The First 3 Steps To Writing Your Life Story Writing: How To Turn Your Life Into A Novel
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The First 3 Steps To Writing Your Life Story Writing: How To Turn Your Life Into A Novel

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06/13/2014 09:28 pm ET

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Dec 06, 2017

The First 3 Steps To Writing Your Life Story


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These quick, one-time-only exercises can teach us about ourselves and what we want—and how we can tell our story. The bonus? You might just end up with a book…

By Leigh Newman

1. Your 3-Sentence Life Story

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.”

Consider these examples before putting pen to paper:

Loving mom who worked all the time, no dad. Never really got over lonely childhood.

Love my life, love my dog, love my kids. No room for a guy.

Finally sober. Exhausting journey. Many regrets.

Beautiful, close family. And then the accident.

Fears and phobias finally overcome, thanks to husband. Still not sure if I deserve him.

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.

2. Your Crucial Incident (or Incidents)

What to write: Choose one or more of the sentences below and write a page or two that begins with that particular sentence. Don’t worry about bringing up material that you are afraid might be too painful to explore, says Temes. “Please don’t bother with grammar or spelling or punctuation issues. “Just write for yourself and for your clarity of mind.”

Sentence 1: I was just a kid, but…

Sentence 2: I tried my best and…

Sentence 3: In that moment everything changed.

Sentence 4: It was shocking to find out that…

Sentence 5: It was the proudest day of my life. I couldn’t stop smiling when…

Why it helps: Sometimes we avoid the most obvious—and complicated—events that have happened to us, events that inform our whole life story. Let’s say your three-sentence exercise was Loving mom who worked all the time, no dad. Never really got over lonely childhood. Maybe you could try, “I was just a kid but…” or “I tried my best but…” Was there something else that happened that prevented you from getting over your lonely childhood? Did it happen when you were a child—or later? Did it involve parents? You don’t have to know the answers to these questions. Let the pre-written prompts guide you. “Don’t think and write,” says Temes. “Just write.”

3) Your Secret Why

What to write: Take a minute to think about the previous two exercises. Then, please finish this sentence; I’d like to really understand everything that led me to _______________.

Here are some examples (it’s okay to add an additional sentence or two):

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to marry Blake. He was so wrong for me and I don’t want to make another mistake.

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to choose architecture as my life’s work. Did it have to do with the way we lived when I was growing up?

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to become such a good mom, considering I had no role model.

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to never get along with my step-mother. Now that she’s gone I realize what a good person she was and how she tried to have a relationship with me.

Why it helps: There’s no need to do the actual examination and investigation now. Instead, just focus on identifying what it is you might delve into someday—in a memoir or in the pages of a journal or just in your mind. What truth is important for you to get at? You have a structure (your three sentences), you have a crucial event (that may have caused or contributed to that life story) and now you have a purpose—a reason for writing that will let you learn, enjoy and even be surprised by the story you’ve been waiting to tell yourself and—maybe, just maybe, the world, as well.

Roberta Temes, PhD, is the author of
How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days , which includes other exercises like these.

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Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you.

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EDITION



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06/13/2014 09:28 pm ET

Updated
Dec 06, 2017

The First 3 Steps To Writing Your Life Story


These quick, one-time-only exercises can teach us about ourselves and what we want—and how we can tell our story. The bonus? You might just end up with a book…

By Leigh Newman

1. Your 3-Sentence Life Story

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.”

Consider these examples before putting pen to paper:

Loving mom who worked all the time, no dad. Never really got over lonely childhood.

Love my life, love my dog, love my kids. No room for a guy.

Finally sober. Exhausting journey. Many regrets.

Beautiful, close family. And then the accident.

Fears and phobias finally overcome, thanks to husband. Still not sure if I deserve him.

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.

2. Your Crucial Incident (or Incidents)

What to write: Choose one or more of the sentences below and write a page or two that begins with that particular sentence. Don’t worry about bringing up material that you are afraid might be too painful to explore, says Temes. “Please don’t bother with grammar or spelling or punctuation issues. “Just write for yourself and for your clarity of mind.”

Sentence 1: I was just a kid, but…

Sentence 2: I tried my best and…

Sentence 3: In that moment everything changed.

Sentence 4: It was shocking to find out that…

Sentence 5: It was the proudest day of my life. I couldn’t stop smiling when…

Why it helps: Sometimes we avoid the most obvious—and complicated—events that have happened to us, events that inform our whole life story. Let’s say your three-sentence exercise was Loving mom who worked all the time, no dad. Never really got over lonely childhood. Maybe you could try, “I was just a kid but…” or “I tried my best but…” Was there something else that happened that prevented you from getting over your lonely childhood? Did it happen when you were a child—or later? Did it involve parents? You don’t have to know the answers to these questions. Let the pre-written prompts guide you. “Don’t think and write,” says Temes. “Just write.”

3) Your Secret Why

What to write: Take a minute to think about the previous two exercises. Then, please finish this sentence; I’d like to really understand everything that led me to _______________.

Here are some examples (it’s okay to add an additional sentence or two):

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to marry Blake. He was so wrong for me and I don’t want to make another mistake.

