“I want to write the story of my life but I don’t know where to start,” says one of my She Blossoms readers. Below are four tips on how to write your life story, from published author and literature professor Allan Hunter. I also share my own Blossom Tip at the end, plus additional resources on how to start writing your life story.
“Writing your memoir can be one of the best things you could ever do for yourself,” says Dr Hunter, author of Write Your Memoir: The Soul Work of Telling Your Story. “I’ve worked with memoirists and with personal essay writers for thirty years and the thing that never fails to astonish me is that when people write their lives, they are changed by the experience.”
Not only does writing about your life story change you, it can change others as well. Your history can have a powerful effect on other people’s lives! Especially if you’ve learned, grown and changed through the years. And I suspect you have. You wouldn’t be searching for information on how to write about your life story if nothing every happened to you 🙂
You’ll learn a few tips on how to start writing your life story in this article, but you’ll never learn everything you need to know here. While writing my own book Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back I read several books on writing the story of my life. My book isn’t a memoir, but it includes several memorable moments in my life.
At the end of this article I’ll share the best books on how start – and keep – writing your life story. First, though, let’s dive into Dr Hunter’s memoir writing tips.
4 Tips for Telling the Story of Your Life
“Talking about the past can have a healing function, but what we find is that talk, literally, is cheap,” Dr Hunter says. “We speak words and they fly away before we’ve faced what it is they convey. This is not the case with the written word. Writers find themselves saying, ‘ I never really thought about it before’ or ‘ I never saw it this way until I started to write it’.
Writing can slow us down enough so we take notice, and when we write we find the deep truths that we’ve forgotten we knew.”
Writing your life story is a way to access our knowledge and our wisdom, and save hard-earned experience form being lost forever. When we claim this wisdom, we claim our lives.
1. Write about a time in your life when something changed
Most people have no trouble identifying these moments of change – the day the family moved away from the neighborhood, the day they realized mom wouldn’t be there to help them raise the twins. Each memory of this sort is valuable because it is attached to an emotion. We wouldn’t recall it if we had no emotional investment.
These memories are also important because they point backwards to what was, and forwards to what was about to happen, with a sense that there was now a new way of seeing these stretches of time. In each memory, moreover, there is likely to be a huge gift – each will reflect a theme, possibly a major theme, which will play out in the rest of the writers’ life.
2. Introduce your Unconscious to a regular writing schedule
To keep the Unconscious on your side, you need to set up a regular time to write.
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Limit it to 15 minutes, no more – at least at first. Fifteen minutes, three times a week, always at the same time and always in the same place. Stay there for all 15 minutes even if you can’t think of anything to write. This will set up a rhythm, in the same way we get hungry at mealtimes whether or not we’re really hungry. This isn’t just about finding time to write your life story.
Your Unconscious will get used to this and agree to let out a few more memories, right on cue.
3. Reward yourself for writing your life story daily
Choose something small, but memorable, like a chocolate, a cup of coffee, or a cookie – something indulgent but relatively guilt free. This tells the Unconscious that it’s okay to learn how to write your life story. There’s nothing threatening going on. And soon enough, your Unconscious will let go of its defenses and allow the memories keep flowing.
If you’re bored while writing your life story, your readers will be bored, too! Read Examples of Sensory Details to Fire Up Your Writing for tips.
4. Accept whatever comes to you to write
You may have planned to write about Uncle Joe, but a series of stories about the farm in New Jersey insist on coming to you first. Write what comes. The Unconscious is wiser than you think it is; if you let it, it will tell you what to write in your memoir, and what to leave out.
“These are big claims,” says Dr Hunter, “yet I make them knowing them to be true. Writing our memories come straight from our most powerful ally, the Unconscious. In memoir it is the Unconscious that nudges us towards telling a tale we don’t even understand yet – at least not with our conscious awareness.”
He adds that memoir writers move into a new relationship with their past. This can offer a valuable path towards emotional and psychological healing.
Bonus “Blossom Tip”
Dr Hunter didn’t mention this, but now – as a published author myself – I know the importance of knowing who you’re writing your life story for.
Writing for your family and friends is great! But, it requires a different mindset than writing for publication. If you’re interested in getting your life story published by a traditional publishing house, then you’ll need a whole different perspective than if you’re self-publishing your memoirs.
Get a copy of Writer’s Market 2019 – The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published if you’re curious about writing for publication, acquiring a literary agent, and getting your life story published by a traditional publishing house.
Becoming an author is exciting, but it’s a long journey to publication! Now is the time to start making inroads. Start by writing your life story, researching the publication possibilities, and moving forward one step at a time.
Start by writing the story of your life for yourself first. After you edit and polish it, share it with a few trusted people. Then, after you edit and polish it again, share your life story with a wider swath of people. This will help ensure your memoirs are your best possible work, and that your writing is something you’ll be proud of at the end of your life.
How to Start Writing Your Life Story
These are the books I suggest you read:
- Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir
- Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art
- William Zinsser’s Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past
Dozens of “how to write about your life story” books have been written – and so have thousands of blog posts and online articles! Feel free to share resources in the comments section below. And, if you have any questions or thoughts on memoir writing, feel free to ask.
Does writing the story of your life have the potential to hurt people you love? Tips for Writing Your Memoirs Without Hurting Family Members.
Dr Allan G. Hunter is the author of eight books, including Stories We Need to Know: Reading Your Life Path in Literature and The Six Archetypes of Love.