Tag Archives: Life Is a Book

Autobiography Ghostwriter Views Celebration of Life Memorials As Another Way of Honoring Our Life Stories

I was recently in the midst of a long drive from Virginia to Massachusetts for a family wedding when I caught part of an NPR interview in which the subject of memorial services came up. The point was made that in the last few decades we have seen a growing trend toward memorial services oriented more toward a celebration of life of the person who has just passed away, and that the family and often the deceased themselves play an active role in planning it.

I thought about that. Regardless of your religious affiliation or spiritual leanings, have you also noticed this shift toward more personal and celebratory memorial services? Fifty years ago, you didn’t often come upon memorial services that made room for vibrant music, or family and friends sharing both the humorous as well as the profound memories of the person they had gathered to pay tribute to. You didn’t see many references to popular songs, or the deceased’s favorite poems or sayings about life. You didn’t hear a whole lot of stories that would begin, “And I’ll never forget that time when she was 8 years old and she…”

From my perspective as a memoir ghostwriter and teacher of “Autobiographical Writing” classes, the trend toward more personal and sometimes more colorful end-of-life celebrations is another way our culture has found to preserve and share our life stories. It appears to fit our need to capture our memories, and to honor our lives, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary they may be.

And this shift in the format and approach to memorial services today leaves me with this question: do we really need to wait until a loved one has died to organize and present a moving and meaningful celebration of their life?

–  Kevin Quirk is a ghostwriter and book writing coach for memoirs and autobiographies through his service Life Is a Book. He is the author of “Life Is a Book And it’s Time to Write It: An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story (www.yourlifeisabook.com).

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”

In Writing Your Life Story, Try New Ideas to Capture the Most Important People in Your Life

As a ghostwriter and personal historian who writes the life stories of ordinary people, and a teacher of Writing Your Life Story classes, I’m always looking for new ways to help men and women capture meaningful stories about the most important people in their lives. Recently I’ve been introducing new Story Sparks to help evoke feelings and images that can open the door to richer and more compelling stories about those key people. Story Sparks, by the way, are simply open-ended phrases that you can use as a prompt to begin writing for five or ten minutes in a spontaneous response.

Let’s say you’re planning to write more about your mother. You have certain stories that you know you are going to include in your life story, but then once you get those down you’re left with a sense that there is something more you want to bring forward and you’re not sure how to do it. Try this Story Spark:

“She is/was the kind of mother who would…”

Was she the kind of mother who would always know just what you were up to? Or the kind of mother who would sacrifice her needs for the family? Or the kind of mother who would keep you on your toes? Or the kind of mother who would always be there when you stumbled or fell? 

Notice how just describing your mother this way instantly leads you to recall stories that illustrate and highlight her manner. Plunge right into those stories while they are fresh.

Then see what different associations and stories might be stirred when you add a twist to that Story Spark:

“She is/was the kind of mother who would never…”   

Is she the kind mother who would never say anything to hurt someone’s feelings? Or the kind of mother who would never admit that she was wrong? Or the kind of mother who would never say no when you asked to stop for ice cream? Or the kind of mother who would never let your leave the table before you finished everything on your plate?

Again, watch for those stories that will spill out once you have tapped this feeling tone related to a certain perspective of your mother.

You can experiment with many different approaches to pin down lively and informative descriptions of your mother’s personality and style of parenting. Here are a few other possibilities:

“She is/was the kind of mother who would say things that would make you…”

“She is/was the kind of mother who would wake up every morning and…”

“She is/was the kind of mother who would look at the family budget and…”

You can certainly apply the same kinds of Story Spark prompts to writing about your father, or your grandparents, or any other important person in your life. And if you are a mother or father, you can have fun in writing your life story by flipping the same statements around and applying them to yourself:

“I am the kind of mother who will always (or will never)…”

These are just a few ideas for zeroing in on the kinds of stories that will most make your life story come alive. Feel free to play around with new ideas of your own – and let me know if youc ome up with any that I might add to my list!

