Monthly Archives: February 2011

AARP Magazine Notes Surge in Interest in Ordinary People Writing Their Life Story

“Tell Your Story!” reads the main headline in an article in the “What’s New” section of the latest issue of AARP The Magazine. The story explains the fast-growing trend of ordinary people like us writing and publishing our life stories and notes that, unlike the small number of authors who have memoirs released by the traditional commercial publishers, we’re sure not doing it for the money. The article concludes by urging people to “write for fun, not for your finances.”

That’s part of the story. But there’s more to this picture than money, or the absence of it, in the process of undertaking to write about our life stories. Tomorrow night I will begin my next Autobiographical Writing class at the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and as I always do I will ask students why they want to write about their lives. Many do indicate that they are writing for enjoyment or pleasure, but the motivation and goals run much wider and deeper than that. Many students want to write their life story as a gift to loved ones. Others want to inspire anyone who may benefit from what they share about a major challenge they have overcome. They write their life story for personal discovery and enrichment. They write for healing and growth, or spiritual fulfilment, or to connect with others, or to find a greater sense of meaning in their unique life journey.

Sometimes the real reason students are writing their life story only emerges when they are well down the road of writing it. I’ve had students start out by saying they wanted to make people laugh with their funny stories and wind up writing a series of sad and poignant vignettes. I’ve had young moms declare they want to capture the joys (and more) of first-time motherhood and then find themselves writing mostly about their own childhood. And while some students admit to fantasies of Oprah calling, few if any ever speak of writing for profit.

The trend that AARP The Magazine recognizes, then, is really about people understanding the intrinsic life benefits of telling our stories. And it’s interesting to note that the magazine has acknowledged this trend before, with a recent article offering basic but valuable tips for writing your life story:

http://www.aarp.org/personal-growth/life-stories/info-06-2010/write-your-life-story-expert-tips.html

My forthcoming book “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It!”, further explores what draws us to sit down and capture the stories of our lives, what sometimes gets in the way, and what we can do to stay on track. Maybe one helpful reminder offered by the attention of AARP The Magazine is this: if you feel the urge to write your life story, you most definitely are not alone!

– Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historians, and author of the new book “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It: An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story”

If You Like Telling Your Life Story, You Will Probably Enjoy NPR's "The Story"

There are many resources out there for telling and writing your life story. My forthcoming guidebook “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It!” will offer a wealth of life-writing tips, strategies, tools, and the kind of encouragement that can help get you started in writing your life story and keep you going when you get stuck or discouraged. Natalie Goldberg’s “Old Friend from Far Away” is another invaluable guide. There are many published memoirs that can motivate anyone wanting to write their life story. But I’ve got another resource that I highly recommend to you if you like telling your life story, or just hearing others tell theirs. If you have not already tuned in, give NPR’s “The Story” a try (http://thestory.org).

Here’s what I like about The Story: it features extensive interviews with ordinary people trying to make sense out of living during our challenging times.  Unlike most mainstream media, they don’t interview officials and celebrities to relate stories about compelling stories happening right now. They talk to regular folks. After the Haiti earthquake, they brought on ordinary Americans and native Haitians who felt drawn to go to Haiti to join in the relief efforts, and to Haitians living there and trying to survive. With the economy reeling, they present interviews with people who have lost their homes or their jobs to find out how they’re making out. When something like Hurricane Katrina or the Gulf Coast oil disaster strike, they visit with people whose lives will be impacted for years to come – and they often follow up with those same people to see how they’re coping months or even years after we first hear their story.

Often the stories are inspiring. Sometimes they’re sad and poignant. Occasionally they’re just cute and funny. They extend beyond the headlines of today to zero in on fascinating slices of life from all over the country. That’s where I first heard about Grace dePass, the woman who tells us that everything she’s needed to learn in life she’s learned in the laundromat. It’s where I heard about The OG’s – the Original Grandparents who as 90-something husband and wife offer life advice through their website. What you don’t hear on The Story are the sound-bite interviews we get almost everywhere else. The people on The Story get to talk their story through in a way that helps us really get to know them, and appreciate them. We are hanging out with people just like us. It’s that quality of having a really good conversation over a cup of coffee at our kitchen table.

That’s what we can create when we write our life story, and that’s what I seek to bring in my role as life-writing guide and personal historian with men and women of all ages from all walks of life. When we tell our stories, and stick with them for awhile in the telling, we allow those who care about us, and some others who may be “listening in,” to learn something about how we have made sense of living not only today but in the years and decades of the past. We can relate our stories in such a way that they are no longer just “our story” but in some sense all of our stories. We open the door to a greater sense of connection, and a depth of meaning in how we have lived and where our lives have taken us.

By the way, The Story invites people like you and me to contact them if you’ve got a story you’d like to share.  Maybe I’ll hear about you there!

– Kevin Quirk, Life-Story Guide and Personal Historian at Life Is a Book, member of the Association of Personal Historians, and author of the new book “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It: An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story”