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