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Memory Keeping Q&A | Storytelling

Originally published in Creating Keepsakes | July 2006

Taking some time to catch up with those recent Memory Keeping Q&A's.


SLMNOTEC | I take so many photos each week/month/year. I am having a bit of a hard time deciding which stories to tell. They all seem important because they are happening in my life! Any suggestions? I’m talking about the in-depth reflective introspective stories, those we connect with. I’ve taken your Yesterday/Today classes — it’s that kind of journaling. How do you decide which ones to tell? (not PL)

AE | This might sound silly but I really try to focus on whatever one feels like it wants to be told the most. Usually it's one that I keep thinking about and keeps popping up as I go about my day. Which ones do you keep thinking about? Which ones seem to pop into your head most often?

I think it's also worth considering that some stories might just be more important than others. Have you ever done the exercise where you go through your layouts and see what stories are missing? That often points me in a direction of important (to me) stories I haven't yet told from our lives so far. Going through past layouts tends to give me perspective on which stories still need to be told to make for a fuller overall life picture.

I've got a growing list too - some of the stories might never get told and some have been on there for a long time and sometimes a story won't even make it on the list because it comes to me and I want to tell it right then. I'm okay with all that because I see the whole thing as a process - an enjoyable process. Pick one (whether from your list or from your heart), get it told and then move on to the next.

One way to decide is to sit down with the intent of making a list of the stories that seem most important to you right now. Tackle those first.

TEAL | If you had to choose one small way to keep the most important memories in the simplest, quickest way – what would you recommend?

A word document on my computer or a simple list on my iPhone. If I spent less time on my computer I'd choose my phone - simple and easy to input an idea if it comes to me when I'm out and about that can be flushed out more when I'm back at my desk. If you want to go back and forth between your computer and phone you could use Things (mac only) or you could simply have a document and use Dropbox on both your phone and computer to save the same file.

A great app for recording daily stuff is Momento.

If you meant a simple and quick way to keep those photos and memories together, I'd say a blog. A blog is a very simple way to connect words with images. It doesn't have to be public, it doesn't have to be decorated - it can simply be a place where you store your photos and the stories that go along with them. At the end of the year you could take all your blog posts and have them put into a book using a service like Blurb's BookSmart.


JANNE | Once I read you had a list of layouts to do in the future. Is it a mental list or a actual list on paper? And how do you handle this list? How often do you go through it and add topics?

JANET | Do you have a list of all the stories you want to tell? I seem to have lists all over the place but am interested in hearing how you organize all the projects you want to do along with all your stories.

AE | It's on paper and on a document on my computer. Actually as I was reading through these questions today I took that Word doc and transferred the stories into Things (a task management program I use on my computer). Now it's in the same place as I go for my to-do lists. Most of those are simply a phrase or so - they aren't all written out yet. I look at it from time to time - but not often enough - I find myself telling "today" stories more often than referring to the list. I'd like to get myself in the habit of referring to my list more - like once a week - and getting some of those older and/or longer stories told. Not all of them are older - many are ones that tell more reflective stories that might span years.

I add topics whenever one comes to mind - a cool thing about the Things program is that I can access it from my phone too. I'm also planning to set aside a bit of time soon to sit and just write out some story topics I'd like to get told sooner rather than later.

BIRGIT | I am curious, too how you organize your journaling? Do you have categories (Around the house, Around the yard, the weekend lens, everyday, Anna, Simon …) Do you type it on your computer or jot it down in a journal and how do you match it with your photos? I don’t print at home, don’t like Costco that much (too dark and the colors are not as bright) so most of the time I order at shutterfly and have to wait for a week for the photos to come. By then something new has come up. I LOVE your “today you”, “right now” etc approach to document the every day routines – I wish I had done that when our children were little (they are 10 and 7 now) how do you decide which school stuff and other memorabilia to include with those “snapshots” of their lives?

AE | I don't really have the stories I want to tell organized in a specific way. I do like to repeat certain themes - like "around the yard" and "the weekend lens" - often those are stories that live here on my blog and have not yet made it onto traditional layouts (I'm totally fine with that). I do think that generated stories from a repeated theme is a great way to approach journaling - especially if it helps you get going with getting the words down on paper.

I don't spend a lot of time agonizing over any part of memory keeping. I figure something is better than nothing especially when it comes to things like picking out what memorabilia to include. I tend to quickly assess kids papers/artwork as it comes through the door and decide right then if I'll use something for a layout, for Project Life, or if it will be recycled.

