Have you always wanted to tell or write your life story, but you’re not sure how to start? If so, you’re not alone. Many people want to share the story of their lives, but they get stuck. Whether it’s in the writing or the publishing, there might be something holding you back from writing the memoir you’re dreaming of.
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If you want to write your life story, either to have for yourself or to publish as a book, here are some steps to help you through the process.
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8 Steps for Writing Your Life Story
Telling the story of your own life should be pretty easy, right? After all, you were there and experienced everything personally.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. In fact, writing your own life story is often more difficult than penning a work of fiction. We experience so much in life that it’s hard to know what to include or leave out. And with personal emotions attached to each life event, getting through some chapters can bring up unpleasant memories.
Below are the steps for writing your life story if you’re not sure how to begin or where to go next.
Step 1: Choose a theme
First, decide whether your life story is just for yourself and your family, or whether you’ll share it with others. Many people write memoirs so that their families can remember them when they’re gone. Others write memoirs as first-hand accounts of historical events.
If you choose the former, you’ll likely include life events and stories that are most meaningful to you. If you choose the latter, you’ll want to focus more on stories that relate to the event you’re recounting. The “theme” of your life story and your reason for writing it are important to decide early on.
Step 2: Make a family tree
If more than just a few family members show up in your life story, it can help to create a family tree. You might do so just for yourself, for reference, or you might make a more polished version to include with the family story.
Including a family tree at the beginning of your memoir will help readers, including other family members, follow along. It’s also a nice touch if you’re creating your memoir as a family legacy project.
Step 3: Brainstorm key life events
Following the “theme” you chose, consider what life events and moments you want to include in your life story. If you’re creating an autobiography to recount your life to children and grandchildren, you can just go chronologically. Begin with key events from your childhood, then your teenage years, young adulthood, and adulthood.
Here are some other important events you can include:
- Getting into trouble with friends at school.
- Going to college.
- Your first job.
- Meeting your husband, wife, or partner.
- Fun and unique family traditions.
- Having your first child and any children after that.
- Traveling and experiencing different cultures.
- Losing someone you loved.
- Moving somewhere new or buying a house.
- Experiencing major world events (a war, an assassination, a pandemic, etc.)
Step 4: Journal about potentially painful events
Painful life events, like losing someone close to you, can be hard to write about. But that doesn’t mean you should leave them out of your life story. In fact, they’re often some of the most pivotal events in our lives.
If something from your brainstorming session strikes an emotional chord, take some time to journal about that event. Just let yourself write without holding anything back. This is a good way to free up memories you might not have thought about in a while, and it’s also a helpful method for coping with grief from your past.
Step 5: Jot out a rough draft
Next, go through the items on your brainstorming list, one by one, and write a rough draft for each event. If you think of something that applies more to a different item than the one you’re writing about, just make a note on your brainstorm list and move on with your current topic.
Don’t worry about the final version of your life story during this step. You’ll end up with a lot of writing that you don’t include in the final edition, and you’ll end up adding more in as you go. Try to write as freely as possible without editing yourself along the way at this stage.
Step 6: Record conversations with friends and family
Writing your life story can feel unnatural. But talking to friends and family about your life is something you probably do all the time. If you find yourself facing writer’s block, visit a friend or family member, and turn on your phone’s voice recorder. Have your loved one ask questions about the events on your list, and just talk as naturally as possible.
Then, you can transcribe the sessions yourself or consider hiring a transcription service to do it for you.
Step 7: Hire a freelancer
In addition to a transcriber, you might benefit from the help of someone who writes for a living. A writer can help put your ideas into words, and a professional editor can help you decide on a theme, as well as organize your autobiography.
If you want to find a freelance writer or editor, consider these services:
Hiring a freelancer can be hit-or-miss, so make sure you conduct thorough interviews with each potential candidate. Find a writer who you relate to personally and don’t mind spending a lot of time talking to.
After all, the writer or editor you choose will need to get to know you fairly well in order to convey your life story well.
Step 8: Or hire a professional service
If working with a freelancer doesn’t appeal to you, you might prefer to work with a company that specializes in life stories and memoirs. Some of these services, however, can cost upwards of $25,000 to publish a memoir start-to-finish. The cost includes travel for a writer to come out to you and interview you.
Here are some of the more popular life story-writing-and-publishing services:
Working with one of the all-inclusive services listed above might cost more, but it often includes writing, editing, and publishing all in one.
Step 9: Collect relevant photos
A life story is even more interesting if it includes photos related to the stories inside. Go through the photographs you have in storage, both physical and digital. Create stacks of photos (or folders on your computer) by year that the photos were captured. This will make life easier for you when you’re trying to locate a picture related to a certain story in your memoir.
If you want to include any of your physical photos that you don’t have stored digitally, too, you’ll need to scan them. You can do so at home if you have a scanner, or you can take your photos to a printing service.
Step 10: Edit your manuscript
Whether you write your life story completely on your own or hire outside help, you should be hands-on in the editing process. You’ll need to read through the entire memoir, making notes along the way. If you’re working with a professional writer or team, send your notes to them to make changes.
When you’re editing, imagine you’re reading your life story as someone who doesn’t know you.
Make sure your story is understandable, easy to follow, and conveys the message you decided on. If you include multiple family members in your life story, make sure it’s easy to understand who those family members are, and their relationship to you.
How You Can Publish and Share Your Life Story
After you’re done writing your life story, you’ll want to publish it. Publishing a book doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll sell it to people you don’t know.
Having your autobiography published could mean simply making it more presentable and creating a few copies for family and friends.
Here are some of your options when you’re ready to publish your life story.
Leave it to the professionals
If you chose to hire professionals in the writing and editing of your life story, they might also offer publishing options. This is usually true of all-inclusive memoir and life story services like those listed above.
If you hired a freelance writer, you could hire the help of a graphic designer to help design the cover of your life story, and an editor who’s familiar with publishing to help with the rest.
Self-publish a physical book
To self-publish a hard-copy book, you’ll need to decide how you want the book to look, first. You’ll need to master typesetting and design a cover.
Then, you can choose a print-on-demand or offset-printing service like one of those listed below to self-publish your book:
Create an e-book
You can also create an online version of your book, instead of a paper copy. You can do so using one of the services listed above, which also offer e-book services. Or you can design your book yourself.
If you choose to DIY it, take your manuscript and log into one of the sites below to design a book:
Send your book to family and friends
If you create a physical book, it’s a good idea to order at least ten copies right away. That gives you the freedom to give your memoir as a gift for Christmas or keep it on hand to give out whenever you want.
When you give your life story to a family member or close friend, make sure to include a personal inscription inside the cover. Write a message to your loved one explaining why you wanted them to have a copy of your personal story, or let them know what they mean to you.
If you give your life story to someone who makes an appearance in the book, mark the pages where they appear with sticky-notes.
Why Write a Life Story?
You don’t have to be the most interesting person in the world to write your life story. Almost everyone can benefit from writing about their own life, and your family will enjoy learning more about your past.
Creating a memoir gives future generations the opportunity to connect with a beloved family member. And if your life story relates to key world events, even more people might be interested in learning about what your life was like.
No matter what your reason for writing a life story, doing so can be emotionally taxing. But when you’re done, you’ll have a physical account of everything you’ve experienced to share with the world.