This guest post is by Richard Campbell. Campbell is co-author of Writing Your Legacy – The Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story, published worldwide in July 2015 by Writer’s Digest Books. Richard teaches Legacy Writing to adult learners in Ontario, Canada, as well as to guests on board transatlantic crossings with a major cruise line. He is passionate about life story writing and has guested on several Top 50 U.S. radio stations. He would love to hear from you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may not have had the most interesting childhood in the world, but everyone has had a few memorable experiences. Highlight the best parts when you can. If you live in a big city, for instance, you should realize that many people who grew up in the country have never ridden a subway, walked to school, ridden in a taxi, or walked to a store a few blocks away.
It’s possible that writing your life story could be therapeutic, offering closure on some not so bright spots of your personal history along with emotional and psychological healing. Maybe your life was just a circus act from the beginning and is funny. If writing your life story touches you while you are writing it, think about all the people you can touch when they read it.
According to the fascinating field of “narrative psychology,” the stories we tell about ourselves are the key to our well-being. If you’ve interpreted the events of your life to mean that you’re unlucky or unwise, it’s hard to look optimistically at the future. Conversely, if you acknowledge that you’ve made mistakes and faced difficulties but seek (or have already glimpsed) redemption, you’ll feel a much greater sense of agency over your life.
Your readers won’t be interested in reading the whole text of your autobiography if you don’t provide a good impression in the introduction. Convince your audience that your story is unique, original, and is worth their time. If you are going to write about an episode from your childhood, use a feeling of nostalgia to create a tight connection between readers and your own memories. Remember that all people are the same to some extent. We live through similar experiences every day, so you should use these similarities to make your writing attractive for the general public.
Take steps to self-publish your book. Even if you don't want to worry about trying to sell your book to the public, you might want to have it designed and printed to keep for yourself and give to your family members and other people featured in the book. Research companies that offer book designing, printing, and shipping services, and decide how many copies you'd like to order. Many companies offering these services produce books that look just as professional as those printed by traditional publishing houses.
Once you have taken a look at your own life from an outsider’s point of view, you will be able to select the most interesting elements from your notes to establish a theme. What was the most interesting thing you came up with in your research? Was it the history of your family and your region? Here is an example of how you can turn that into a theme:
What to write: Try to summarize your life in two or three sentences. Take your time. Think about your past. “But mostly think about who you are today and how you got that way,” says Roberta Temes, PhD, psychologist and author of How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days. “Maybe you want to focus on a certain relationship, maybe a certain theme...or maybe a feeling that has persisted for years.”
If writing skills don’t come naturally to you, these skills can be acquired when you take a course to learn the basic skills of writing. Such course help you by guiding you to choose the style of writing your autobiography that best suits your personality. This style will then create a powerful impact on the reader and their response to your outpourings.
What's your central conflict? What's the biggest obstacle life presented that took years to overcome or come to terms with? Maybe it's an illness you were diagnosed with at an early age, a relationship wrought with turmoil, a series of career setbacks, a goal you worked for decades to achieve, or any other number of things. Look to your favorite books and movies for more examples of conflicts.
This is an extremely emotional and intimate type of writing. You share a personal experience with your readers in a detailed manner. Your audience should have an opportunity to see the event or person that you’ve written about through your eyes and understand your feelings. Any personal essay has two main aspects: the description of a particular situation and how it has influenced your worldview and life. Generally, the personal essay is the shortest form of autobiographical writing, along with the essay for college.
Why it helps: First off, if you want to write a memoir, this three-sentence description will form the structure of your book. In effect, it’s a supershort story of your life—a beginning, a middle and the now, if you will. Even if you have zero impulse to write another word, however, the exercise can show you how you view yourself, your past and your present, all of which can inform your future. Unless, of course, you change the narrative—a privilege granted to any writer.
1. “Declare yourself” to your colleagues at work. Doug Conant, the much-admired former CEO of Campbell Soup and founder of Conant Leadership (and one of my favorite people), is an introvert who’s not inclined to schmooze and self-disclose. So he scheduled “Declare Yourself” meetings, one at a time, with each of his direct reports. The purpose of these meetings was to tell his employees his story: how he liked to work, his management philosophy, and the things and people that mattered to him most. (We at Quiet Revolution are partnering with Conant Leadership to develop a “Declare Yourself” tool that you can use with your colleagues. Stay tuned on that.)
Your life story, or autobiography, should contain the basic framework that any essay should have, with four basic elements. Begin with an introduction that includes a thesis statement, followed by a body containing at least several paragraphs, if not several chapters. To complete the autobiography, you'll need a strong conclusion, all the while crafting an interesting narrative with a theme.
Conclude the autobiography with an experience gained, a lesson learned and a resolution you decided to take after that. Explain to the reader how that resolution set the tone for whatever you achieved in your life from that point forward. This classic format uses the “hero” theme that is endearing to most people. Everyone loves an underdog who was given lemons and ended up making lemonade!
What's your story? Anyone who has lived a full life has something fascinating to share with the world. The trick to writing an autobiography is to treat it like any good story: it should have a protagonist (you), a central conflict, and a cast of fascinating characters to keep people engaged. You may want to think about a certain theme or idea that has been present in your daily life to revolve your story around. Read on to learn how to craft the story of your life and polish your writing to make it sing.