My approach to journaling sometimes begins with a photo and other times it's the story that begins the process. I often tell stories that don't "match" exactly with the photo - meaning the photo was not taken at the same time as the story I might be telling.


CHRISTINE | I’m not good with words or journaling i need help in that area. Can you make some suggestions?

AE | Here's a couple of my favorite tips:

  • Simplify the process for yourself by focusing on a single word or phase that you use to begin each sentence of your journaling. A couple of my personal favorites include "today you..." and "I want to remember..." Choosing a simple word or phase gets me in a rhythm and helps me get the memories and words out.
  • Use numbered or bulleted lists. This is a technique I use often to help me get the story out and on the page. No one says that the stories of your life or the lives of your family members need to be in complete paragraphs.
  • Practice. Yep. Write and then write some more and stop worrying about what it sounds like or what someone will think when they read it. I think one of the best ways to get more comfortable with writing is to practice. It means working through the uncomfortable parts and continuing to get stories told even when you might not be completely confident in your ability. The more you write the more comfortable you will become with your own voice.
  • Assess what you like about other people's writing and emulate it. If you read a story that someone else has written - whether it's a scrapbook page or in a newspaper - take a couple minutes to make a note to yourself and figure out why you like it. Is it something you can adopt into your own writer's toolbox?

KATIE | I want to know more about journaling, you writing is so inspiring, vivid/descriptive, and you can feel your heart/emotion in the writing. I love to read your journaling because I can see the story unfolding in me eyes, and I can feel the emotion you have for the subject/topic. How do you do it? How do you approach your journaling? Does it take a long time? Did you take classes or have a natural talent for writing?

AE | Thanks Katie. My BA is in American Studies and my emphasis was in American Literature, History, and Political Science. I definitely have a background in writing, but it's also something I enjoy and something that's had a pretty big impact on my life. It's also something I regularly practice. I've been developing my journaling voice since I started scrapbooking back in 2002 (and blogging in 2004). I say "journaling voice" because the way I write when I'm doing a scrapbook page is different than the voice I'd use to write a research paper about politics and the media.

The journaling I do here on my blog and in my projects doesn't take a long time and I don't feel like I agonize over it. I try to let it flow from both my head and my heart and include a combination of facts and feelings. I'm also pretty connected to my subjects - I'm telling stories that matter to me and to my family.

LINDA | What are your thoughts on journaling with cursive handwriting, considering that many schools are eliminating it from the curriculum? I’m torn because I love the look of cursive, but it is sad to think that my son (age 2) may not be able to read my journaling when he gets older.

AE | Interesting question. My handwriting tends to be a mix of cursive and printing and I'll probably keep doing it the same way as I am now - especially on layouts where I want to use my handwriting (the journaling on those is often more stream of conscious and emotion-driven). My gut reaction is that we should write whichever way is most natural to us (and maybe take it upon ourselves to teach our kids to read it too).

KELLY | I would love for you to make a class (like your On the Road) based on your Technique Tuesday journaling class from last year. Or just a general class with journaling techniques and prompts and getting us thinking in new ways about our writing.

AE | Thanks Kelly! I have plans to turn that into a downloadable class (but not a specific timeline).

What A Difference | 2006


AUDRA | I have a question I that I ALWAYS have wanted to ask. I do NOT scrapbook layouts in chronological order. I always do a layout or project when I’m inspired or perhaps have a new batch of photos to work with. Which leads me to my question – I’m always SO inspired by your journaling,”your story” or your details in your layouts. When I look back at photos that are from say 5 plus yrs. ago I’d like to create a layout however, find myself totally STUCK because, I may not have a particular story or memory to go with it. What is the best way to create a GREAT looking layout if I feel something like this is missing? I’d LOVE any advice or examples. I have some great photos of when my kids were SO much younger that I’d love to make into layouts.

AE | Hi Audra - in general I don't scrapbook in chronological order either. Doing Project Life this year I've definitely been doing things more in order - but only as it pertains to 2011 within that project. Just today I started pulling together photos from an event last year to create a layout because the story was inspiring me.

A lot of the jouranling I do is written soon after the moments have passed and often recorded here on my blog. Chronicling stories on my blog allows me to write them in the present moment and then gives me easy access to the stories when I actually want to bring the words and the photos together (sometimes much later). There's quite a few stories I have here on my blog that haven't yet been scrapbooked - the words are there when I'm ready to tackle the layouts.

