The pointers I am giving today work for anybody, I think- but as you can probably tell, I can give the most advice from the scrap booking and writing angles. What you see above is my art journal/stash/repository/mess keeper. (Please ignore the messy desk in the background, yipes.) This is where all my stories start, whether they are scrapping, writing, or blogging related. I would advise anyone who is interested in collecting stories to find something similar. A journal works: I have a friend who has a big divided envelope type folder that she sticks things into, and still another has a big project board that she sticks things to. Lotta Jansdotter (and Ali Edwards, too) have arranged theirs by clip boards, nailed to the wall. The whole point of it is to have somewhere to park what you're collecting. This can get pretty vast, particularly in scrapbooking. But I have found that it is easier to work in chunks and focus on one thing at a time.
First, you need to give yourself an afternoon or even a weekend, depending on what you're after. Grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage, and a scratch pad. (Or your journal, if you're like me.) Start by asking yourself a question. "What are the stories I need to tell?" Maybe you want to tell about how you came to faith. Maybe you want to tell the story of your child's birth. Maybe you want to tell how great-Uncle Billy fought in World War II. Whatever it is, jot it down. I currently have a list of about fifty "life events" I want to tell. I am not a chronological story teller. I am not worried about telling the stories in order of their occurance. I work on the one that speaks to me, regardless of timeline. I know this is a huge stumbling block for scrapbookers in particular: lots and lots of photographs spanning years of time, and feeling guilty that you're scrapbooking your fourth child's birth before you've finished your wedding album. But since I have begun to focus on telling the story over getting it down in order, I know that the important stories around my wedding day have already been told. The rest of the album is just icing on a cake.
After you've got a good idea of the stories you want to tell, start asking yourself questions about the event. Who was it? Where was it? What was it? Why did it happen? When did it happen? How did it happen? What is the single most important thing to know about the story? What does the story mean to you? What details pop out at you when you think about it: smells, sounds, images? (The smell of my grandmother's purfume and the way her hair looked, for example.) Make sure to write these things down too.
The gathering stage comes next. In scrapbooking, this would most obviously be photographs and memorablia, journaling, etc. In writing, it might be as simple as gathering the story by asking others what they remember of the event, or it might be researching the time period, for example. Maybe you have your grandmother's dress that she wore that day. Maybe as a sewer or quilter, you want to put that in a quilt- you want to make a memory quilt with all the scraps of clothes your grandmother wore.
Here are two recent posts by Elise and Samantha that illustrate the gathering stage well: Elise jotted a little poem and included photographs, and Samantha jotted down in a stream of conciousness list some memories she had from childhood, including one about her childhood bed, including a photograph of her children in her old bed. For some of us, posting it on the blog is enough gathering and telling the story- we print our blogs off to hard copies at the end of the year. Or maybe blogging about it is just the first step.