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to choose architecture as my life’s work. Did it have to do with the way we lived when I was growing up?

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to become such a good mom, considering I had no role model.

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to never get along with my step-mother. Now that she’s gone I realize what a good person she was and how she tried to have a relationship with me.

Why it helps: There’s no need to do the actual examination and investigation now. Instead, just focus on identifying what it is you might delve into someday—in a memoir or in the pages of a journal or just in your mind. What truth is important for you to get at? You have a structure (your three sentences), you have a crucial event (that may have caused or contributed to that life story) and now you have a purpose—a reason for writing that will let you learn, enjoy and even be surprised by the story you’ve been waiting to tell yourself and—maybe, just maybe, the world, as well.

Roberta Temes, PhD, is the author of
How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days , which includes other exercises like these.

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  • Maghreb
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The First 3 Steps To Writing Your Life Story
How To Unlock Your Creativity
When your own imagination isn’t firing on all cylinders, get inspired by the imagination of others.
Celebrated filmmaker Ji

1
/ 10
Immerse yourself in creativity
When your own imagination isn’t firing on all cylinders, get inspired by the imagination of others.

Celebrated filmmaker Jim Jarmusch suggests, “Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.

"Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”

Alamy


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Home » The Writer’s Life » Inspiration & Creativity » 8 Tips for Writing Your Life Story

8 Tips for Writing Your Life Story


The first tip on how to write your life story is from John Irving, the next five are from Writing the Memoir, and the rest are from my research on writing autobiographies, memoirs, and life stories.

memoir writing how to write life story For a step-by-step guide on writing the story of your life, read Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art  by Judith Barrington. A book like this will keep you focused and motivated to write the most important parts of your autobiography. Not everything is equally important, and you need help determining what is what.

“The fact is that writing, like any creative undertaking, carries with it both pain and great joy,” says Barrington. “The pain is often inherent in the most fertile subject matter; the joy lies in transforming that subject matter and thus moving through it in a way that helps us grow while we create something of value to others.”








Don’t write your life story for the sole purpose of getting published, or for publishing your own ebook. Rather, write from your heart and soul – for the sole purpose of sharing what you’ve seen, smelled, heard, and done. Write your life story for an audience of one: you.

8 Tips for Telling the Story of Your Life

Don’t chase the god of publication. If you want to get published by a magazine or book publisher, your first job is to write the most authentic, real life story possible.

Let publication chase you. And it will – especially if you use the power of storytelling when you write .

1. Be vulnerable and authentic

John Irving said, “If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital. If you don’t feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don’t have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough.”

When you write your memoirs, you will struggle with self-doubt, fear, and insecurity. Accept this. It’s part of writing your memoirs.

2. Expect writing your life story to be uncomfortable – or even painful

“Talking about the past can have a healing function, but what we find is that talk, literally, is cheap,” Dr Hunter says in How to Write Your Life Story . “We speak words and they fly away before we’ve faced what it is they convey.  This is not the case with the written word.  Writers find themselves saying, ‘ I never really thought about it before’ or ‘ I never saw it this way until I started to write it’.  Writing can slow us down enough so we take notice, and when we write we find the deep truths that we’ve forgotten we knew.”

The most important tip on how to write your life story is that uncovering and sharing the deep truths of your life may be more difficult than you think.

3. Accept whatever comes to you to write

When you decide to write your life story, you may think you want to write about Uncle Joe, but a series of stories about the farm in New Jersey insist on coming to you first. Write what comes. The Unconscious is wiser than you think it is; if you let it, it will tell you what to write in your memoir, and what to leave out.


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“Writing our memories come straight from our most powerful ally, the Unconscious,” says Dr Hunter. “In memoir it is the Unconscious that nudges us towards telling a tale we don’t even understand yet – at least not with our conscious awareness.”

4. Write about a time in your life when something changed

Most people have no trouble identifying these moments of change – the day the family moved away from the neighborhood, the day they realized mom wouldn’t be there to help them raise the twins.  Each memory of this sort is valuable because it is attached to an emotion. We wouldn’t recall it if we had no emotional investment.

These memories are also important because they point backwards to what was, and forwards to what was about to happen, with a sense that there was now a new way of seeing these stretches of time. In each memory, there is likely to be a huge gift – each will reflect a theme, possibly a major theme, which will play out in the rest of the writers’ life.

An important tip for writing your life story is to be aware of the effect on the ones you love. Read Tips for Writing Your Memoirs Without Hurting Family Members .

5. Introduce your Unconscious to a regular writing schedule

To keep the Unconscious on your side, you need to set up a regular time to write. Limit it to 15 minutes, no more – at least at first. Fifteen minutes, three times a week, always at the same time and always in the same place. Stay there for all 15 minutes even if you can’t think of anything to write.  This will set up a rhythm, in the same way we get hungry at mealtimes whether or not we’re really hungry. This isn’t just about finding time to write your life story. Your Unconscious will get used to this and agree to let out a few more memories, right on cue.