When I look at photos from five years ago I also might not remember "in the moment" details. What I will have though, is perspective. I'll have a whole different story to tell - maybe about how the person/the circumstance/the house/the situation has changed since then. In reality there will likely be many stories I can tell when looking at a five year old photo - potentially many, many more than if I would have tackled it in the moment because time has passed and I now have perspective.

Take those great photos you have of your kids and tell stories that will mean something to them. It's totally possible that the story you choose to tell might not have anything at all to do with what was happening when the photo was taken and that is perfectly okay. Use the photos as jumping off points to tell some of the more meaningful stories in the lives of your kids - or take the opportunity to express how you feel about them and how they've grown over the last few years. There's so much that can be said.

Don't discount your potential to add in your own personal perspective to those older photos. Sure you might not remember the exact details of the photo - but it's likely that the photos will evoke some sort of emotion within you. If they don't generate some sort of feeling within you it's possible you might want to move onto a photo that does.

From Life Artist

TIFFANY | If you have pictures of your childhood, siblings, etc, how to scrap them when you don’t know the stories? And make it look good?

AE | Doing this sort of scrapbooking is a fundamental shift in the way you view your stories. Rather than doing a who, what, where, when (when you don't know the circumstances you can't do it that way) try doing something along these lines: 

  1. What I love about these photos.
  2. What I love about my siblings through the years (group a bunch of photos from different years together if you have them and if not - one photo is perfectly enough).
  3. What I wish I knew - tell the story of how you don't know what was happening and how you wish you did.
  4. Focus on the emotion the photos evoke in you vs. the facts.
  5. Is there a thread from those photos that you can connect to today? In the example above I included photos of my brother and I when we were kids alongside photos of both of our first babies.

Pick stories and photos you really love - ones that you are connected with, that speak to your heart. You may not know the specific story from the photo but you know LOTS of stories from your entire life. Weave some of those threads together to document stories that are important to you that might not literally go along with the photos.

This post is part of a 2011 Memory Keeping Q&A series. Additional posts in this series will be listed below as they are posted. Past Q&A posts are available via the Category Archives here.

Products | Photos | Inspiration | Motivation & Time | Anna’s Baby Album | Storytelling

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30 thoughts

  1. Saskia K says…

    Thanks for this post, Ali! You've given me some new insides and some fresh inspiration.

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. Heather Smithson says…

    So inspiring Ali! I have stories to tell and a scrap closet that was messsy before, but is a disaster since the earthquake last week. You have inspired me to just GET STARTED, to move forward from where I am right now and to get the space workable and get the stories down. Thank you!

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Janette says…

    Once again Ali I've found so much here to inspire me. Thanks for everything you do!

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. Anya says…

    Thank you so much for taking time to answer all of these questions! We really do appreciate this! I will re-read these again and again, and write some things down.

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Stephanie says…

    Thanks so much for this post. I have just loaded Dropbox and Momento to my iphone. I didn't know about either of these apps and am so happy to find them!
    My mom recently passed away and I'm in the process of scanning all of her photos so that my two sisters and I will all have copies. Oh the memories these photos have stirred up. Now I feel like, with all of your advice, I can get these stories told. Thanks so much!

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. robyn says…

    we just had a baby last week, and i set up a private blog so i can keep memories super easily! whenever we take photos of him with our phones, i text it to the blog (super easy to do through blogger!) and it saves the moment for me! we plan to turn it into a Blurb book at some point, but for now we don't have to do hardly anything and the memories get captured!

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Alida says…

    Thanks Ali, I was feeling a little overwhelmed to document a weekend away, but reading your post, I've realized that there's more important, reflective stories to tell.

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. Juanita says…

    Wonderful post Ali. Thanks so much. Your tips for scrapping older photos and photos of our own childhood was very helpful. The 'wish I knew' perspective also sounds great for photos of our parents when they were children.

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. Nat says…

    Awesome post!

    Re how to keep the most important memories - I use GoogleDocs. That way the list is not locked on my hard drive or my phone. I can get a GoogleDoc online on my phone or on any computer. This way it's backed up securely and I can get and add to it anywhere.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. My Story | George's Story says…

    [...] Memory Keeping Q&A | Storytelling ( *{margin:0; padding:0;} ul{ list-style:none;} #socialbuttonnav {width:90%; overflow:hidden;margin:0 auto;} #socialbuttonnav li{background:none;overflow:hidden;width:65px; height:80px; line-height:30px; margin-right:2px; float:left; text-align:center;} #fb { text-align:center;border:none; } #fb iframe {text-align: center;float:left; } [...]

