Congratulations! You’ve decided that writing your life story is the way to go, but you may be well be wondering, ‘Where do I begin?’
Your first option could be to use a ghostwriter.
If you're not sure what that is, read my post called What Is A Ghostwriter? first. But if you're ready to go, then....
Here are the 7 steps for writing your life story that will get the ball rolling.
First tip - don’t start writing. Not yet.
You’ll find it a lot easier to begin if you have all, or most of the information you need beforehand.
One of the most enjoyable and effective ways to do this is to brainstorm. Write down all the events of your life, large and small, as they occur to you.
Don’t worry about chronological order, just get them all down.
Here are some ways to stimulate those little grey memory cells.
How To Retrieve Memories
Record Thoughts And Feelings
Don’t just write down events - also record your thoughts, feelings and sensory information such as smell, sounds and touch.
These impressions help to make your story come alive so that when you’re writing your life story, it has more impact.
You’ll be surprised at how many forgotten memories will float to the surface during this process.
Be patient - allow yourself a few weeks for this. Aim to have at least 500 memories in your list before you start writing.
You will find that even after you start writing, memories will continue to pop up throughout the process - and even after you’ve finished!
This is exactly what happened with me when I wrote a memoir about my experiences with breast cancer.
2. Arrange In Chronological Order
Once you’ve exhausted the brainstorming process, now is the time to put all your information into chronological order.
How you do that is up to you:
You can do it with pen and paper and allocate a page/pages for each year, or you can do it on your computer and have a folder for each year.
Another option is to use an online organisational tool like Trello. There are many tools "out there" that are similar to this.
You may not necessarily write your story in chronological order, but it’s helpful to have your information organised in this way.
3. Create An Outline
Some people may prefer to skip this bit and just start writing.
But if you’re a beginner, creating an outline will certainly be of use, even if you decide to vary it later.
Creating an outline means planning how you’re going to write the book and getting the structure down.
You can be as general or specific as you like and you can divide the book into broad sections.
For example, childhood, work, marriage, family, travel, retirement, and place all the events into the appropriate section in the outline.
Or you may want to plan it chapter by chapter.
This will be more difficult to do until you start writing your life story, so my advice is to wait until then.
As you write you’ll find it easier to work out where a chapter should end and another begin.
One important thing to decide before you start writing is where you’re going to begin.
You can do it the conventional way - start at your birth and write the whole story in chronological order.
However, it’s often more interesting for the reader if you start with a particular event that was a climax, something that changed the course of your life.
This will hook the reader and make them want to read further.
In successive chapters, you can go back to the beginning and show how the events of your life led to this climax, and the aftermath.
There are other methods of starting - for example, you could introduce a mystery or a puzzle, something that has intrigued you, then reveal the answer over subsequent chapters.
Or start in the present with a flashback to a significant incident, then describe the events leading up to it.
4. Start Writing Your Life Story
This is the fun bit. Put pen to paper, or hand to keyboard, and let your creativity flow.
If you haven’t written anything major since your last school assignment, you may be slow at first.
But keep at it - like anything, it gets easier with practice.
The most important thing to remember is that this is just your first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
You are writing your life story. It takes time.
Nobody else need read it, except you. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar, you can fix those mistakes later.
Rest assured that your final version will be much improved.
If you come to a section where you realise you don’t have enough information or you have to do more research, just insert a placeholder, such as RESEARCH LATER, so you can go back to it when you’ve finished.
If you stop too often to research while writing, it will slow down the process. This can cause you to lose motivation, because it can seem as if you’re not making progress.
‘I’ve been writing this book for 12 months and I’m still only half way through!’
And when someone asks "hey, how's that life story of yours going?", it ends up like.....
Create A Writing Routine
You will achieve much more if you set aside some time each week for your writing.
At least a couple of sessions per week is optimal. If you can manage more, even better.
Mark it in your calendar and try not to let anything else get in the way.
Once writing becomes part of your routine, it’s a lot easier to keep up the momentum and finish your story.
It will also help to have a designated area to do your writing, preferably a quiet area where you won’t be interrupted.
And if you lose sight of why you're writing it, read this post to remind you of the reasons why you started writing in the first place.
Don’t look so dismayed - you don’t have to rewrite it all from scratch!