– Kevin Quirk, founder of Life Is a Book (formerly Memoirs for life), 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”

As a Guide to Writing Your Life Story, My Most Important Job Is…Getting You to Do It!

As founder of Life Is a Book and a personal hstorian, I have been helping people write their life stories for 15 years.  I assist ordinary people from all over the country, and the world, in putting together autobiographies and personal history books that share their most meaningful life stories in my role as ghostwriter, biographer, or personal historian.

There are many parts of my job, whether I am teaching, coaching, or doing complete interviews and writing of a life story book. But I have found that the most important and valuable part is simply to get people to do it!

Why? Because we have so many perfectly logical reasons why we can’t possibly write a book about our life, or why we can’t go on if we get stuck.

First, the idea of writing a book can sound so intimidating. Aren’t life story books supposed to be LONG? How would I ever find that much to say about MY life? Well, Bill Clinton’s My Life might have run 957 pages, but there’s nothing that says your book can’t be full and complete at ten percent of that size. The book you write about your life story may turn out to be 200 pages, or 50 pages, or no thicker than a packet of tax forms – and much easier and more enjoyable to fill out! I bet that if I sat down with my digital tape recorder and began asking you questions about your life today, you’d be amazed at how much you really have to say.

Yes, but what about time, you ask? You don’t have the time or inclination to hunker down in your office, den, bedroom or coffee shop and stare at a blank notebook or laptop screen for five hours a day, or five months of the year, right? You don’t even have time to sit down for interviews with a personal historian like me? Well, I’m here to tell you that writing a book about your life need not wear you down or keep you up at night. And I can almost guarantee you that when you’re done, when you’re holding the book about your life in your hands or looking at it on some new techno marvel, you’re not going to feel drained. You’ll be too excited about showing your new baby around!

“Okay,” you say, “even if I do sit myself down to write this book about my life, how on earth will I ever get it published? Don’t you have to rich or famous to do that?” Well, it’s true that most of the memoirs or autobiographies you find in your favorite bookstore are written by celebrities, although a growing number of no-name folks are maneuvering their way into the club. But those are just the life stories published by commercial publishers, the corporate giants who dominate one side of the industry. The good news for the rest of us is that they’re not the only game in town. Did you know that there are now many more books self-published or independently published than those published by the “real” publishers? And thanks to modern technology and limitless new options, you may publish a book that looks as good as anything in Barnes and Noble for less than the cost of a new computer system. Your book will last a lot longer too.

Maybe you haven’t thought nearly that far ahead. Maybe your stumbling block sounds something like this: I don’t have anything really interesting to write about. My life has actually been pretty ordinary. Oh really? Try telling that to your family members who heard about this idea of yours to maybe write a book about your life. They know what interests them, and they’re your target audience. They’re eagerly awaiting all those “ordinary” stories, from why you always got good (or bad) grades at school, to your most unforgettable holiday or birthday experience, to your decision to start a family (or not to).

Natalie Goldberg, author of an excellent guidebook on memoirs called Old Friend from Far Away, has been inspiring ordinary people to write about their simple memories for decades. She once said that “We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded…{We are} the carriers of details that make up history.”

So now you may be thinking, Well, maybe I do have some of those life details to record, but I’m just too young to tell my life story. You can’t write your life story until you’re at least 70 or 80, right? That’s what a 30-something mother of two young children in one of my life-writing classes at the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies believed when she signed up. Then she looked around the classroom. “I hope no one is offended,” she said, “but I thought I was going to be surrounded by, you know, old people. But now I see the median age here must be closer to me than my grandmother.” Everyone laughed, especially the grandmothers.

You don’t need to have lived a long life to have something important to write about to begin your autobiography or personal history. You only need the desire to share something important about the life you’re living.

