Every story has a message or theme. What message to you want to convey? What do you want your readers to remember from reading your personal story?
The answer to this question is not easy to determine–so it may take you a while to nail it. But if you focus on the message first, you will save a lot of time later.
Your message will help you select the memories, thoughts, ideas, and experiences you want to include in your life story.
Once you decide on your message, keep it visible and handy as you write your memoir. If you’re not sure about including something, ask yourself the question: Does this add to my message?
Where to Start
Think of your story in terms of the universal story structure. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending–like a diamond.
You can start anywhere in your story. Some writers just like to start writing. Later they may add more to the beginning or to the ending. Others like to envision the entire story first–and then start with the beginning. Still others, start with the ending–the theme or message they want to convey–and work backward to build the story. Don’t get hung up on where to start–just start!
What to Include
We believe in starting small–with 7 memories that are associated with your message.
Sit back and relax and think about your message and your life so far. What 7 memories come to mind? Think big–when you met a significant person, accomplished a dream or goal, lost something or someone important, had an amazing journey. Think small–eating an ice-cream cone with a beloved “little one,” listening to your favorite song, reading your favorite book, watching a sunrise or sunset. Look through your photos, mementos, and keepsakes for ideas. Still stuck? Below are a few more ideas:
a significant formative event in your life
an important lesson you have learned
an influential person in your life
a cherished item (and why)
a special event in your life
a favorite holiday or celebration
your happiest or saddest time
your successes or worst mistake
your greatest accomplishment
your political causes or social values
your favorite custom or tradition
an activity you inspired or respected
how you would like to be remembered
the special people you love
a final thought, saying, or expression
Next, make a list of your 7 memories and sequence them so they tell a good story. This takes some time and you may decide to substitute one memory for another. Know why you’re including each memory. Mull it over until you’re satisfied with your choices. These create the framework of your memoir.
Realize, you’re not writing yet–you’re just thinking about what you want to include in your life story. You’re making a list of the memories you want to include. When you are satisfied with your list, you are ready for the next step.
Ready, Set, Write
Ready to start writing? Open a new document page on your computer and start writing about one of the 7 memories. HINT: If you hate to type, record your words into a digital recorder (on your cell phone, for example) and then have the material transcribed. Today’s transcription services are cheap and fast!
If you get stuck about what to write, remember to include the Ws–who, what, where, when, why, and also how.
Be sure to add interest: vary the length of paragraphs and sentences; alternate long pages with short pages; alternate serious pages with lighter ones; start each page with a fresh, new subject; open the story at some dramatic point rather than at birth.
Write about each of your 7 memories in the same way. NOTE: It doesn’t matter which of the memories you tackle first. You can resequence your material later.
For the title, consider the theme/message of the memoir. What do you want the reader to remember most after reading it? Make a list of titles to consider.
Reread and revise the memoir and use the spelling/grammar checker to catch any errors.
This is the simplest start to writing a life story. Hopefully, it will assure you of your writing skill and inspire you to write more!
Schedule a Time to Write–And Stick to It!
It doesn’t matter how much you write or how good (or bad) you think the writing is. Just WRITE.
Suspend judgement and you’ll be surprised how your creativity blooms and your writing blossoms.