When people email me to inquire about my services as a personal historian and memoir ghostwriter with Life Is a Book, they often express a real determination to write their meaningful life story while explaining how they feel stuck on the launching pad. “Where do I start?” they ask me.
They go on to share with me some of the dramatic experiences they have lived through: overcoming a major illness or disease; suffering a major loss or family trauma; getting knocked off their feet but coming back up with renewed passion and commitment. Sometimes they say something like, “I just want to help others feel they can make it too.” But, they emphasize, they just can’t seem to get going in writing the story.
More often than not, I bring in the advice I offer in my guidebook, “Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time to Write It!” Begin with your reason for writing your life story in the first place. What is it you are trying to do with your memoir or autobiography? Do you want to inspire others? Do you seek to inform or educate? Do you hope to offer support and encouragement to people who may be facing the same kinds of life challenges that you have met? Or maybe your goal is to capture your memories so family and friends can share in them? Then again, your intent may be more about your own self-discovery and healing.
Your answer to the question “why are your writing your life story” will be unique to you, but I bet you know just what it is. I also trust that you can express your answer in a clear and articulate manner. And that’s just what you should do. State your purpose or mission for writing your life story in a personal, honest, and open way. Hold nothing back. Get beyond the bumper-stick answer and keep writing what you mean by “I want to inspire others like me” or “I want to help people understand.” No one needs to see what you’re writing. It may never even appear in your memoir or autobiography, unless you decide that it fits in a Preface, Introduction, or Author’s Note at some point.
This is for you. To get you going. To give you that push that propels you out of the starting gate. It will also be the motivation that will serve as the wind at your back that keeps you moving around the track.
Naming your purpose, mission, or intention as a first step in writing your memoir or autobiography is important not only for those of you who may be writing your life story yourself. It’s also beneficial for those who want to tell their life story by enlisting the aid of a life story ghostwriter like me. When I begin work with someone who has entrusted me with writing their life story, I usually spend some time asking them about their mission in doing this. Their answer helps them focus on their purpose and feel more eager or ready to tell me their stores. It also helps me as the ghostwriter to tune in to who they are and what they’re doing, so I can steer my interviewing in the most effective and engaging way as I envision the shape and direction of their memoir or autobiography.
I remind those clients, as I also tell my students in my Autobiographical Writing classes, this is not simply an exercise that hopefully will pay dividends as you go along in writing your life story. It also will naturally spur you on to start writing specific stories that you yearn to bring out. How? Look at what you name for your mission. Say it’s something like, “I want to encourage and support cancer survivors and their families so they will know they are not alone.” Now ask yourself: When did I ever feel alone? When did I feel the most cared for and supported? Who understood what I was going through and how did they support me?
Your answers may not come in the form of what you would identify as the “beginning” of the story, but it almost certainly will get you writing about, or telling to your ghostwriter, a part of the story that will be critical to include. And it will naturally trigger the next series of questions, and the next burst of stories.
Suppose your mission comes out something like, “I want to show people how I survived my childhood wounds and built a successful and satisfying life.” As you write those very words, allow your mind to drift to a moment when you doubted if you really would survive, or a moment when you knew you would make it. Or see what you are specifically thinking about in your current life that would prompt you to refer to it as “satisfying” or “successful.” In other words, dive into your written mission for writing your life story and uncover the jewels awaiting you there.
So don’t let yourself get stuck at the starting gate. Write down for yourself, or for your life story ghostwriter, your reason for writing your life story. Then hoist up your sails and see where that wind may take you!
– Kevin Quirk has been helping ordinary people write their life stories as a professional ghostwriter and life-writing teacher and coach for 15 years. He provides more tips in his book, Your Life Is a Book – And It’s Time To Write It! An A-to-Z Guide To Help Anyone Write Their Life Story (www.yourlifeisabook.com)