For any of you who have been following me on social media or subscribing to my newsletter, you’ve undoubtedly seen my tagline, “Share What Matters.” I believe this is important for everyone, but particularly for those writing their life stories.
Why It’s Important
While it is easy to recite favorite stories, it’s much more difficult to share what really matters. Being open and sincere about our past requires a level of transparency – a certain level of vulnerability, if you will. It’s risky to share something emotionally charged, for we fear condescension, being mocked, our feelings trivialized. And although there’s a chance that may occur, the opposite generally happens.
Infusing our stories with the good and the bad – not just the highlight reel – makes us relatable and more impactful to our readers. Your story has the potential to make a difference in someone’s life – to help them gain a new perspective, challenge them to achieve a particular goal, and/or provide them with hope. But that won’t happen if you stay inside your own comfort zone.
What NOT to Share
Please note that I’m not encouraging you to write a tell-all book. Your reader doesn’t want to read a confessional or a sensational tabloid (and if they do, all they have to do is go to a grocery store checkout aisle to get their fix). If there’s a skeleton in your closet that you just don’t want to talk about, then don’t write about it – especially if it will negatively impact others. Your book should be about you – not exposing others’ misfortunes or secrets. State facts, but avoid disparaging or humiliating others.
Have you ever come across an old diary or journal? There are typically two types: 1) the list and 2) the gusher. The list can be read out loud in a monotone; it accounts for every minute of the day and every dollar spent. I’m particularly thinking of my husband’s grandfather’s journals in which he documents his adult farm life. Finding a descriptive event is like finding a needle in a haystack, which is unfortunate because his grandfather was a witty conversationalist and a practical joker. Yet little of that shows in his writings.
The gusher, on the other hand, goes on and on and on about every single detail of every insignificant event. In this case, I’m referring to my own early teenage diaries. Oh, my word – I was so descriptive about EVERYTHING and yet nothing was of any importance. I cringe at the thought of reading through every page of my diaries – it would be torture.
No, the goal is to achieve balance in your writing. Remember that a life story is, after all, a story. You want to write about what’s important to you, but focus on significant events – things that really challenged you or changed your life in some way. You also want to make it an interesting read by adding detail, but make the details relevant and useful.
As you’re writing your initial draft, go ahead and brain dump. Write anything and everything that comes to mind, and add as much description as you want. The key, however, is to go back and revise. Then, after you’ve revised a couple of times, ask one or two unbiased friends (ones who were never personally involved in the events of the story) to read it to get their feedback.
Don’t just ask them if they like it – they probably won’t want to hurt your feelings and will simply say, “Yes! It’s great!” No, the key is to ask them specific questions:
- Does any of part of the story not make sense?
- What questions did you have as you read through it?
- Do any parts seem out of order?
- Are there any sections that need more description? Less description?
- Are there sections that you feel should be omitted?
Once you have their feedback, implement it. Constructive criticism doesn’t always make us happy, but it does improve our final results if we apply what we’ve learned.
One important note:
No matter your level of writing – whether a novice or an accomplished bestseller – your manuscript will need to be properly edited before going to print – even if you’re not going to sell it to the public. You don’t want to spend weeks and months working hard on your book only to have readers toss it to the side halfway through their reading because of errors and a perceived lack of professionalism.
If you’re like most people, you’ve been thinking about writing your life story for a long time. You’ve allowed distractions and hobbies to prevent you from taking action. I get it; we’re all busy. However, I believe that we always find time to do the things that are most important to us.
I encourage you to carve out just 30 minutes a day to start writing. You might find that you can increase that time frame, but even writing for only 30 minutes a day will help you get into a writing habit. Begin today. Share what matters.