Tag Archives: Life Story Book

When You Publish a Book about Your Life Story, Enjoy Your Book Launch Party

So you’re envisioning what it might be like when you finish writing a book about your life story and someday guide it to publication. You’re anticipating the satisfaction, and the relief, from having seen your project through from start to finish. You’re feeling excited, and maybe a little bit nervous, about your family, friends, coworkers and yes, even strangers, reading your very personal accounts of your life experience. Maybe you’re even flashing to images of getting a surprise phone call from someone like…Oprah? Don’t forget to add to your visions a very important moment to plan for and bring to fruition: a fun and meaningful Book Launch Party!

I just had the pleasure of attending a Book Launch Party for John Thomas, one of my clients who happens to live in my city of Charlottesville, Virginia. John has just published his book “MY SAINTS ALIVE: Reflections on a Journey of Love, Loss and Life.” The book is a moving compilation of stories and experiences born from John’s rich, soulful journey of having two loves of his life who both died from breast cancer. The book is both a profound portrait of the possibilities of a grief journey after losing a loved one, and an engaging, living tribute to Susan and Barbara, his two wives, with whom he maintains an active spiritual relationship.  You can learn more about the book by visiting John’s website: http://www.mysaintsalive.com/.

I first began listening to John’s stories when he was a student in my Autobiographical Writing class at the University of Virginia School of Continuing and Professional Studies in Fall 2009. After the eight-week class ended, I assisted him as a life book coach and adviser, helping him shape and organize the reflections that kept pouring from his soul to his pen at 3 or 4 in the morning. When John felt ready to share his accounts in a book, he made an unusual and thoughtful choice: he would order a small number of hardcover copies to give to family, friends, and others who had helped him on his jouney, as well as a softcover edition for retail forums.

When it came time for the Book Launch Party, John carefully wrapped each copy of the hardcover book and printed a personal inscription for each recipient. He invited not only family and friends but those who had assisted him in producing the book: myself, his graphic design specialist, his website developer, his therapeutic guide, his proofreader, his photographer. While I can’t begin to describe the care and attention John devoted to arranging his home for this event, I will provide one clue: because one wife loved pink roses and another loved white roses, we were greeted by white and pink everywhere, right down to the napkins! John spoke for a few minutes to share his appreciation to all the important people in his life and to reflect on his book, ending with a brief excerpt. Then it was time for the cake!

The event was memorable both for John and for those of us privileged to attend. Your own Book Launch Party is sure to be that for you as well. It doesn’t really matter where you have it, how you decorate the space, what food or drink you serve, or what words you speak. The idea is to provide an experience for you, and for those you care about, and to honor what it is you have done by capturing your life story or some part of it in your own book. In my own 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,” I name the Book Launch Party as a step just as important as any of the writing, organizing, or editing. It’s a time for others to say “Hooray!” to you, and for you to sit back and say to yourself, “Wow, I really did it.”

– Kevin Quirk, life-story ghostwriter, personal historian, editor, and author of “YOUR LIFE IS A BOOK – AND IT’S TIME TO WRITE IT! An A-to-Z Guide to Help Anyone Write Their Life Story.” Member of the Association of Personal Historians.

When Chronicling Your Career Path in Your Life Story Book, It's OK to Include the Zigs and Zags

As you plan your life story book, you’re most likely going to include some account of your work or career path, or your spouse’s career history. You’re going to tell your readers something about the jobs you have performed or positions you have held, and you’ll probably tell some stories to shed light on some of your achievments, setbacks, rewards, frustrations, and characters you met along the way.

I’d like to offer a new twist you may want to try as you set about capturing that work life in your personal history.

Draw a line that symbolizes your history, or your spouse’s history, in the realm of work and career. You get to choose whether it’s a horizontal or vertical line, how long the line goes, and what color to draw it in.

Notice what your line looks like. Is it a straight trajectory, representing a smooth and consistent profession? Does it point up and up, but then slip back down, maybe way down, before leveling out again as a symbol of your successes and failures? Is it more of a curved line? Or does it seem to be full of zigs and zags, going every which way, with no clear center point on the horizon?

It’s always fun when my students in my Writing Your Life Story and Autobiographical Writing classes try this exercise. We discover all sorts of variations in our career lines. I’ve seen some straight lines, with accompanying stories of a long and steady career as a teacher, a sales rep or manager, an attorney, a nurse, a military officer, an engineer, and even a Broadway actress. Many students express a great deal of grtaitude for the opportunity to have identified, pursued and fulfilled a career in their chosen field.

For many other students, though, the line is anything but straight. Students explain their path of working in three, four, five or more arenas, and often they’re still adding to their list. I recently had one student who was celebrating his 70th birthday and, after nearing retirement from his fourth profession, he was wondering out loud, “I wonder what career is next?”

Many women reflect back on a journey where they transitioned from a stay-at-home Mom to a teacher, or from an attorney to a stay-at-home Mom.  And it’s alwasy moving to hear a woman proudly proclaim that her one career was to raise her children, and we all get a laugh when we see that the line she drew to capture that endeavor is not close to being straight anyway!

I’ve certainly had my share of zigs and zags. I started out as a sportswriter, reporting on the fortunes of college basketball titans North Craolina and Duke. When I left journalism after 12 years, I worked on the support staff of a non-profit, then pursued a couple of Masters degrees that led me to part-time counseling, teaching composition to college freshmen, and then  moving into the world of books as author, gostwriter, edior, and book coach. Along the way I found the role that often stirs the most passion: teaching classes on writing your life story. That’s the short-form version. My complete line, though, would also need to weave in assorted work that included a stint at a homeless shelter in San Francisco, substitute teaching in inner-city schools in Oakland, and conducting telephone political surveys. I could tell you a lot of memorable experiences about those three work ventures!

