10 Things A Life Story Writer Must Know
1. You have a story! Everyone does. You may think your life is ordinary, that there is nothing to write home about but its simply not true. Let me demonstrate why. Think of an ancestor, it could be a parent, grand parent or someone further back in time. If you could hold in your hands words they had written about their everyday life how would you feel? You would probably feel immensely grateful that they took the time to write it. You would probably be amazed at how different their life and their world is from yours. You would be intrigued to know the every day, ordinary details that made up their life. You would be humbled and inspired by their words. Well that will be you one day. You will be some one’s ancester whether direct line or not. One of my treasures is a biography my great uncle wrote about his life. Okay so got it? You have a story and people want to know.
2. You can write your story like no one else can! Well think about it. Even a Purlitzer prize winner cannot write in your own voice, recall your experiences or how you felt. To be truly your story, truly authentic it has to be written by you. If that includes mis-spellings, so be it. You can of course spell check and have someone check the grammar but that is up to you. Write as you would speak, show your personality, be you. No one else can write your story like you can.
3. But, I don’t know how to write! I hated school. English was never my thing. I never got good grades on my papers. What do I say to that? Poohey! Its a load of poohey! You know how to talk, right. Do you tell stories? You tell your family what happened to you today at work or at home or when you went shopping, or talking on the phone to a friend. You know the alphabet and how to make words? You know how to put words into sentences? Okay, you can do it! You can hand write it and have someone else type it or you can type it. You could use voice activated software to speak and it will type. You can record your stories and have someone else transcribe them. You could make a video recording and have that transcribed. We are ‘wired’ for story. Just think about it, we tell stories every day. We listen to stories every day. We watch the news and listen to stories about people we never met or never knew. The need for story is the need to communicate with other people. It is the need for connection. Tell your stories and keep your family connected.
4. Where the heck do I start?! I am sooooooooo overwhelmed. You can start anywhere. I usually tell foks to start with their happiest, brightest memories. Start with the stories that first come to your mind, the stories that are just begging you to write them. Do not start chronologically, that is boring and it will block your memories from flowing. Start where the stories are already written in your head.
5. You don’t have to write every, single thing about your life. One writer put it this way and I am paraphrasing. Imagine your life as a movie with ten scenes. What would they be? They don’t have to link together. Put it this way, what were the ten most important times in your life, maybe turning points, or memorable for happy or sad reasons. Maybe for the lessons you learned. Write your life in chapters, just as they want to come. Don’t worry about linking them. Just tell the stories and we will figure out how to put it all together later.
6. What about the ‘bad’ stuff? Do I tell that? Well you tell me. If you read a story and everything that happens is good and jolly what kind of a story do we have? We have a really distorted version of real life. We have a very bland, boring story. We have no contrast, no light or dark just grey. In my opinion your story needs to show some challenges, some dissapointments even great losses and sadness and injustice. Don’t tell it to invoke pity or to act out a grude or for retribution but tell it to show how you handled these curves life threw you. Show how you grew from these experiences, how you made it through, what you learned.
7. Writing the hard stuff can be hard but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it. Writing difficult memories can churn up a lot of emotion. Be prepared for this. Writing has been shown to be therapeutic. You may write anything you want and you should feel free to write it. However, you may want to put more thought into what you make public. Some of the writing you do for your life story may never go to print, it may always stay private. Some of the writing may be for your benefit only. Yet this writing will help you along the path of telling your story.
8. I can’t remember stuff! It takes time. I like to call it ‘percolating’. You may call it meditating. Just let your mind have time to think. Then as the memories start to come, write them down. You will find that as you write them down its as if you have skimmed them off the top of your mind. Once you do this other memories will rise to the surface. And thus it goes. You will begin to be amazed, even astonished at what you will remember. Memories will jog memories and the act of writing them will make them flourish in greater detail. It is simply amazing to behold. Some thing else to bear in mind about these memories. They are fluid, almost shift shapers or changers. The way you remember an event may be totally different from how your sister, or your mother or best friend may remember it. That is okay. That is the nature of memory. Its kinda like looking through your own magic mirror back on your life. So it is helpful for folks if you put a disclaimer at the front of your book saying something like: ‘This is my life to the best of my recollection. Others who were present may have different memories of the events but this is my story and this is the way I remember it.’ If others remember things so differently its okay. Just reassure them thats how memory is. Its not like a video tape that accurately recalls images and sounds. Let them write their story. Then they can have their say and put down their version!
9. So you are going to put in a substantial amount of time, emotional and mental effort to ponder, write, research and organize your life story. Please, do yourself and everyone else a favor. Decide now to preserve all this information and hard work in a quality published format. No more three ring binders with plastic page holder, please! Self-publishing has become so accessible and affordable. If you can’t handle inputting the writing and scanning the pictures hire your techno savvy kids or grandkids to help you! You may be surprised how interested they are in your story! There are many options out there. I decided on http://www.blurb.com mostly because of the flexiblity of the layouts. There are preset layouts that allow for text and pictures. You may also edit and customize those set layouts too. For me they provided the perfect set up and the quality of their books was to the standard I desired. There price points and book size options were also attractive to me. I self published a book not just for myself, not just for my family but so that anyone could see if I could do it, they could do it too. Here is mine and what it looks like.
10. We are almost done. There is just one last thing to talk about. Motivation and inspiration. You need it. Find it. Keep it. Whether you are motivated by your mortality, that is you know you are going to die and all your memories will be lost, or you have a writing buddy that meets weekly with you where you share stories and set goals, or a favorite quote or picture. Whatever it is you need something, some vision of your finished Life Story book. Imagine holding it, turning its pages. See the pictures? See the stories? See your children and grand children’s faces? Feel the sense of accomplishment? So figure out what motivates you. Set up some writing goals. Find a place to write that feels comfortable. Maybe you write better early in the morning or late at night. You might like to drive in the car to a pretty spot and then start writing. You may write better after a walk. Whatever works for you, do it. And enlist the support of family and friends. Tell them you will need time for writing. Ask if they would like to be a sounding board for your stories. Pick someone who will be gentle with your feelings and give positive feedback like: tell you what part sounds good, where they are confused, if they feel there is missing information. Probably the best advice I can give is find a writing buddy, meet weekly, set goals, go home and write and next time you meet read your stories. You will become fast friends. You will laugh and cry together. You will encourage one another. You will take this journey together and cross the finish line triumphant.
After all what have you got to lose?!