6. Reward yourself for writing your memoir daily

Choose something small, but memorable, like a chocolate, a cup of coffee, or a cookie – something indulgent but relatively guilt free. This tells the Unconscious that it’s okay to write your memoir and share your life story. There’s nothing threatening going on. And soon enough, your Unconscious will let go of its defenses and allow the memories keep flowing.

7. Find the balance between writing alone and writing together

how to write life story

Tips for Writing Your Life Story

Do you belong to a writers’ group? If not, explore the possibilities in your area. Sometimes writing groups can motivate and inspire you to write regularly, and to keep sharpening your writing skills.

If a writers group doesn’t exist in your area, read 7 Tips for Starting a Writers’ Group .

8. Prioritize writing your life story

“I’m not a therapist,” says teacher and writer Betty Carlton in an article about unfamous people writing their life stories , “but when you write your life stories, you may experience release, recovery, resolution, renewal.”

She adds that the story of your life is a special gift for your family members, and encourages writers not to let their stories die when we do. Pass them on. If you don’t, who will?

May you be disciplined to achieve your daily writing goals, and may you overcome the fear of being vulnerable and honest about your life story. May you connect with your heat and soul, and even your Creator. May your words flow easily, and may this writing project be a blessing to you and others.

If you have any thoughts or tips on how to write your life story, please comment below! Have you tried to write your memoirs? What scares you? What is holding you back? Are you insecure, doubtful, reluctant? Do you have a message from the king? Do you even know who the king is?

xo









Laurie’s “She Blossoms” Books

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8 thoughts on “8 Tips for Writing Your Life Story

  • Reply
    Laurie

    Hi Allecia,

    I don’t think there are any firm answers to your questions – it really depends on who you’re writing the newsletter for. Some organizations want the editor to conduct and write the interviews, while others are happy if the editor assigns the interviewing and writing to other people. The bottom line is that the questions you’re asking need to be directed to the person who has given you this assignment, because there are no right or wrong answers! It just depends on who you’re writing for.

    As far as writing or editing interviews – some editors just publish the whole interview verbatim, while others rearrange and edit the interview to make it more readable. It depends on time, for one thing – it takes alot less time to simply publish verbatim interviews. But does your organization want verbatim interviews? I think you have to ask them 🙂

    I hope this helps a bit — I’m sorry I can’t give you all the answers, but it really depends on what the organization wants. And, you’ll eventually start learning what the newsletter readers want – which will give you a whole new set of questions to ask the organization!

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  • Reply
    Allecia

    Hi Laurie~ Thanks for replying! I know its an honor but at the moment it is kind of overwhelming – I actually have a list, although I’m given free rein on how to go about it. Frankly, I’m just unfamiliar with the whole concept of ‘editing’ and have no idea of what does an editor do, exactly. I’m supposed to conduct interviews with some key people – am i to conduct the interview or should I assign a person to do it instead? do I come up with the questions myself? – what kind of questions are generally asked? – do I then, write the interviews out word for word or? That’s quite a lot of questions, sorry! =D

  • Reply
    Laurie Post author

    Dear Allecia,

    Thank you for being here – I’m glad you felt inspired 🙂 It sounds like you’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to grow and challenge yourself, as you edit your church magazine. Yes, you may reprint this article in your magazine.

    If you have specific questions about editing, please feel free to ask. I’m not sure what you need — do you want general tips on how to edit a church magazine? Of course, each denomination will have different standards regarding what’s acceptable, so you’ll have to make sure you know what the church leaders want. And you’ll no doubt have to develop a thick skin, because writers and editors always get negative feedback. As long as you stay connected with God, you can’t go wrong (even if your readers disagree with your content or style).

    Blessings,
    Laurie

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  • Reply
    Allecia

    Dear Laurie, you write such inspiring posts! I’m no aspiring writer (although I do write on/off – mainly my daily journal) but I’ve been inspired, somehow. I was actually browsing around about how to edit stuff and everything because I’ve been recruited to edit a magazine for my church denomination – The Lutheran Church of Malaysia and Singapore. I know nothing about editing since my major was in Electronics, maybe perhaps you could even provide me some pointers! I would also like to seek your permission to publish this particular article. Hopefully, the future readers of this church magazine would be inspired enough to take up writing. Looking forward to hear from you soon!

  • Reply
    Laurie Post author

    Thanks for being here, Candice. I love the name of your site, and look forward to checking it out!

  • Reply
    Candice @ The Let’s Go Ladies

    Thanks for this post. I’ve had a lot of wacky travel adventures, and whenever I regale my friends with my stories they tell me I should write a book about my life. I’m never sure if I should give up that much of my life for others to read. This post gave me a lot of think about.

  • Reply
    Laurie Post author

    Great to meet you, Julie! I’m looking forward to going to your blog and seeing how you’re writing your life story 🙂

  • Reply
    Julie Jordan Scott

    Hi there! I popped over here from the Ultimate Blog Challenge and I appreciate all you have to say and share about writing your life story. I am a memoir writer, too – and every little tip and technique helps.


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I’m Laurie, author of Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back . I survived a schizophrenic mom, foster care, infertility, and three years in Africa! My degrees are in Psychology, Education, and Social Work; I share Blossom Tips for walking into new seasons of life. About Me .

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