Tag Archives: telling your life story

The Maid Aibileen's Words from the Movie "The Help" Remind Us Why Telling Our Life Story Can Empower and Uplift Us

“No one ever asked me what it felt like to be me.”

Those are the words of Aibileen, one of the maids who agree to tell their compelling personal stories for the eye-opening, courageous book that emerges within the plot of the new movie “The Help.” I have not read the novel yet, but I saw the movie last night. It’s a compelling slice of life capturing the emerging Civil Rights spirit of the early 1960s. I thoroughly enjoyed and was moved by the movie in that regard. As a personal historian and memoir ghostwriter at Life Is a Book who interviews women and men from all walks of life to write their life story, I also came away from seeing “The Help” with a reminder of how empowering and uplifting it is for anyone to have the opportunity to share their stories with someone who really wants to know.

Often it feels as if the greatest gift I offer my life-story clients is simply to show up and, like Skeeter in “The Help,” demonstrate a curiosity and a healthy respect for what the other person has lived through, how it has shaped them, and what they really have to tell others about it all. Sometimes that life experience is dramatic, both personally and within the context of a major historical event such as a war. Sometimes it has the rawness, pain, or vulnerability conveyed by those maids. But the impact of having a witness to a part of their life story is evident even when my clients are telling me something not so headline-grabbing dramatic: a decision to leave home at 18; where they went on their first date with their spouse; what they learned the first time they got in trouble, etc. Often they inform me after our interview that a story they just recounted in great detail to me was something they hadn’t thought about for years because “no one ever asked me about it.” And now that I asked, they discovered they had a great deal to tell! Through the telling, they uncovered thoughts, feelings, and insights that made them feel somehow better about themselves. More complete. More understanding. More alive.

So if you have already seen “The Help” or plan to do so soon, I invite you to consider this as one of many valuable take-aways. Are you yearning to tell your story? Is it time to call upon a personal historian or memoir ghostwriter to ask you those questions about what it’s like to be you? Or is there someone in your family, or someone else you care about, who may be uplifted and empowered by you sitting down with them to ask them to share the stories of their lives? The rewards of being in the seat of Aibileen or Skeeter in the life-story interview process can be equally as rich and rewarding.

– Kevin Quirk, personal historian, memoir ghostwriter and 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)

AARP Magazine Notes Surge in Interest in Ordinary People Writing Their Life Story

“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”

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”

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