For many people, 2020 has been a disruptive, frustrating, heartbreaking and disorienting year. But as December winds down, it’s also an opportunity to take stock of the things that happened and to let your friends and family know how you’ve been doing through it all.
Creating a recap of 2020 with your own words and pictures also serves as your personal historical record of a very challenging year. Free software can guide the way. You can even make the whole thing on a smartphone or tablet. Here’s how.
Step 1: Tell Your Story
If tales from elaborate vacations or group outings are in short supply this year, think of the more local adventures you experienced — like adopting a cat, exploring the city on foot, learning how to cook or taking up the mandolin. If the whole family has something to report, ask each member of the household to contribute a paragraph or two.
As for the physical writing, jot your thoughts down in your notes app or a word processing program, like Apple’s Pages or Google Docs. Both of these are free, probably already on your device and run on smartphones, on tablets and in computer web browsers. (You can also jump to Step 3 and start writing in a template.)
If you dislike using an on-screen keyboard to enter large amounts of text, connect an inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard to your phone or tablet for a more familiar typing experience. (No matter how you enter the words, be sure to run the spell-checker and proofread your document.)
Step 2: Add Pictures
Even if travel snaps are in short supply and the 2020 school pictures are Zoom screenshots, browse your photo library for other images to visually document your year.
For a year-end family portrait that includes everyone, set the camera timer so the photographer has a few seconds to jump into the frame. Snapshots from your walks around town, outdoor dining with friends, close-ups of the garden flowers and pet photos can capture life as you lived it in 2020, even in a lockdown or quarantine.
Step 3: Design Your Newsletter
Now it’s time to combine your words and pictures into an eye-catching document. If you’ve never created a layout before, most word processing programs include a template gallery you can use as a starting point; Apple’s Pages and Google Docs include templates.
In the gallery, choose a template you like and then replace the formatted sample text by highlighting it and writing (or pasting in) your own words. Tap or click in sample images to replace them with photos from your own photo library, or look for a menu option to insert new images.
If you don’t like the template options, design your own document from scratch in your word processing app. Just keep in mind a few basic visual tips: Don’t use a dozen different fonts that might clash and distract the reader from your words. Use type sizes big enough for comfortable reading. And, despite the season, be mindful of recipients who may have red/green color blindness when you choose type colors and page backgrounds.
Step 4: Print and Mail It
If you have a printer, paper, envelopes and a good supply of ink, you have what you need to produce your newsletter right at home. (You can even order stamps from the U.S. Postal Service.) However, it’s a good idea to print one first and proofread the document again before sending 50 copies through the printer.
If you don’t have a printer or a local print shop to handle the job, consider the online services of an office-supply store, where you can upload your newsletter document for output and pickup (or delivery). Staples prints custom documents and holiday cards, as do Office Depot and FedEx Office. These custom-printing sites also have templates and design guidance if you’d like to create your newsletter right there.
Step 5: Or Just Email It
Want to save time, money, ink and paper? Start by exporting a copy of your newsletter document as a PDF file, an option most word processing programs offer. Creating a PDF makes a copy that looks just like your original document, but can be opened on most devices. Check your app’s menu for share, export or “save as PDF” option. After you’ve saved your newsletter as a PDF, attach the new file to a message and send it out to everyone on your mailing list.
Sure, the notion of a year-end newsletter may seem quaint. But if there’s any wisdom 2020 has imparted, it’s that staying connected to each other is important.