How to turn your journals and notes into your life story

Referrals are a foundation for my business, and last week I received a unique referral. The person I called told me a story about her last thirty years and her difficulty finding a writer who could tell her story. Currently, her obstacle is money, which was in part due to a bad relationship with a writer nearly twenty years ago. So, it can be difficult to hire a writer if you don’t have the budget to do so. But, that doesn’t mean you need to give up your dream of writing your life story and turning that into a book. So, in this blog post I will talk about how you can turn your journals, diary, notes, and other jottings into your life story.

Just because you have only a few pages does not mean you don’t have a book

Using the woman I spoke with last week as an example, she told me that she had 37 pages from a previous writer who had interviewed her. I’ve yet to see how many words this is, but what I do know is that while at only 37 pages, that could easily be doubled to tell the same story – her story – in more detail, analogy, and creative flexibility. The reason I mention this is because many people tell me, “I haven’t done enough to write a book,” or, “I tried writing one of my stories and it was only a page long.” Yes, those are both likely true statements. But, just because your story is only one page, now, doesn’t mean it can’t grow. In fact, your stories, will likely do well with a degree of growth. That is the core of what we will look at here. Now, 37 pages may tell a lot, or it may not tell much at all. But, one thing I can guarantee is that by using these simple tricks you can expand the length of your book and tell a better visual picture for your eventual readers.

Use events to your benefit

When I was ten years old I had a crush on a girl in the 4th grade. We sat next to each other in school. She would share her pencils because I always forgot mine. She liked to talk about ghosts, treasure, and other cool things. It was just before lunch when I heard she was going to tell me that she liked me too. She was to be my first girlfriend in that elementary school, do you like-like me way. One hour before lunch, she told me she wanted to tell me something at lunch. My heart was going nuts. I could hardly hear anyone around me or understand why my teacher was rolling a massive TV into our classroom. In fact, as everyone in class piled around the TV I was finishing off a note on a piece of paper I slid into my desk that said, and yes this is real, “I like-like you.”

The girl sat next to the teacher’s desk where she and I would often sit together. My buddy John wasn’t too far away, and in my head I can remember each of these moments like an old home movie real skipping chattering, and soundless. Our teacher had a smile and I remember her looking my way. I wondered if she knew I was going to have my first girlfriend on the way back from lunch. She winked. I knew she knew.

The TV went on and as everyone excitedly talked our teacher silenced us. “This is important,” she said, “We’ve been studying it all year.”

On January 28, 1986 the Challenger flew for 73 seconds before exploding and killing all onboard – including a civilian schoolteacher. We were excused from school early because of the significance of the event. I never made it to lunch and I didn’t have my first real girlfriend until I was eighteen.

With my story you can see how I took something important in my life – my first girlfriend – and used an event that nearly anyone living at the time can recall in detail. But, even events which are not particularly significant to your story can be used. Using well-known events are a way to make your story familiar to your reader. Doing so will also help your reader understand who you were as well as what you were doing as they recall what they were doing.

Not only is this a great technique to bring the reader into your life, but by doing this you can add to your story including both your story as well as the story of the significant event which in many cases can double the length of your writing. The important thing is to build relevance between the event and your story. Simply writing about the two may not work well. But, if you can link how that event triggered your life you can really create something exciting.

Tell facts as if you didn’t know them

My dad tells a story of my grandma. He was telling her about something that happened to him and mentioned that a bird had flown by. For the story the bird was irrelevant, yet when he finished and didn’t get the response he expected he looked at her as if she missed something. My grandma then asked, “what color was the bird?” That’s something that would have driven my dad crazy. The bird was irrelevant. It meant nothing to the story – to him. But, to my grandmother, she was curious about the bird.

This is one of the most common things I see when people tell me they don’t have enough in their story to write a book. The problem is that they do have enough, but they are telling the wrong part of the story. A charismatic storyteller understands that the story most people tell is only about 25% of the story. The rest of the story has been deemed irrelevant because you already know the information. From eye colors, to barking dogs in the background, mosquito bites, and all the background elements and context to your story can help to grow your story.

Basically, you need to pretend that while you are writing your story you don’t know the details already. They need to be filled in for you and your readers. Don’t forget these facts.

Use stories, proverbs, and quotes that are important to you

We have all heard stories that others experienced and we can relate to. I live in the rural south and you can bet on a near daily basis I hear random expressions or insightful quotes. For example, the other day I was talking to an 87-year-old woman and she was telling me a story about her parents. To express how she felt she told me, “They say that when two bulls fight the only thing hurt is the grass in the middle. I often felt like the grass between my parents.” Another one, which I have always kept close to me is, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” The latter was a quote by Greek philosopher Epictetus and speaks a lot for people who venture outside the norm to find success. After all, society as a whole isn’t keen on stepping outside the norms, but will praise those who succeed by stepping outside those norms.

By using stories, proverbs, and quotes that are special to you and sharing why they are important you can provide your perspective to the reader on how your life is relevant and insightful. The key, like in the previous tip is to make sure the quote is relevant to your life. Generally, you would start with one of these short passages and then move onto your thought regarding the passage, and then how it relates to you.

Don’t forget your thoughts

A few blog posts ago I mentioned a woman who contacted me to write a book. She didn’t really think that she had a story to tell, but her friends encouraged her to write one because of the advice she provided. This is important because when people think of writing a book about their life they often think strictly about events. We are all engaged with dramatic events in a person’s life, but the fact is most people haven’t had a crazy life of obstacles. That’s why Bravo TV has such a following. People doing things that normal people don’t do, and reacting in ways most people wouldn’t react. We are living frivolously through a world we don’t live in.

But, the most effective way to tell your story is by tapping the 90% – or more – of what the world around you never sees – your thoughts. You have a literal (not figurative) opinion of everything. From little packets of ketchup to the dog you see wandering alone through the neighborhood, and the corona-virus scare. Don’t believe me? Sit down at your computer to write 100 words on your thoughts of each. Start with the ketchup packet. Ketchup is playfully squishy and seemingly easy to open, but how annoyed do you get when you open a packet and instead of a small hole in the corner, the packet open an entire half-side, and dribbles valuable ketchup on your fingers. Let’s face it, a bottle of ketchup is disposable, but in those cute little packets that you steal by the dozens from restaurants, even a small drip of lost ketchup is like dropping a gold coin down the sewer drain. And while we are talking about ketchup, what is it about the people who spell ketchup as catsup. That, my friends, was 100 words on ketchup packets.

Your thoughts are important and can fill volumes. So, when writing your life story don’t forget to express your thoughts. Simply scan your notes, written stories, and journals to see where the everyday and your thoughts can be merged.

In conclusion

While you may not think it, your life is both worth telling and a full and complex story. Those few pages documenting your life story are merely a short draft of what is to come. Hopefully, by utilizing these tips you can add more color, creativity, perspective, and insight into who you really are.

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