In a previous post I mentioned that I was traveling to Dawson Creek, British Columbia. I ran two life stories workshops there for the South Peace Hospice Palliative Care Society. One of the questions that came up frequently was “How do I get started?” I thought that was an excellent question to address here. This is what I’d suggest.
Start by reading some reference books.
There are many excellent self-help books on writing your life story. Here are three that I’d recommend.
- How to Write Your Own Life Story: The Classic Guide for the Nonprofessional Writer. Lois Daniel, Chicago Review Press; 4th edition, 1997
“I have taught memoir courses from this book, so examined most others in the field of writing one’s own life story. This was the first, and I think, the best. The author makes the task manageable with “get started” topics that trigger memories, inspiring samples from her real-life writing classes, and helpful tips. Perfect if you have an elderly parent or grandparent who should record his/her life for family archives.. .or if you want to do it yourself.” ~ Reviewer: A reader, Chicago
- Legacy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Personal History. Linda Spence, Swallow Press; 1997
“Aiming to prod the story out of the writer, writing consultant Spence has designed a book of questions and quotes that goes deeply into the hows and whys of the writer’s life. The questions are well written and divided by time period, from earliest memories of childhood to life as seen from the vantage point of old age. People will probably want to own and spend time with this book because the project it proposes will take longer than a three-week checkout.” ~ From Library Journal
- Writing Your Life: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Writing an Autobiography. Mary Borg, Cottonwood Press, Inc.; 1998
“Senior-education teacher Mary Borg…provides lively questions on family, career and friendships, designed to tease out memories.” ~ Review: New Choices Magazine
Choose a format that appeals to you.
There are many different ways to record your story. Here are three.
- Chronological. Organize your writing by following the stages of your life from birth and childhood through to adolescence and adulthood.
- Turning points. Write about those moments when your life took a turn such as the death of a parent, the birth of your first child, a life threatening illness, loss of a job, or retirement.
- Thematic. You could write vignettes around themes such as the values you’ve lived by, life lessons learned, the most memorable person you’ve known, or your accomplishments.
Make a date with yourself.
After you’ve selected an approach, decide what time of the day, what days of the week, and how long you can devote to writing. Mark those days and times in your calendar and stick to them.
The trick here is just to write and keep writing until your time is up. Write the way you talk. Don’t worry about being perfect. Editing and polishing can come later.
None of the above.
You might want to try one of the online life story programs. Check out my previous post Put your Life Stories on The Web. I listed ten sites that might be of help to you.
I hope these suggestions have been helpful. If you have other tips, I’d love to hear from you.
Photo by iStockphoto
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