As a ghostwriter and book writing coach for autobiographies and memoirs, I work with many clients who seek to capture a dramatic life experience. It may be dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one. It could be surviving a tragic accident or severe illness or disease. Sometimes it’s about rising above a painful and destructive childhood. On the other end of the spectrum, some dramatic life experiences touch upon astounding good fortune or the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
I enjoy assisting authors write these kinds of life stories, and I’ve made a discovery that may be helpful to anyone in the midst of writing about their own dramatic life experience: It helps to cultivate a certain kind of “bifocal vision.”
Here’s how the term applies in writing your auotbiography or memoir. You, or the writer working with you, will need to have a sharp and clear close-up view of what happened and how it impacted you. You will want to zoom that “camera” in tight to bring in all the physical details that make the experience vivid and real, and you will be called upon to openly and honestly reveal all the emotions that come with the territory, both while it was happening and today in the retelling of it.
That’s just one lens. The other lens, and just as important, is a more distant view. By that I mean that in one way or another you’ll want to try to rise above the scene of what you lived through and are writing about so that you can offer a perspective about it that will make sense to readers. You are putting yourself in your readers’ shoes and asking yourself questions like these: what else do they need to know to fully understand what happened to me and how I came through it? How can I add something to help them see, feel, and identify with my story? Where should I take them next in relating the story?
This second lens of the “bifocal vision” often takes some time and patience to develop. It’s not easy to stand above the fray of your dramatic life experience and tune into what someone else may want to hear about it. It’s all so personal, and often highly charged.
This is where a ghostwriter or book writing coach can be especially valuable. We are already witnessing your story from the perspective of a reader, so we can report what we are experiencing when we read your account. We can invite you to share this important view from outside the eye of the hurricane. And we can help you bring an added dimension to your story so you will be will better positioned to reach, touch, or inspire more people in an even more profound way.
So you may want to consider hiring a ghostwriter to write the story for you, so that you can just sit back and tell the story of what happened to you and watch it emerge in a memoir or autobiography. Or you may want to call upon a book writing coach to help you cultivate that second lens and keep on writing your story yourself. Another option is to seek out a trusted family member, friend, or ally who can look at how you are telling your life story and offer input into what a typical reader may need from you.
Whatever resources you choose to bring to your life story writing process, remember that what you are doing in writing about your dramatic life experience is inherently valuable. You may be offering support, encouragement, healing, inspiration, or understanding to many people, some of whom you already know and others who will find their way to your memoir or autobiography because it’s just what they need.
– Kevin Quirk, author of “Your Life Is a Book and It’s Time to Write It,” has been a book writing coach and ghostwriter of memoirs and autobiographies for 15 years.