Do you want to write your life story? It’s a good goal to have whether or not you consider yourself to have lived a particularly noteworthy life.
After all, what exactly defines noteworthy? And to whom? Your life story will always be interesting because it’s yours and yours alone.
Many people want to pass their stories down to their children and grandchildren but how do you start exactly? Do you start at the beginning? ‘I was born in…’?
And what kind of story do you want to record? A complete, chronological autobiography? Or a memoir on a specific theme or about a specific time in your life?
Let’s take a look at what you want to achieve and, most importantly, how to begin.
What kind of memoir do you want to write?
The terms ‘memoir’ and ‘autobiography’ are often used interchangeably but there is a difference. For the most part, autobiography is a book that follows your entire life whilst a memoir is a story of a particular period in your life or follows a specific theme.
When people say they want to write their memoirs, especially when they just want to pass them down to children and grandchildren, they usually mean an account of their whole life.
But semantics aside, it’s good to work out exactly what kind of book you’d like to write.
If you’re planning on passing your book down to the next generations so they can read all about your life, this is a great option. It can cover anything and everything you want to, starting from your childhood all the way up to right now.
Were you an evacuee? Did you spend a decade travelling all over the world through your work? Sometimes the story you most want to tell and pass down is the story of a more specific part of your life than simply The Whole Thing!
Why passing down your story is such a great thing
Your grandchildren might still be in nappies but one day they’re going to get interested in their ancestry. Of course you can always tell them stories yourself, but often, it’s difficult to think of stories when you’re put on the spot.
We all have a favourite few stories from our pasts that we whip out but there’s so much more than that. The process of writing your life story can hugely help you remember things you haven’t thought about in years.
And you might not think you’ve lead a particularly fascinating life but think again. When your grandchildren reach adulthood, your childhood could’ve been seventy or eighty years ago! Society has changed and continues to change so much, so reading about how you grew up will be endlessly interesting to them as it would’ve been so different.
Writing your life story is also a wonderful opportunity for self-reflection. We view our lives from where we are right now, but writing your life story helps you see how everything unfolded much more clearly.
Everyone I’ve worked with on their memoirs has said how incredible the experience is, talking about their formative years and suddenly remembering wonderful things from the small to the huge.
How to start writing your life story
Writing your life story is challenging because there’s just so much of it! It can often feel overwhelming at first. Because you’ve lived it yourself, sometimes it feels like you can’t see the wood for the trees. That’s why so many people choose to hire a ghostwriter to help them write their memoirs.
A ghostwriter is on the outside looking in and can see your story perhaps more clearly than you can through interviews and the planning process. A ghostwriter can then help you navigate your story, create an outline and turn it into a polished book.
This is a great way to get started. Get a piece of paper or a Word document and start scribbling your Life Overview. It doesn’t have to be really detailed and it doesn’t have to be neat.
A Life Overview is essentially a bullet point list of events or time periods that you feel helped shaped your life. So it could be your earliest memories, best friends from school, moving house as a child, your first boyfriend/girlfriend, further education or first job, start of your career, major life events like births and deaths etc.
You get the picture.
From your Life Overview, you can go through each bullet point and write a little, maybe just a sentence or two, about that event. How did it effect you? Who was involved? When exactly did it take place? What did it lead to?
These two overviews help you to see how various events created a domino effect in your life. Rarely are things we experience utterly unconnected to preceding or following events.
Now you’ll start to see how all the dots lined up, how if that hadn’t happened, this wouldn’t have happened.
Outline your life story
Now you can see the list of experiences that you feel have shaped your life, you can start to outline your book. Don’t worry about whether you’ll tell it chronologically or mix it up a bit with flashbacks yet. You can look at that later.
If you want to tell your whole life story, you can outline the book using time periods or these specific events. So you could have childhood, adolescence, first job, career, family, retirement for instance.
Or, you could break it into themes and add other events in within the framework of that section’s themes.
So you might have war, earning a living, depression and finding love as themes. And everything else can be woven into those.
Choosing how you want your life story to be outlined and written can be one of the toughest parts. This is where having a ghostwriter to guide you can really help.
If you just can’t decide though, there’s always the option of simply starting at the very beginning and getting it down. It doesn’t matter if you write about times that, actually, you don’t think were very interesting at all. After all, you can always delete them later!
Start writing your story
Whilst starting at the beginning works well for some people and seems logical, it’s often not the part that you’re burning to write about. If your experiences at 50 are what you’re really keen to get down, then starting at birth is going to feel like a long slog!
Start writing at whichever point you think is most interesting to you. Or the bit that you just can’t wait to get stuck into. Or start with your favourite stories and work outwards from there.
But always start with something that you’re enthusiastic about. It’ll help kick start your writing and keep you moving forward.
It doesn’t matter if you start with what happened last week. You can always reorder chapters later on. But writing at length, especially about your own life, can be tiring. So give yourself the best momentum and start with what you really want to write about.
Would you like some help writing your life story? I work as a ghostwriter specialising in memoir and can help you with any stage of the process.
Perhaps you’d just like some help outlining your story, working out which parts of your life to put down on paper and the overall narrative you want to share?
Or perhaps you’d love to have a complete memoir to pass down to your children and grandchildren but simply don’t want to write it yourself? Plenty of people find it much more enjoyable to talk about their lives to a ghostwriter, who can then turn it into a book for you and your family to share for generations to come.
If you’ve already started writing but have got stuck or run out of momentum, I can also help turn your work-in-progress into a finished book. You can put your feet up and tell me the rest of the story or, if you’ve drafted everything, I can take it away and work on it for you.
Whatever stage you’re at, get in touch and let’s see how we can work together!