At some time in your life, you have likely thought about writing a biography or memoir. Depending on the obstacles in your life, this can occur at 20-, 30-, 40-years or older. The clients I work with tend to be in the age range of 35-50, which was shocking to me! My career began writing for people in retirement communities who wanted to leave a legacy for their children, grandchildren, and so on. While the 55+ community is still popular, I’ve found that those approaching me are in a slightly younger age group. They are business owners, minor reality TV personalities, legislators, community personalities and regular people. And why not? Everyone has a story to tell.
However, one problem I’ve found is that for most people, their first attempts at writing a biography or memoir has ended in what they consider as a failure. While there are tons of reasons why someone would stop writing their story before they finish (time constraints, can’t recall past very well, boredom, harder than they thought, lack of motivation) the number one reason I hear is that, “I tried to write my story and found it just wasn’t as long as I thought.”
And this is common whether someone has tried to write their story on their own, or I interview someone. People naturally think the story they’ve been telling the past 20 years is pages long, but when typed out it is only a paragraph. Funny how that works, but you don’t have to let this keep you down. You see, people think of life in short bursts rather than a whole picture.
One way I like to overcome this obstacle is to put together a simple outline which highlights two aspects of a book.
Aspect one: You know all those stories you tell over-and-over to your friends and, well, anyone who will listen? Likely those stories don’t connect with any other story of your life. They are just fun, interesting and worth about five minutes of storytime. I can think of dozens of these stories in my life. I love those stories. They are a great example of my life. They speak volumes about humility, ignorance, the good and the difficult. Those are stories I’d love for my descendants to know about. They are a snapshot of my everyday life and personality. But, they do not necessarily tell the world anything significant about my life. Most importantly, they don’t tell how I’ve changed from an impulsive and optimistic 19-year-old to a studious and rational 40-year-old.
These stories all go into one bucket.
Aspect two: Aspect two stories are life-altering and tend to be lengthier than aspect one stories. For example, in my life, tennis has played a major role. Sure, I remember the wins and losses. I remember great shots and missed opportunities. But, those are moments. An aspect two story would tell how tennis changed my life. It would talk about a young kid who moved to a farm in the middle of fifth grade and didn’t have any friends. How that kid spent countless hours with a racquet, ball and garage door. It would tell how a sport developed confidence, independence and strength enabling me to move from state-to-state on my own, knowing as long as I had sport, I had a start. Now, that is an aspect two story. Another example would be my career in leadership. I worked as a production supervisor and manager for years at various companies in the Twin Cities. There again are interesting stories that are fun and relevant to tell on occasion. But, individually they don’t say much about me. However, as a whole, they tell the story of how I grew as a person. They tell how I developed greater patience for the things I don’t understand. They tell a story of how I began to understand the perspective of others to understand my own life. It was these careers that improved my writing ability by teaching me patience, perspective, curiosity, and context.
Aspect two stories tend to be multiple stories which share the same theme in your life. More importantly – just like a novel – they show growth. You are not just writing down facts about your life, you are showing readers that you grew and how you grew.
Putting it all together:
Step one: Putting your story together is where people get stuck. Most people focus on the aspect one stories and write multiple pages of paragraph long stories, quickly realizing there is no relevant connection. And that’s okay!
The first thing I ask clients to do is to list the aspect one stories they can remember (more will come later) and then list ten, or so, aspect two stories. What are the events and interest that changed your life or helped you grow as an individual? These are the stories we will focus on. We won’t just focus on telling the facts, but rather how these facts affected you, and how you learned from them. These will be your chapters.
A common misconception is that one chapter picks up where another ends. So, naturally, you tell your story like this: Birth to kindergarten to elementary school to middle school to high school to college to the first job to the second job to the third job to dating to marriage… You get it, and that’s boring. This tells me the facts of your life, but it doesn’t tell me your life. A better story would be:
- How tennis changed my life
- An impulsive adventure to the islands
- Life as a single father of two boys
- How leadership taught me to be a better writer
These are aspects of my life that created me. While there is some chronology, they also widely overlap with each other, but that doesn’t mean that when I am talking about tennis I need to bring up where I was working as they are unrelated. Although, it is important to keep your reader in-the-know of your age, dates, and things that will give an idea of when you were in life.
While you are working on these aspect two stories you will be able to use the aspect one stories to supplement and move the aspect two stories forward.
Consider an aspect two story as a single memoir of your life. Meaning your biography is a culmination of memoirs.
By now you are likely wondering, what do I do with all of these aspect one stories that don’t quite seem to fit in with my completed memoirs? Don’t worry, we can still use them!
One way of incorporating these stories is to write a summarized biography of your life in an introduction to your book. The introduction can speak about your life, some fun stories and people you remember along the way. But, most important, we are telling your condensed story as an intro to the lengthier memoirs of your life. These aspect one stories are a light-hearted approach to your life. They may not dig into your feelings, thoughts or even how you changed, but they will share bits of your life that were important to you now or at that time.
Consider these two parts of your book as friends. The memoirs are a close confidant, a best friend, while the introduction is a Facebook friend. The confidant knows the details of your life, remembers who you were as a teenager compared to who you are now and the key moments that helped change you. Your Facebook friend know that you have four kids, collect coins, and went on vacation to Beijing in 2008, but doesn’t know much more than jokes, comments, and a few photos.
Writing your biography is a time-consuming process, but a worthwhile process. You are leaving behind your story for future generations and you are building a memory for yourself.
We all have a story to tell, but it’s how we tell it that keeps us moving forward. So, put together those aspect ones and aspect two stories and get moving! Having you around has made the world a better place! You can do it, and if you need help please don’t hesitate to contact me!