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Two Essential Books for Life Story Writers

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

Have you decided when you’re going to write your ‘life story’? Most of us think we have infinite time to do so. A small fraction of people actually take the time to write their stories.

Life story writing looks at an entire life and attempts to capture that story in print. (If you’re honing in on one specific period of your life, you’re writing a memoir - check out this blog post for more resources).

The first step in writing your life story book, the most daunting by far, is creating your “messy first draft”. If you work with either of these books, I’m convinced you’ll be further along than when you first started:

  • Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir - by Lisa Dale Norton

    • Of all the books that I reviewed, this is my favourite. While she titles her book as being about memoir, this is one that is beautifully applicable to either memoir or life story writing. For me, her short book is the perfect mix of structure and emergence: a “memory map” to generate a list of key life events, for example, and then “shimmering moments” to do a deep-dive into the sensory experience of the moment. She is also the author who most succinctly writes about bringing in historical and political context - what she calls the “Larger World” (p. 56-57). This is the book I want to have by my side when I write my memoir. This book will help you

      • Look at your life overall to identify some ‘mountaintop moments’ - times that might be particularly valuable to write about

      • Write compelling, vivid accounts of specific memories / moments

      • Structure and organize those memories into a life story / memoir

  • Writing Your Legacy: the Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting your Life Story - by Richard Campbell and Cheryl Svensson

    • I will admit bias on this review, as I had the opportunity to take my Guided Autobiography facilitator’s training with Cheryl Svensson several years ago, and so the content and approach are somewhat familiar to me. The strength of this book is in what they call the “probing questions” - thoughtful, well-crafted questions on a set of 7 different topics. If you are looking for a process that helps guide you to a self-reflective writing process, check out this book or look up a Guided Autobiography course near you.

    • This book will help you

      • Engage other people in your life story process

      • Reflect on aspects of your life that you may not have otherwise considered

      • Consider topics you might not otherwise think of - eg gender, spirituality, siblings, embarrassing moments

      • Pull it all together into one piece that holds up

Have you read either of these books, and did they help you? I’d love to hear about your experiences with these, or other books - just leave a note below or send me an email.

And you know what, once you’ve read one or both of these books, and written your first draft - be in touch, I and my team would love to help you go from messy first draft to a polished book that will last for generations to come.

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