Writing your life story doesn’t have to be dull drudgery – something you have to force yourself to do. I think many people are intimidated by the sheer volume of what they want to write about and are also harboring inner doubts about their qualifications and abilities to write their legacy.
Perhaps this stems from our American education. After all, we are taught from an early age to follow strict writing guidelines, analyze literature and critique the works of literary giants. Outside of academia we read biographies of famous actors, politicians and athletes who make it seem as if they are also naturally gifted storytellers. Thus, even if you’re not aspiring to be an award-winning or best-selling author, the thought of writing your life story can nevertheless seem daunting.
What you may not realize, however, is that almost every celebrity biography is ghostwritten by someone else. In addition, every award-winning author began from scratch, just like you. Many (if not most) of them harbored inner doubts. And virtually all of them went through multiple revisions – with the assistance of several editors – before the final version was printed.
“Books aren’t written- they’re rewritten. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” Michael Crichton
Now that you understand that all writers are in the same boat, it’s important to recognize the two key differences between those who want to write a book and those who actually write a book: Successful authors keep their end goal in mind and continue writing until it’s complete.
You, too, can complete your book. Consider incorporating one or more of the following action steps to make the process of writing your life story both doable and enjoyable.
- Follow your internal alarm clock – You know whether you’re a night owl or an early riser; go with your inner wiring to avoid guilt and frustration. As stated in a recent New Yorker article, “Ultimately…it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to overcome your predisposition and train yourself to function better at times that don’t match up with your inner clock.”
- Write what you want to write about – It’s your story; don’t include information that you’re not comfortable sharing with others. And your book doesn’t have to follow the traditional birth-through-today chronology; it can focus on one specific theme such as your professional history or your military career. Simply write what’s on your mind.
- Write at different locations – The best way to learn where you’re most comfortable and the writing muse strikes best is to try writing at various places. It could be different rooms of your home, outside in your yard, coffee shops, the beach – you get the idea. You will quickly learn if you write better in solitude or around other people, indoors or outside.
- Discover your writing tools – Some people prefer the traditional paper and pencil, some upgrade to paper and pen, others prefer typing away at their keyboard, and some even speak their stories into speech recognition software that automatically transcribes it into text.
- Remember that at this phase, it’s a rough draft – It shouldn’t be perfect. In fact, it’s going to be an outright mess, and that’s okay. Write down what comes to mind, when it comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be complete paragraphs, or even complete sentences. Just get the main gist of your memories and thoughts down before they are forgotten.
- Share your opinions – The best life stories are ones that include advice or lessons learned. In the process, however, be mindful not to disparage or humiliate others.
- Don’t set a timeline – When you free yourself of an impending deadline, you may be surprised by how responsive your brain is to unlocking its memories. Many people tend to give up and walk away if they know that they’re nowhere near meeting a major deadline. Don’t do that to yourself. Instead…
- Focus on writing as much as you can comfortably every day – Although you don’t need a deadline per se, you want to ensure that you do, indeed, complete your book. Try to write for at least 30 minutes daily to get into the routine of writing. However, feel free to write as long as you are inspired to do so (be sure to get up and take a break after a couple of hours, though).
- Don’t write to impress – Instead, be authentic and let your personality come through. Use the words you would normally speak and don’t be afraid to use contractions if that’s part of your regular vocabulary (as it is mine).
- End with your goals/wishes for the future – Many people struggle with how to end their life story. Since your life obviously isn’t over yet, what better way to conclude your book than to relate what you still hope to achieve?
As you can see, writing is a uniquely personalized activity; what works for others may not work for you. Only through a process of trial and error will you acquire your own writing process – one that enables you to complete your life story.
Do you have additional writing tips to simplify and/or improve the writing experience? Please share them in the comments!
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