Writing your life Story – Get Started Now

Writing your life Story

Getting started is always the most difficult part of any enterprise. With a life story, the beginning appears even more difficult. It seems impossible to know where to start or how to organise the whole complexity of life into some kind of order.

Do not be daunted: be content to start with doubts. You do not have to be certain to begin anything-if we waited for certainty, most things would never be started. Starting anywhere is better than not getting started at all. Nevertheless, there are simple ways of getting started that everyone can try.

Read– An important part of learning to write well is to read widely. Reading other life stories can be inspiring. From reading you can learn the possibilities of style and form and how to accomplish changes in tense. Some people may need to stop reading once they start writing because they are too easily influenced by others’ writing styles.

Organise space and time– Organise space for yourself. It is a good idea to set up a table that you can leave all your work materials in place. On the other hand, some people work best with a notebook on their lap on the sofa or down in the backyard under a tree. You know your own best working conditions: create them for yourself so that you have no more excuses.

Making time can be more difficult than making space. Make a regular time to write, it doesn’t have to be long-half an hour each evening when everyone else is in bed, or two or three hours on the weekend will get you a long way.

Discuss– Talk with others about your project. Talking it over will give you more ideas and often encouragement.

Collect and arrange– Assemble your material.. Don’t spend too much time on this as it is easy to use it as an excuse for not getting started. Dates and missing information can be added later if necessary.

Arrange your work tools. Word processor will save you months of time and also gives you the chance to try different arrangements of your material. Many people still like to use a pen and notebook for first drafts. IT feels comfortable and relaxed and you can sit in an easy-chair while you are doing it! It is very useful to have a noticeboard handy to which you can pin letters, photographs, notes and scraps of scribbled memories.

Pen to Paper

Now that you are prepared, there are countless ways you can begin the writing. The following are some techniques you could try.

Fact– Start with a fact about yourself. A logical stepping-off point is the date, place and condition of your birth. Make it interesting by writing a fact about the year you were born. Were you born during a war? Which star sign were you born under? Who was the Prime minister that year? Go to a library and find newspapers of the day and year you were born. Look at the local, national and international news. Take an item that catches your interest and write about your birth in relation to it. There are endless facts about yourself that could be effective as an opening.

A symbolic image– Often there are pictures in the mind that seem to hold special significance. Think about your life and see if there is some image you often think about: a broken toy, a path in the bush, a room in a house. Opening with a symbolic image can be a seductive way to start. It creates a sense of mystery and the possibility of discovery.

A childhood story- Think of an experience from your early childhood that you have often re-told over the years. Describe the clothes people are wearing, the weather, the kind of furniture and so on.

Parents– Parents are so influential in almost everyone’s life that they cannot be truthfully left out of a life story. Start with an action, something one of your parents did. It could be chopping wood, brushing your hair or dressing up to go out. Use it as a way into writing about them. It might relate to what they look like what work they did and your early memories of them.

Mementos– Take a memento of a holiday from any period in your life. A sea shell, photograph, postcard. Picture yourself on that holiday-the place, the clothes you wore, the different feel of holiday living, the sights and smells. Write as much as you can think of about the particular holiday.

Journal entries– Rereading journal entries and gazing at old photographs is a good way to open the door to lost memories. Pick an entry that is special to you and write about it. How did you feel at the time? Who/what was the entry about? Were you happy, angry or sad?


The sources for a life story are many and include memory, research, family interviews, journals, letters and mementos and public records.

Memory– Memory is the storehouse of our lives, huge and crowded and often dark. Parts of it hardly ever see the light and seem best left forgotten. There are other parts however, that are visited often, gazing at the memories stored handling them with tenderness. Memory is such an important source.

Family history research– While not always important in a life story, many people like to include family history, especially when they want to find links between their own lives and the past. There are many books available specifically addressing the topic of how to research and write family history. There is always the internet and most towns and suburbs also have historical societies with information, books and encouragement for amateur historians.

Library Research- Libraries can be a fascinating way to check your memory and add to your story. Following up a lead through books and newspapers can be as thrilling as a treasure hunt. You might use library research to answer a number of specific questions.

Family interviews– Interviews with family members are an important but often difficult source. Family members will often know more about a particular person or incident than you do. When conducting an interview, explain your purpose and make clear your intentions. Decide on tape recording or note taking and listen and ask questions from the stories.

Journals, letters, photographs, mementos- These are the treasures of most people’s lives. If you ask people what they would save in case of flood or fire, most will say ‘the family photos’. They are often valued above expensive furniture, clothes or appliances. Putting letters or journal extracts directly into your story can make it more lively.

Public records– Public records are a useful source. They provide the official details, the bare bones of your existence. You can check dates, places and names on the records held by the government, the church, the armed services, community organisations and schools.

You are on your way to bringing your life story alive.