes and journals …
    ali your writing inspires tons of ideas and I love reading your blog every day. I love Simon and your and your DH make a cute couple!

  • 41.
    DonnaC said…

    Ali – I bow to you!!!. You have such a knack at identifying the really meaningful stuff that is usually hidden below the surface somewhere. Thank you so much for articulating all of these thoughts, techniques and ideas.
    Donna in Vancouver

  • 42.
    Lisa said…

    I love the idea of writing the story first. There have been many times when I have done that (though not the majority of the time) and those are all the layouts that I am most connected,too. Interestingly, they are also the easiest to design and put together because the story is so clear that the design just flows. I think I will make a policy of journaling first for the next little while and see what comes of it…

  • 43.
    kellyv said…

    Hi Ali,
    I always begin my scrapbook pages with the words and stories and, to be honest, usually I feel like I must be doing something wrong but if I don’t have a story to tell with my page, it doesn’t feel authentic to me. Thanks for validating this process. We could all still have amazing scrapbooks or journals full of stories and photos and the truly important ‘stuff’ even if all the embellishments and ribbons and tassels and bows disappeared. Pretty great, huh?

  • 44.
    stella said…

    Oh Ali! I MUST QUOTE YOU! you have so many true and beautifully written lines in this post. I am a teacher, and I LOOOOOOVE to teach writing. I will share with my students this line from you and you will now have officially a place in my classroom with “QUOTE CORNER”
    T”he facts ground the story and the feeling gives it heart.”
    by Ali Edwards
    Thanks for your contribution to my writing classroom!

  • 45.
    Kim said…

    Ali, I just want to take a minute to thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to teach us so many wonderful things. You truly are amazing!

  • 46.
    Marilyn Tan said…

    Thanks Ali, for sharing the experience of how you document your story and also about how we should love the things in us. Thank you for providing the useful links to the sites as usual! They are great stuffs to share.

  • 47.
    Amanda Mac said…

    I wandered over here because someone at 2ps mentioned a layout I’d done fit your blog topic this week. The story has always been, and will always be, a huge part of the reason I scrap. I guess as a wannabe writer, it just hits home for me.
    But even someone who loves to write needs a few reminders and pointers every now and then. Thanks for a provocative and inspiring post!

  • 48.
    katy said…

    I LOVE the focus on words. I’m a self proclaimed writer and i rarely make a page without some sort of journaling or writing. I’m not as good about writing feelings/thoughts ahead of time (i’m going to practice, or consider using blog posts per your advice). but thank you. There are so many who are afraid to write because it’s “no good” when really the only way to get better is to write more. So thank you.
    Question: do you use MacJournal to post to typepad? It supports blog posts to both my blog sites and I’m curious how the interface works. I could easily be converted if it’s a smooth process. Thanks!

  • 49.
    Leonie said…

    thanks again for another totally practical and interesting stock of ideas that i can use
    you have a gift for sharing the real
    thanks for that

  • 50.

    Your message about getting kids to be storytellers is exactly what we’re striving for in our writing classrooms. If enough of us are in this together, then maybe we can start something and make this happen!

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