Remember the days of letter writing? Long before email, we typically wrote notes, postcards and letters to our family and friends. There didn’t have to be a real purpose behind them, other than to let the recipient know we were thinking of them. Taking the time to simply write a few lines showed that they were important to us.
I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people who take the time to write their story also do it as a gift for those closest to them. But many people are intimidated by the thought of writing an entire book.
Rather than focusing on the volume of information you’ll need to write, approach your life story as if you were going to write a letter or other piece of correspondence.
#1 Start Small
Back in junior high school, I was adept at writing and passing notes. Short and sweet, these communications had no literary structure but nevertheless followed intricate folding techniques. Their only purpose was to ask a single question or make a less than profound statement.
Similarly, consider the times when you sent a postcard. There wasn’t a lot of space to write on the back of that card, so you were forced to write the most important things in a condensed manner. Even though it wasn’t a full description of your vacation, it provided a glimpse of what you had done and where you planned to go next.
Thus, when writing your life story, don’t feel that you always have to write in sentence form. Sometimes it’s preferable to simply jot down your ideas and random memories as they come to you, especially when starting out. You can organize and flesh them out later. The important thing is to document what you’ve experienced and what you still hope to accomplish in an abbreviated form. This often serves as your outline.
#2 Use a Basic Foundation
I remember my first pen-pal: a fellow second-grade girl from the distant state of Vermont. It was a structured program in that we had to learn the fundamentals of letter writing and apply them in our missives. These included proper formatting (date, salutation, body and closing), basic grammar and cursive handwriting.
When writing your life story, you should also begin with a strong foundation. Include an introduction of why you’re writing the story and perhaps a dedication to someone especially important to you. The body of your text should contain your memories and the concluding chapter can summarize what you’ve learned from your life experiences.
In your rough draft, you don’t have to be overly concerned with proper grammar (that will come later) and unlike my second-grade pen-pal program, you’re not limited to cursive handwriting. Create the manuscript in whatever form is most comfortable and convenient for you. Some people actually do prefer to handwrite their manuscript whereas others prefer to type it out. The method really doesn’t matter; the important thing is to get it documented.
#3 Provide Detail and Narrative
When you write any kind of business correspondence, you have to provide detail. You need to let the recipient know who it’s from, what issue is being addressed, why it’s important, when a response is needed and how to obtain more information if necessary.
Similarly, when fleshing out the notes to your life story, you need to answer the who, what, when, where, why and how for each main event. This is important in order to tell the whole story and provide a complete picture. However, it’s equally important to include descriptors in your “answers” to make the story interesting for the reader. Use adjectives and adverbs so the readers can visualize the events in their mind.
Narrative is also beneficial. A back-and-forth verbal exchange literally attracts the reader’s interest because there are line breaks on the page rather than just large blocks of paragraphs. More importantly, however, dialogue adds depth to your story by offering differing viewpoints. All of this provides the reader with a better understanding so that he or she can form an opinion of the situation you’re describing.
#4 Review It Carefully
As you’ve probably guessed, this refers to editing and revising. In school, we’re taught early on to look over our writing before turning in a paper or sending out a letter (or an email or a social post). Not only are we looking for embarrassing grammatical errors, but we’re also making sure that what we just wrote makes sense. We want our intended audience to find value in our work and be able to read it clearly.
My high school pen-pal experience is a prime example. I actually acquired three international pen-pals: one from England, one from China and one from France. Fortunately, all of them wrote in English. However, I was determined to write occasional letters (or at least paragraphs) in French to my new friend – after all, I had taken two years of the language in high school.
I sat down and composed a letter in French and sent it off, certain that I had written an exceptional letter. I’ll never forget the embarrassment and disappointment I felt several weeks later when my letter was returned with his corrections written in bright red ink all over the pages. It’s important to note that I had asked him to do this for me; he wasn’t doing it to be cruel or superior. No, my embarrassment stemmed from the fact that I had an inflated opinion of my knowledge of the language. Obviously, I still had a lot to learn.
This translates into life story writing as well. You may think that your own revisions will serve as sufficient editing, but let me assure you, you will overlook some important things. It doesn’t matter if you teach Advanced Grammar and Composition at the university level, you will undoubtedly miss some errors when editing your own book. Why? Because you’re too close to the material. You’ve been working on it for weeks or months and you’ve already read it so many times that you’re about sick of it. This causes you to skim your work rather than reading it word for word, which leads to oversight. And if you’re not a professional manuscript editor, then you simply aren’t aware of everything you should be looking for. After all, you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.
Keep in mind that all major publishing houses utilize multiple editors for each and every book that they produce. They know how beneficial it is to have more than one pair of eyes look over a manuscript. With all of the time and effort you have invested in your book, you don’t want readers to be more interested in pointing out errors than focusing on the purpose and message of the story itself. Hire a qualified editor to review your finished manuscript before it goes to press.
#5 Send It Out
After jotting down your notes, building the foundation of your story, incorporating detail and narrative, and editing your manuscript, it’s now time to submit it to the printer (if self-publishing) or the publisher. Just as you place a stamp on the envelope and place the letter in the mail, you also have to be willing to conclude your life story and submit it to be published.
This may sound obvious, but some people never publish their book because it’s not perfect or because more stories keep coming to mind or because they’re fearful of sharing it with others. Don’t fall into any of those mental traps. Nothing is ever 100 percent perfect but having an editor review your manuscript will remove the major faux paus. More stories will always come to mind, which is a good thing; you can write another book! And remember that you have complete control over who receives it. You can publish a single copy just for yourself, a limited quantity for family and friends, or a mass quantity to sell to the general public.
Holding your printed and bound life story in your hands is one of life’s most rewarding accomplishments and sharing it with others is one of the most generous gifts you can provide. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
Still not convinced? Download my free report, “3 Reasons Why Your Life Story Is Important.”
What life story questions do you have? Ask them in the comments section!