Over the years, I've taken every class I could find on life story writing—and was disappointed in nearly all of them. Most promote a chronological storyline, starting with "I was born...," and by the end of the class, most people hadn't gotten beyond their kindergarten years. They left overwhelmed by the enormity of the project and never wrote more than the few pages completed in class.
In response, I took a cue from my museum work where the amount of information to convey is vast, but space is limited. It's often necessary to tell a whole story in 150 words or less! Exhibit label writers are adept at finding the "gems"—the memorable bits that will inform and entertain visitors.
Writing stories from your life is like storytelling
I encourage everyone to write stories from their lives instead of writing their whole life story. Life story implies a chronological retelling of your life from birth to now, but writing stories from your life is more like telling stories at the kitchen table.
Many people take writing too seriously and worry about "doing it right." Believe me, your family would rather have something from you rather than nothing at all—even if it's not perfect! Writing your stories should be fun and easy. Here's my formula:
- Keep your writing relaxed and informal.
- Write in your own voice—the way you talk.
- Don't worry about grammar and punctuation. You can always use spell check and grammar check on the computer.
- Write your life in "small bites" of two- or three-page stories so it's not too overwhelming.
- Keep your audience in mind—your aim is to inform and entertain.
By writing short, two- or three-page stories from your life, a picture of you will begin to emerge. Before you know it, you'll have a stack of stories to share with friends and family.
Your stories are valuable
There is only one you in all human history, your stories are completely unique. If you don't share your stories—if you keep them to yourself—they will never exist for anyone else. Most of us are compelled to tell our stories, to leave an imprint of who we are and the life we've lived. I believe it's human nature to tell our stories and the process of telling them helps us understand, learn from and share our lives.