At some checkpoint of my stops and starts I remember reading a term thar resonated with my experience: “the crooked-line path.” Heath Frost, a colleague who counseled women and men on finding their right livelihood, used it to reassure us that it’s actually quite natural to move along on a work and life path that may not look very straight to others, or to ourselves. Of course, the “crooked” here by no means refers to being dishonest or unethical. It just means we may often find ourselvs changing directions and changing our minds as our work and career needs and wants dictate.

So, do you have a few work and career zigs and zags to share with the readers of your life story book? Did you or your spouse re-align your career route once, twice, several times? Do you have some very unusual zigs and zags on your road? Have you worked at some jobs that you’d rather not recall, but if you did you might find some funny or even zany stories waiting to be recalled?

As you unearth the raw material for your autiopbiography, memoir, or personal history, I invite you to spend some time exploring or just playing with not only the career line-drawing but the story-telling of the many parts of your life story that involve the work you have done. During today’s troubled economic times, your examples may help inspire or just reassure younger people who are very quickly coming to grips with a growing reality: the straight-line path of work and career that may have the norm long ago is simply not available for many people today. But, you can remind them, following a path of zigs and zags can still turn out to be fun, rewarding – or just something they will love telling others about someday!

– Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book (formerly Memoirs for Life), Member of the Association of Personal Historians

The Bridge on the River Kwai Was My First Movie – Do You Remember Yours?

I’m not a big fan of YouTube, but the other day it proved very handy when I was seeking to respond to my 8 year old son’s persistent request. Many months ago he had asked me the name of the first movie I remember watching as a boy, and I recalled that it was “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” He wanted to see the DVD, of course, but we try to steer clear of violent war movies so I declined. “But Dad, can’t you just let me see a little bit of the movie?” he kept asking.

Ironically, while “The Bridge on the River Kwai” had a real impact on me when I saw it with my whole family at a drive-in theater in the late 1950s, I never saw it again. Not on video, not on DVD, not on a  rerun on some TV movie channel. I did remember the basic plot line, though: those British soldiers being ordered to build the bridge by their Japanese captors and the sustained drama over whether it would or would not be blown up in the grand finale. I especially remembered that whistling tune that once you hear it a few times you doubt you’ll ever get it out of your mind. So, I figured, maybe I could find a clip with just that whistling and no bloodshed.

Sure enough, YouTube delivered. My son and I watched on my computer as the British soldiers marched in whistling that song in perfect harmony. After thanking me for finally sharing this snippet of my first movie, he turned to me an hour later and said, “Dad, I can’t get that whistling tune out of my head.” I smiled. An event in my early life experience had come full circle. I was even moved to do some research about “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, and that tune. I learned that the song’s title was “Colonel Bogey March” and that it did have words to it. In fact, during World War II, the British had changed the lyrics to fill it with disparaging remarks about Hitler. I haven’t told my son that part yet.

This experience reminded me that most of us who are devoted to telling our life story have an engaging story to tell about the first movie we remember seeing or that had any impact on us. The story might be all about when we first saw it, or it might focus on a follow-up experience from more recent times, as it did for me.

So give this a try as an entry for your life story book. Begin with the following phrase and write for five minutes on:

“The first movie I remember watching (or that had an impact one me) was…”

Tell me what this spark triggers for your life story book.

– Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book (formerly Memoirs for Life), Member of the Association of Personal Historians

2010 Elections Can Stir Personal Remembrances of Elections Past to Enliven Our Life Story Book

I remember the smile from my 90-something life story client when I asked her about her earliest memories of elections. Because her father had been a local elected official in their small Midwestern city, she had many vivid reflections. They all had one focus: candy.

“As a young girl I loved going with my dad to all the county fairs and other public events during election time,” she said. “He always brought a lot of candy to give out, and I made sure I always got the most, and the best chocolates! If we had not gone out for awhile, I would ask him: ‘When are we going out campaigning again?’ ”

So as the leaves begin to turn each October and the media is awash with the latest local, statewide or presidential election news stories and ads, I regularly invite students in my Writing Your Life Story classes to share memories of elections gone by. Recently a woman who had been the wife of an elected official wrote about how she could never share with others how she had voted because of her husband’s public position. She had a confession: she secretly voted the opposite of his vote to balance things out!

A male student remembered as a child listening to his dad rant and rave about FDR – even though he voted for him every time. A woman recalled her father’s dilemma in the 1960 election: he was a devout Catholic (as was JFK) and a devout Republican. How could he vote against either Kennedy or Nixon?

In another class, a woman fought tears as she described the details of that day as a young girl that she was able to meet and briefly speak to Harry Truman.  A moment later, a woman sitting across from her blurted out, “I had the same kind of experience when I got to meet Ike!”

As you seek to capture your own autobiography or life story in a book, either by yourself or with a personal historian, you may be tempted to keep politics out of the picture. You don’t want to offend others, right? Of course, it’s your life story book – if you do want to get up on your soap box and proclaim your most passionate opinions and attitudes about political issues of yesterday or today, you have every right to do so! But even if that’s not your style, I would urge you to sift through what may be very lively and poignant stories that relate to poltiics: the stories about your personal experience with campaigns and elections that you either observed among family members or were an active part of yourself. You may well discover that some of your most engaging stories for your autobiography or life story emerge when you write your first thoughts to the Story Spark that begins:

“The first election that I really paid much attention to was…”

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

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”