Whether you turn to a personal historian or ghostwriter to write your life story book for you, or choose to write it yourself, here are a few suggestions to get you going. Of course, you’ve already started if you’ve been looking at old photo albums, doing some genealogy research, or reflecting on your past as a milestone birthday or anniversary approaches. If you seek a next step, you might benefit from these tips and exercises:
Yes, those old photos are priceless. Each one has a story to tell. Look them over. Remember. Wonder. Become curious. Consider other resources you can track down: diaries and journals, scrapbooks, report cards, old clothes, jewelry, awards or certificates, dolls, programs, ticket stubs, etc. Make notes about what you see and remember.
Get a digital tape recorder or video camera and invite a family member or friend to begin asking you some questions. Or, if you’re helping a loved one tell their life story, interview that person. The interviewer should choose a time and place that’s comfortable for the person to be interviewed. Take on a beginner’s mind. Ask open-ended questions. Keep your sessions short. Imagine that you are sitting down to coffee with a friend you haven’t seen for years.
Try Story Sparks
You may believe you are simply not a writer at all. I hear this often in my Writing Your Life Story classes. But you know what? A writer simply is someone engaged in the process of writing. So try engaging in one or more of these exercises:
- Sit down with a pen and notebook and write the words “I remember.” Then write for five minutes, without stopping, about anything that comes to mind, whether it comes as one specific experience or a bunch of jumbled images. For a more specific launching point, try this: “I remember the games I liked to play when I was 7…” or “I remember how it felt to turn 16…”
- Tell the story behind your name. It can be your first name, middle name, last name, married name, maiden name, nickname, or a name you gave yourself to be different.
- Tell a story about a family vacation or trip that you and others talk about over and over.
- Write a letter to someone, living or deceased, who has been important to you, beginning with the words, “If I had never known you…”
- Write about one dream or goal that you have not fulfilled – yet!
No matter how much or how little you start on your own, I am here to step in and help.
Learn the 3 Secrets of Writing Your Life Story
Whether you are writing your life story on your own or preparing to work with a personal historian or ghostwriter like me, I want to pass along a secret. Actually, it’s 3 secrets. During 12 years of teaching life-writing classes and working with individual life story clients, these secrets have proven that anyone can write the story of his or her life:
You are never too old, or too young, to write your life story.
I have assisted people from 19 to 94. If you think you’re too old to remember enough of your life story, invite input from others who know you. Or read memoirs from the same period as your childhood. If you think you’re too young, remember this: you don’t need to have lived a long life to have something important to write about; you only need the desire to share something about the life you’re living.
The first step in writing your life story is to decide why you’re doing this.
Write down your intention in writing your life story and display it at home. Declare why you want to write your life story, and name the person(s) you are doing it for. This reminder will get you moving and keep you going when you get stuck.
You can never tell it all, so tell it true.
Whether you’ve lived 60, 70, 80, 90 years or more – or if you’re a 20-something – you can sometimes feel overwhelmed at all the ground you feel you must cover. While you can’t capture everything that ever happened to you, you can tap the essence of your life by finding the stories and reflections that mean the most to you. And when you have that book of your life story, make sure you celebrate with your own personal book launch party!