But now that you have finished the first draft, you will find, once you read over it, that there are parts that need to be deleted, changed or rewritten.
‘How do I know what changes to make?’ I hear you cry.
There are two ways to find out, and if you can do both, that’s great.
Put Your Story Aside
Firstly, put your manuscript aside for a few weeks, a couple of months if you can, before you re-read it.
You have spent so much time engrossed in the writing of it that you can’t be objective about its flaws.
And there will be flaws. No-one, not even Lee Child or Stephen King, writes a perfect first draft.
Afterwards, when you re-read your story, the time away from it will have given you a sharper perspective and you will be able to see its shortcomings more clearly.
And by mistakes, I don’t just mean spelling and grammar, I’m talking about the bigger picture, such as:
The flow of the story, how it is put together, whether it maintains interest, the emotions evoked in the reader.
Get An Objective Opinion
Give your manuscript to a trusted friend, ask them to read it and give you constructive criticism.
It needs to be someone whose judgment you respect and whom you know will be honest.
It goes without saying that they should be an avid reader and have a good command of English.
Give them a list of questions to answer, such as ‘Did the beginning interest you and make you want to read on?
Were there any places you got bored? Did the story flow well?
Was there anything you didn’t understand, or that I should have added or left out? Did you like the ending?’
Based on your own thoughts and those of your critiquing friend (whose advice you don’t have to take if you don’t agree with it), you can now make changes, rewrite where necessary and polish your prose till it sparkles.
Now that you’ve dealt with the big picture aspects of your story, it’s time to attack your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Once you’ve gone through it and fixed your mistakes to the best of your ability, you will still need another pair of eyes.
It doesn’t matter how good your English is, there will be things you’ll miss, because you can’t see your own mistakes.
Find A Proofreader
If you can afford a professional proofreader, that’s ideal.
If not, put the word out amongst your friends and acquaintances and find someone who is conversant with the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation and would be willing to proofread your manuscript for you.
Once they’ve done that, go over your manuscript and make all the necessary changes.
Read It Out Loud
To make your story as engaging as it can possibly be, there’s one final step I highly recommend.
Set aside a few hours on a comfortable couch and read it out loud to yourself.
Many professional authors do this; it’s an excellent way to find sentences that sound clunky, or don’t make sense, or words that aren’t quite right.
You won’t necessarily pick those up by reading your story on a screen or paper.
It’s time consuming, but it’s worth it.
Now it’s time to release your book into the world!
How you do this depends on your reason for writing it.
If you have written your story only for family and friends, you can create your own book with an online publishing program, or you can employ a publisher to do it for you.
Google ‘book publishers’ to find those in your area.
As publishing is all done digitally, technically your publisher could be anywhere in the world.
Here's a list of book publishers that you might (or might not) know.
But it’s better to find one in your area if you can, as that will decrease the cost of shipping the published books to you.
Read the publisher’s terms and conditions carefully to make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for, and what is not included.
Many publishers will also give you the option of publishing your book to be available in bookstores for the general public to buy, if that’s your aim, though the marketing of the book will be up to you.
Beware Of Marketing Packages
Some publishers offer you a marketing package as well as a publishing package, but again, study the terms carefully.
The problem with marketing is it’s not an exact science.
No matter how experienced the marketer is, it’s not possible to know or predict how many copies a book will sell.
You can find yourself paying thousands of dollars for a marketing package, which you may not get back in sales and which will leave you out of pocket.
Don't Forget Photos
No life story is complete without photos, which you will need in digital form.
Choose your best quality photos - for the purposes of publishing, your photos have to be at least 300 dpi.
If they are less, there are free online tools that will convert them for you.
Keep in mind that the more photos you have, the more expensive the publishing will be, and that colour will cost more than black and white.
Most publishers advise using black and white photos.
8. Bonus Tip - Let Me Write It For You
Book a Free, No-Obligation Consultation Today!
Click the button below to find out more about having your story ghostwritten and to book an appointment with me.
If writing your life story by yourself sounds too daunting, and you decide you’d rather have someone else do all the work, I’m here to help.
I will write your life story for you, from start to finish, and you won’t have to lift a finger.
Read more about how I can help you here and please feel free to contact me for an obligation-free discussion about your needs.
Click on the Book Now button above and let's start talking about your story.