Tag Archives: autobiography

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”

Back to School Time Stirs Our Memories of New Beginnings in Our Lives

My son Aibek went back to school last week, and like many kids preparing for this annual new beginning he wasn’t exactly embracing it. In fact, on the cusp of third grade he came up with a very clear plan for how the world should run. “We should have nine months of summer vacation and three months of school!” he proclaimed.

There’s something about this back-to-school time of year that just naturally stirs not only creative innovations but lots of mixed feelings: excitement, curiosity, sadness, anxiety, disorientation. Gowing up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts in the ’60s, I remember having all of those feelings – sometimes all at once. They would most churn up on Labor Day because we always started school the Wednesday after the holiday. So on Labor Day especially I understood that in one way or another, I was plunging into the unknown.

Sometimes that new beginning can be especially dramatic. My son and I spent the week before back-to-school on board the Semester at Sea ship as it sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  My wife Krista was part of the staff training and orientation preparing for the arrival of 650 students about to sail around the world for their Fall 2010 Semester program. “Your life is about to change” was the mantra that students soon would hear.

Isn’t that true to one degree or another for all of us swept up in the back-to-school spirit? Whether we are a student, a parent, a teacher, or just an observer of this late-summer ritual, we feel that sense of sailing off into the unknown. And whether the new beginning ultimately turns out to be fun or scary, or just a small change from what we had known before, we recognize that a new year has truly begun.

That’s why for years after my own school days, and before my son came along, I sitll carried that sense of late August or early Sepetmber as the real passage to the new year. The calendar could try to tell us that January 1 was New Year’s Day, but I was never fooled. The new year began when school started. That’s when the barometer would measure who I was, how I fit (or didn’t), and what I would be undertaking. That’s when we all would measure how one another had changed, whether it be the boy who grew six inches, the girl (or boy!) who sported a drastic new hair style, or the family that had moved out of town. So many of my prominent memories are wrapped around that time of year.

Is it that way for you? Does Labor Day and this back-to-school climate stir your memories of your own new beginnings tied to the school calendar? If you are writing your life story, or telling your life story to someone who is helping you to  preserve your memories in a memoir or autobiography,  you might find that focusing on back-to-school will just naturally bring poignant stories to the forefront. Quick, get them down before the New Year slips away!

– Kevin Quirk, Life Is a Book, Member of the Association of Personal Historitans and the Association of Ghostwriters

If You're Writing a Book about Your Life Story, Here's Encouraging News: Self-publishing Has Surged Ahead of Traditional Publishing

It used to be, not all that long ago, that if you self-published a book about your life story, or anything else, you were labeled for being a part of the fringe minority of “vanity publishing.” You were scorned: the little guy, dwarfed by the giants of traditional or commercial publishing. But oh how things have changed.

A few months ago R.R. Bowker released a report that revealed that in 2009 self-published books (and other “non-traditional” titles) outnumbered traditional books by about 3-to-1 http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publishing-and-marketing/article/42826-self-published-titles-topped-764-000-in-2009-as-traditional-output-dipped.html. That means that regular people writing and publishing their own books their own way have come to rule the publishing inustry. Along with the trends toward e-books, this news is part of a real revolution in the world of books – and it’s good news for anyone who wants to write and publish their memoir or autobiography alone or with help from a ghostwriter or personal historian like me. As I tell my life-writing students and clients often, there has never been a better time to publish our own books. With new technology, costs are much more affordable than the days of having to warehouse 1,000 of your books in your garage. And now, we’re winning the numbers game too! Publishing a book, far from an exercise in ego, is an empowering act that can help reach people and make a difference in their lives. That’s why more people are doing it every day.

There will always be a place for those commercial or traditional publishers. My own last book, “Brace for Impact: Miracle on the Hudson Survivors Share Their Stories of Near Death and Hope for New Life,” was published by HCI Books (Health Communications, Inc.), publisher of many of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.  I liked wading in those waters again, and I likely will do it again.

But I am equally at home in my role of helping people write their life story as personal historian, ghostwriter, editor, or publishing coach. I love watching the excitement of someone bringing their book into the world. And now, I enjoy it even more in knowing that in the hierarchy of book publishing, we have become the “giants!”

Kevin Quirk, Founder of Life Is a Book, which is dedicated to assisting men and women of all ages in preserving their life stories, 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 Build It, She Will Come: How the Keeper of the Field of Dreams Found His Mate

How did you meet your husband or wife? What people or forces brought you together? How soon did you know that you had found your life partner?

When I teach my classes on Writing Your Life Story at the University of Virginia’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and at OLLI of UVA, I always enjoy the stories that emerge from those questions. Sometimes those “how we met” accounts touch all of us in the class. Sometimes they make us laugh. Sometimes they leave us nodding our heads in a knowing way. And sometimes they leave us with a sense of awe or mystery.

I was reminded of that while reading an article about the Field of Dreams – no, not the movie per se, but the physical Field of Dreams where the movie was filmed in Iowa. Don and Becky Lansing own the land and are caretakers of the cornfield-turned-baseball-field that lures thousands of people to pay homage to the site of the filming of the popular Kevin Costner film. The Boston Globe article “Living in a Dream World” was mostly about how the Lansings are selling the property, but that’s not what most caught my eye. The article also painted a picture of what draws people to the Field of Dreams and what happens when they get there. This is where it gets interesting.

You see, Don Lansing was a lifelong bachelor in 1995. Becky was a widow in Colorado. She had a dream – three dreams actually – telling her to go visit the Field of Dreams. She was to eat a hot dog and a root beer and sit in the stands. She didn’t ask why. She just took the trip, even though it was around New Year’s, which in Iowa is not exactly an ideal time to hang out at a baseball field. She called Don Lansing ahead of time and when she arrived he said, “I was waiting for you.” Becky knew that day that he was the one – the reason her dream had guided her to the Field of Dreams. Don says the field really is magic http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/minors/articles/2010/07/20/couple_selling_fabled_field_hopes_its_not_living_in_a_dream_world/.

What sort of magic guided you to your husband or wife? Of course, your version may fall more into the “ordinary magic” category. That’s true for most of us. In my work as personal historian for Memoirs for Life I’ve been interviewing a couple who met on a blind date. They had grown up in the same town but had never known each other, but the real magic for them came in discovering just how much they shared in their common background – discoveries that continued all the way through uncovering startling commonalities while researching their genealogy after decades of married life.

So if you are looking for a good place to start your memoir or autobiography, you might consider writing or telling that story of how you met the love of your life. And what if your story is nothing like Don and Becky Lansing and the Field of Dreams because when you first met your spouse you didn’t even think you’d want to spend five minutes together, let alone 30 or 40 years? Ah, now that sounds like an interesting story…

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