4 Tips for Telling the Story of Your Life

Published author Allan Hunter shares several important tips on how to write your life story.

Write Your Memoir“Writing your memoir can be one of the best things you could ever do for yourself,” says literature professor Allan 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 out they are changed by the experience.”

He says memoir writers move into a new relationship with their past, which can be an extraordinary path towards emotional and psychological healing. And here are four more tips on how to write the story of your life…

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.

Tips for Writing Your Life Story

Tips for Telling the Story of Your Life

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.

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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 memoir 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 struggle with self-doubt, read my tips for doubtful writers.

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.”

If you think writing your life story might be hurtful to your relatives, read Tips for Writing Your Memoirs Without Hurting Family Members.

If you have any questions or thoughts on writing your memoirs, please comment below!

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. Forthcoming are Princes, Frogs, and Ugly Sisters; The Grimm Brothers, and Healing Tales.


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17 thoughts on “4 Tips for Telling the Story of Your Life

  • Actor

    I have lead a very full and sometimes complicated life. I have worked in many different vocations and participated in most all of the arts. I have been ask probably 100s of times why I don’t write a book about my life and or experiences. I realize that aspects of my life are things that should maybe written down for prosperity, but when I begin to think about what to write about, or what area to write about, I am bewildered. To fully write my life would take me volumes of words. I can remember from the age of two until now and yesterday I turned 76. At times I think of things that I think are important, but then other times I think of dozens of things are important. Many of my learned friends call “The Renaissance Man”. I am at a loss.

  • Kerri

    These are great tips! Especially about writing what comes to you, not the story you originally set out to write. Sometimes we’re smarter than we even know and something important is trying to come out! I also recommend checking out StoryShelter – it has lots of question prompts to get you writing about your life. See what questions get your attention and maybe do a free write around them to get the juices flowing!

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear Wicked4me,

    I think the first and best step to getting things out – but not necessarily writing your life story for anyone else to read – is to buy a journal. Start writing about your experiences and painful memories. It will hurt, but the only to get past the pain is to go through it. The more it hurts, the better it will be in the long run to process the experience.

    If you get stuck at the thought of a blank page, get a book that offers memory prompts. Most of the “how to write your life story” books have lots of questions that will get the juices flowing 🙂

    Finally, I encourage you to think about seeing a counselor. I don’t know what you’ve experienced, but it sounds like you’re in alot of pain. Sometimes we need to share our experiences with someone who is objective and able to help us sort through our emotions.

    Sometimes we can’t do it alone – and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It’s the bravest, smartest, best thing we can do if we want to be happy.

    I wish you all the best in your journey, and invite you to ask questions or comment on any of my articles.


  • Wicked4me

    Im scared to do it. I just have things I need to get out, I need to release things that have been hurting me for a very long time. I don’t really feel happy with. I just want to let things out in a private way. I don’t think I want anyone to see these things but I am not sure how to get started(for me) I am sure there are other ppl who prob want the privacy. I am not a writer. I just am looking to get things out that are and have been hurting for a very long time. In a private matter. I do however have a jumble of info flowing constantly. Pls I just would like direction. Thank you for your time.

  • Ratau Nelson Blake

    wow! thank u very much for the wise and beautiful tips, i’m now working on my life story and sometimes i come across a challege whereby my unconscious try to stop me and make memories haze. but from now on with the knowledge i have from your tips soon the world will be reading me, but my other problem is that i don’t know who is going to publish me.

  • Helena Robbers

    I’ve wanted to write my life story since I was 45 but never had the courage. Thanks for your article. These tips for writing a life history have helped.


    The article on tips for writing your memoir is informative as well as inspiring.But there is a question which disturbs me. What about certain unpleasant events related to your extended family which you will have to divulge if it is a genuine memoir and which may hurt others?

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Chad! I’m not sure about partnering…this “How to Write Your Life Story” was a guest post from the author of a book on writing your memoirs.

  • Chad Harbour

    Interested in a partnering?

    I’m a Personal Historian. For 17 yrs I have assisted others – documenting and preserving their legacy, writing personal biographies or company histories. I produce legacy books, published to enable inter-generational transfer that if re-adopted / re-affirmed provides betterment of others for generations.

    Your Memories – Your Legacy – Your Enduring Life !

  • Lynette Benton

    What a helpful post, Laurie. I teach life story writing to boomers and seniors, and love to share new strategies and tactics with them. I’ll be sharing yours, particularly the one about rewarding themselves!

    I also liked your emphasis on seeking out times of change in the life story writer’s life. I think that tip will be a real motivator.

    Thanks for the post.

  • George Angus

    Allan and Laurie,

    Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. The memoir is based on a man’s life that reads like a movie. He escaped from communist Hungary in the 60’s only to be held as a spy in a neighboring country. He got his Fiance out first and she married someone else while he was being held as a spy. His life started with a bomb landing less than ten feet from the stroller he was in – and the bomb didn’t explode.

    So as you can imagine, I’m very excited about this project.
    .-= George Angus´s last blog post ..Caution, Book Review Crossing =-.

  • Lisa Carter

    Thank you, Laurie and Allan, for this post!

    I spent seven years living in Peru and have started to write a culinary-sort-of-memoir of that time. So much of adapting to the culture there revolved around food and, more importantly, sharing it with people.

    More than once I have been surprised by the way a moment really made me feel or a lesson I never knew I learned from it only after I have written a draft of the essay. It’s fascinating and compelling.

    But, like many, life has gotten in the way of my writing practice. I’m encouraged by the comment that dedicating only fifteen minutes a few times a week will allow the unconscious to get ready to write. Surely I can find that much time each week!

    Thanks for the renewed inspiration,

  • Allan Hunter


    Thanks so much for your comment. I’m always glad to have been of help.

    Ghost-writing someone else’s life can be one of the most fascinating of experiences. In my book I describe how I worked with two memoirists, one a notorious criminal and escaper, and the other a World War Two veteran. In each case my task was to keep asking them questions: ‘So what did it feel like…?’ “What did that look like…”

    As they recalled the details they not only provided a better story, but the real emotional weight of the material became plain, for the first time. If they hadn’t had me to work with I suspect their stories would have been understated and rather flat. In stead of that, the narratives became truly alive.

    Good luck on your adventure!

    Best, Allan

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen


    Your ghostwriting project sounds fascinating! Yes, some of these memoir writing tips would be useful both to your subject and you as you write his life story.

    To gather his memories and experiences, do you interview him every week or so? Some people have kept journals all their lives, so writing their history might involve reading and pulling out the most relevant information.


    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..Can’t Pay the Bills? How to Combine All Debt Into One Monthly Payment =-.

  • George Angus

    My next ghostwrite project is a memoir of a man who has led a remarkable life. I’ve been struggling with the approach I would take with this, but your post has cleared a lot of things up for me.

    Thank you.

    .-= George Angus´s last blog post ..Caution, Book Review Crossing =-.