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  11. audra says…

    Hi Ali,

    I wanted to say a big THANK YOU for answering my question... I loved your insights & thoughts on this. Just what I needed. It will definitely be a HELP to me on my future layouts & projects. I also enjoyed the rest of the Q&A's Thank you for all you do for all of us!

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Wendy says…

    This is a great post! Hope you don't mind, I copied the last question about scrapbooking childhood photos that you don't know the story and am going to hang it in my craft area. I have been scrapping my baby pictures and have done no journaling because I have no idea what to write. I love the ideas you gave and will definitely do some. Thanks so much much for sharing!

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Jennifer Levin says…

    I've just spent the last two weeks going through my parents old photos as I prepare for their 50th anniversary celebration this weekend. I've loved seeing their lives through the years, and I feel so grateful to have so many of their photos.

    Thank you for this post. You teach us so much, and I'm completely inspired to get a start on telling some of the stories of their life together. The best part is that they're still here to help fill in the gaps of information.

    You should know the way you encourage all of us to tell the stories of our lives has made me more aware of the small everyday details, both now and from the past. If I had looked at these photos a year ago (before I started regularly reading your blog), I probably wouldn't have noticed all the details going on in the photos. I probably wouldn't have cared about those details or thought about their significance. You've taught me to look with different eyes. For that, I thank you!

    Hugs, ~Jen

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. AbbyS says…

    What a wonderful post, Ali!
    I'm always so inspired in the way you share your stories. I love looking at your layouts from the past. If there is one thing consistent about your layouts are the photos + the stories behind them. I admire how it's not all about 'the product' or embellishments.
    Thank you!

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. BF says…

    I love that you can upload your blog and turn it into a book. I think I will do that some day. What a great idea, thanks for sharing that, I had no idea.

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Claire says…

    A fantastic and most helpful post Ali, very many thanks for always inspiring me.

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. Candy says…

    Everyday you share so much of yourself and I am just in awe.
    I'm grateful for you in our world! Fondest Aloha.

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. Janie says…

    You always seem to get the "juices" flowing. I found some old photos that I must have shoved in my closet... a long time ago. I am going to start tonight with the journaling FIRST... otherwise I never get around to it. Thanks for this blog post!

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. dawn says…

    This was fun to read and some useful tips too. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. j.leija says…

    Ali! I'm being honest, didn't read much of this post. But i did read the first 2 questions. THANK YOU for mentioning Memento! I had no idea there was an app of this kind, perfect for Project 365, Project 12, and I so wish I had this for a Week in the Life! This was the first app I've ever purchased and I can already tell it's got some mileage. Again, thank you :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Kim B says…

    Ali do you ever get tired of hearing how wonderful you are? I sure hope not because you really are (+:
    I love all your story telling ideas but your answer to Tiffany just rocked my storytelling world a bit harder... Thanks for sharing all your scrapping knowledge with us.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Justine says…

    This was a fantastic Q & A. You gave me some helpful hints and also some reminders. Thanks for some jumping off points.

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. Timeless Creations says…

    I agree with what you said about the types of journaling you do. I love writing down big events and stories, but I also like to write little details that in 10 years I might not remember. Great post!

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. Lisa says…

    Thanks for this post Ali! Its good to get some perspective in story telling and layout planning for future/missing stories!

    Reply 0 Replies
  25. CindyM says…

    My tip for scrapping when you don't know the stories behind the photos:
    When my mother-in-law died last year, I knew that I wanted to put together a photobook as a keepsake for a small number of her cousins. I didn't know the stories behind the photos I found. I didn't know many stories about her life at all. However, as we were clearing away her belongings we found many poems, prayers, and quotes that she had clipped out of magazines, newpapers, and greeting cards. These clippings were used as bookmarkers, attached to mirrors, nestled in her wallet, and tucked between pages of her address book.
    I used the words from those clippings as the "text" surrounding the photos. Even though I don't have the story of the photos, I do have the story of words that my mother-in-law found inspirational, interesting, and that were important enough that she wanted to keep them. Also, I made sure to note in the photobook that the source of the photobook text was purely from my mother-in-law's collection of clippings.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Jules says…

      Cindy, what a wonderful way to preserve your MIL life and things that mattered to her. I may use this idea myself for scrapping photos from my own life where I do not have a lot of information about the circumstance of the photo - take a quote, poem etc (and heaven knows I collect lots of bits of wisdom from where ever I can :) ) and add that to the layout. It adds significance to me and reveals something of me to whoever sees the layout.

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