How Can I Write My Life Story?
We hear that question a lot. The correct answer is: Any way you want to - just do it.
In his book On Writing Well author William Zinsser said:
One of the saddest sentences I know is “I wish I would have asked my mother about that. Or my father. Or my grandmother. Or grandfather"...
There are many different ways to write your life story and many books on the subject (Zinsser himself devotes an entire chapter—Chapter 24—to that).
There is no right or wrong way to do it — as long as you do.
My wife, Teri, and I have been helping others write their life stories for a long time, and we've learned a few tricks, such as:
#1. Answer Some Life Story Questions:
You should think about what you want to write about. Your story can be about your entire life (possibly chronological order) or about just a certain time period (perhaps raising your family, a career, being in a war, or other life altering period).
Creating a series of life story questions is a good way to focus on what you want to write about. The answers to those questions can become the primary content of your final life story memoir.
(That is what our Life Story Composer Application does).
#2. Don’t Record Just the Facts:
Life story facts are really important and often times amazing. I don’t know how many times we've heard: "...I didn’t know you did that!!!!"
Facts about life are needed, but we’ve also found that including your thoughts and feelings about WHY you did the things you did, and what you've learned during life can be equally as important and make your story a gem.
The readers of your story - and especially your family/friends - want to know what you thought and how you felt! Please consider including those in your life story memoir, along with the facts.
#3. Write in Your Own Voice:
When my wife I began writing life stories for others, we would usually ask the subject of the story many questions. We would record their answers and later download (and shape) that content into a smooth flowing narrative, which was put inside their life story book.
That process typically worked out very well, but on a few occasions a customer might say: "...Do I really talk like that? I don’t like the way I sound.”
We even had a few customers go back and re-write their life story, using “The King’s English” and better grammar to make their story read "better".
Which is totally fine.
But, we would suggest that the readers of your life story would like it much better if your book was written just the way you normally talk. That way, they will actually hear your voice when they read your memoir.
The result doesn't get any better than that! People will love it.
#4. Include Valuable Old Photos:
They say a photo is worth a million words; that's true. But a photo with the story behind the photo is worth a billion words.
For example: I have an old photo of my parents the first weekend they met (at Wasaga Beach on vacation, in Canada). They met very much by accident—after being scrunched into the back seat of a car carrying a group of young folks into town for a "beverage run." Learning the story behind that photo makes it so much more valuable.
I opened this blog with a William Zinsser quote, and I’m going to close it with one also:
Your first job is to get your (life) story down as you remember it—now. Memories too often die with their owner, and time too often surprises us by running out.
Please consider his advice. Do it now, any way you can, while you can. You and your family will be very glad you did.
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