“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:
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”