And to those who think they’re too old to start writing their life story, because you just can’t remember what happened when you were younger, I’ll just say that I’ve worked with clients from 19 to 94. And that 94 year old, who still worked thirty hours a week, amazed herself at what she was able to recall about her childhood…with a little respectful prodding.

The truth is, the desire to write the story of our lives cuts across all ages, geographic regions, and socioeconomic levels. It’s a universal urge, and it goes back at least to the days of Native Americans gathering in sacred circles to share their stories. Somewhere inside us we know that writing a book about our life will bring real value to those we love, and to others who may read it, while enriching our own lives along the way.

And today, with our families spread apart and our busy cell phone-laptop lifetsyles, the need to tell our stories is stronger than ever. We hunger to find meaning, to make connections, to feel known. Email and social networks just don’t replace the warmth and closeness of gathering in the living room with our extended families to recount and savor the everyday stories of our lives.

Everywhere we look, we see some new social forums reminding us that the phenomenon of telling our everyday stories is reaching a tipping point. There is a growing Write Your Life movement out there, and people from New Hampshire to New Mexico are finding themselves part of it.

So can you. You can decide to write the book of your life, along or with help from a personal historian. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written a lot, a little, or not at all. If you’re writing it yourself, let me remind you that even if you’d never call yourself a “writer,” you are. My dictionary defines a writer as: “a person engaged in writing books” or “a person who commits thoughts to writing.” Kind of fits, doesn’t it? I would just add that if you recognize that life is a book, you are fully qualified to writing yours – today!

And if you still don’t feel right calling yourself a writer, call yourself a delivery person. You are going to take the stories of your life, the details that make a simple portrait of who you are, and deliver them to those who care about you or what you may have to say to them. You are doing something important. You deserve to give yourself full permission to do it.

And while you certainly will want to do your best to make it all sound clear and encouraging, you do not have to master the craft of writing to put together and publish your life story. That right is yours simply by living your life and wanting to share it. Your loved ones are not waiting to hear from Hemingway; they’re waiting to hear from you. So repeat after me:

I have a story to tell.

I can tell it in my own way.

– Kevin Quirk, Ghostwriter of life-story books and personal historian through 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”

Today's Question from Your Life Story Guide: Where Was Your Favorite Place to Live?

I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, and while it’s not the Deep, Deep South, it is one of those places where the news that the seasons have changed and Fall has begun seems to come verrry slowly about now. It’s much too hot this week! September is my least favorite month in Virginia, most likely because it was my favorite month while growing up in New England and later living in the Hudson River Valley in New York. Ah, those cool, crisp Autumn days, and the brilliant foliage…But then I don’t miss the North in late March when Spring seemed only a fantasy there, while here in Virginia we are in full bloom.

Do you have fovorite places you have lived in, considering not only the weater and climate but community, cost of living, cultural opportunities, schools, political leanings, etc.? In my experience in teaching Writing Your Life Story classes and helping inividual clients write their life story in a book as personal historian or ghostwriter, I’ve found that one byproduct of being a more mobile society today is that we cultivate a lot more likes, and dislikes, of the different places we have called home. I have been working on a life story book with a husband and wife who lived in five foreign counties and they had very strong opinions (which did not always match!) about what was best and worst about each country. And when they began debating the merits of those places they had lived in, engaging stories that illustrated their feelings naturally sprang up.

So if you’re looking for something new or interesting to write about in capturing your life story, and you have lived in a few or many more places, try sitting down and writing your thoughts about the best and worst places, according to weather/climate and any other factor that seems important to you. See what new memories and stories pour out to highlight your opinions. Some life writers wind up making a case for others to consider about why their favorite state, city, or town should be everybody’s favorite. If you want to sell us on the merits of Montana or Georgia or Brooklyn or Santa Monica or wherever, you will find yourself tapping the real reasons why those homes have been, or are, so dear to you.

So get started. Where was Your Favorite Place to Live? And why?

– Kevin Quirk, Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historians