I promise, promise, promise that this will be a shorter blog post today. A friend who follows my blog (if you don’t you should follow me:) recently said she enjoys my posts but finds that she reads half in the morning and half at lunch because she, “Just doesn’t have the time.”
Today I want to touch on something simple. Speaking with someone else yesterday, she mentioned that she wants to write her life story but doesn’t know where to begin. She feels her pre-teen years are a blur she can’t seem to get a hold of, her high school years had no “grunt” to them, and her life didn’t really start until her late twenties. But, starting there, she felt, was too late. So, what to do?
My advice to her was to not be concerned with all of the subtleties. For example, I had one person recently tell me that they hadn’t started writing their book because they couldn’t figure out a good title. To me this is almost laughable because the title is always the last thing that comes around. But, then I had to realize perspective. Writing books is my career, so it’s natural to realize that a title isn’t important. nor really decided until the end. For others, it may be THAT important.
But, back to the point of where to start. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. You will probably not finish your book in a couple days. It will take you months, if not years to write. So, in the long game you can start with what happened yesterday and then write what you remember when you remember. The more you write, the more you will remember. That is a hard fact. However, I know this doesn’t help to answer your question. So, below are three small exercises to help you start writing your life from nowhere.
Segment your life
We often think about stories in our life as a stand alone story rather than breaking our life into relevant bits of time. One way to recall our stories, especially the memorable ones we forgot, is to break our life down. For example, many people use school to do this. Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. Something that tends to be fun is when someone says I can only remember back to high school. The fact is your best early story probably happened when you were much younger than you thought.
An exercise to segment your life is to try and write a story from pre-high school, high school, your early twenties, and within two years from now. That is four periods of time in your life. Jot down as much as you can remember from each story. Usually 200 or so words will do.
Once you have those stories written, use them to jog your memory about what else was happening in your life at that time. Write those stories, or what you can remember.
By breaking your life into segments you can create a base of operations to expand your mind from those key points and explore what you thought you lost.
The easiest exercise is to write down bullet points of key moments in your life such as birth, first day of school, first date, first job, marriage, children, etc. Using these moments you can, as in the previous exercise, find moments that define who you are and explore from there.
The goal is to put a go-to list of writing sources for yourself when you have time to write. So, if your first kiss is a defining moment for you then when you are done reading this post go to it and write about that first kiss.
Set a time to write everyday by journaling
No doubt if you have ever talked to a writer before they have told you to write every day. There is a reason for this. Writing every day is the best way to open up your mind and recall memories. Whether you choose thirty minutes a day or two hours, it doesn’t matter as much as getting your mind into the ritual of writing.
For me, one of the best ways to open my mind is through journaling. I don’t do it often since I already write everyday, but I still manage to journal a couple times a week or month. This will not only preserve your current thoughts but also trigger memories. My favorite journaling tool is Penzu which offers an online format and an app that sync together.
Not knowing what to write or where to start is a matter of personal preference. However, the key is to start where you are most comfortable. That might mean trying to pry out stories from your younger years. For others, starting with your most recent memories is easier and more helpful.
When writing your personal history the problem tends not to be, “I don’t have a story,” as much as it is you have too much of a story, but need to find the right stories which represent the real you. By knowing where to look for your life stories, or how to find them, you will find that where you start isn’t as important as starting.