Just before we get to the tips, I’d like you to start off with a bit of self-affirmation…
Whoever you are, whatever you’re going to write, have faith in your story and your reasons for telling it!
- You don’t have to be famous to tell your story.
- You don’t have to have lived an ‘extraordinary’ life.
- Your story doesn’t have to appeal to lots of people to be worth telling.
Even if you want to tell a story exclusively for friends or family, you should. Many people write their memoir or autobiography just so that the grandchildren they haven’t met yet can read it and learn about the lives they led.
Your story really doesn’t have to be overly dramatic or full of incident. A memoir or autobiography that opens up on your life and your experiences can be very meaningful to family and friends. It can reveal more about the relationships that have shaped you, and help your family and friends understand you better.
Most of all, writing your memoir or autobiography will do you good. It can even help you make sense of things. It’s easier to see the positive impact of what might have felt like life’s missteps when you look at the pattern of your life in a broader context.
So, now that you’re hopefully feeling inspired to get your story out there, let’s look at some of the ways of telling your life story that only require a little writing, or, in some cases, none at all…
Work with an editor
Okay, so this first tip does involve quite a lot of writing on your part… but it’ll be fairly easy stream-of-consciousness writing.
Many people hate writing because they feel as if they need to write in beautifully-formed sentences. They think that their punctuation and spelling need to be perfect. They want to be able to write a perfect book in a single draft.
When you work with an editor, you don’t need to worry about writing a perfectly ordered, beautifully written manuscript ripe for publishing. You just need to get down the bare bones of your story, then sit back and let your editor get to work…
Editors are there to sort out your mess! And they’re pretty unshockable. Your editor can untangle and reattach the threads the hold your story together. They can give it fresh momentum and make a cohesive story out of the building blocks of your draft.
Knowing that your writing doesn’t have to be perfect is pretty liberating. Knowing that your sentences don’t have to flow expertly from one to the next, and your chapters don’t have to advance your narrative in smoothly orchestrated ways can really free you up to just tell your story. And after all, that’s what you’re here for.
If you don’t want to write your autobiography or memoir, why not record it?
If the thought of all that writing doesn’t appeal, consider recording it on a Dictaphone or mobile phone.
This idea works best if you get somebody else to prepare some questions for you to answer. You can challenge your friends and relatives to think up the questions they’ve always wanted to ask you, get someone to compile them all and set up some interview sessions.
Choose a favourite location that you’ll feel relaxed in, and either rope in various family and friends to ask the questions, or elect a single interviewer. Ideally, they can follow-up with some additional questions based on your answers.
You can decide whether to take on the questions sight-unseen, or whether you have some sneak previews to help you prepare fuller answers to more difficult questions.
An hour of interviews can easily yield three- or four-thousand words, so you can quickly build up enough material for a long book.
With a bit of time invested in editing, you can turn the recordings into an audio autobiography or memoir. I recommend that you don’t go overboard on the edits. Part of the charm of working this way is that it’ll sound very real and immediate. So a few laughs and fluffs will only add colour and personality.
Alternatively you could transcribe the recordings into a written manuscript, or use a transcription service to help you.
A video memoir
This is the next step up from making an audio recording…
While you can do a lot with a mobile phone camera and an editing suite, I’d recommend you talk to a professional videographer. They can help you set up shots effectively, compensate for variable lighting levels, and bring a really professional flourish to the finished video.
So, how do you create a video memoir?
- Choose a favourite location – somewhere you’ll feel at ease and ideally, is visually appealing.
- Get an interviewer to ask you questions. You can choose a friend or family member, or ask your videographer if they have any interviewers or presenters they recommend.
- (Talk about the areas of your life that you want to cover beforehand so that your interviewer can ask you relevant questions.)
- Shoot more material than you need so that you have the option to leave out material you don’t want, without compromising the running time.
- Make a day of it and invite friends and family. You can splice in their reactions, comments, and questions too.
Choose to write a shorter memoir instead of a comprehensive autobiography
If you have an idea for a book about your life that doesn’t need to go into infinite detail about everything you’ve ever done, you might want to consider writing a (shorter) memoir instead.
Memoirs typically focus in on one or two elements of your life, from jobs and pastimes, to relationships and travels. Their narrower remit makes the job of writing that much easier.
Or, if a memoir still feels like a bit of a challenge, you could try a memory book…
Compile a memory book
There’s no set format for a memory book, but they generally take a more pictorial approach. They’re a good choice for recording memories via photographs, and other mementoes that can literally be stuck into a physical book (or copied and pasted into an online document).
Some of the best memory books resemble coffee table books that combine full pages of imagery with short- and long-form text.
I’d recommend that you think of the key aspects of your life and your story that you really want to preserve in words and pictures. Select as much representative visual material as you can and write little essays that provide greater insight into the pictures.
You may well find this method of breaking important events down into smaller reminiscences feels easier than the prospect of writing whole chapters.
Make sure the written material supplements the visual material rather than simply describes it. You don’t want to simply annotate the visuals, you want your reader to gain fresh insights from reading the words.
Share the job of writing your book with someone else
If it’s appropriate, you could share the job of telling your story with someone else. Actually, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be lots of people, whether it’s a partner, members of your family, colleagues, teammates, fellow hobbyists, or any combination of other people.
When it’s done well, the combination of lots of different people’s insights can make for a really multi-faceted book. At the time of writing this, I’m working on a book that combines one person’s story with the reminiscences of all the people who helped him to recover after a devastating road traffic accident. The shift of emphasis from one person to another is often very revealing and provides much deeper insights into events than one single narrator could.
Work with an accountability writer
If you feel like you could – and perhaps should – write your own story but you’re finding it hard to motivate yourself to do it, consider joining a writing accountability group, or downloading a writing accountability app.
Writing accountability groups and apps can be a good way of ensuring you’ll write when you say you’re going to write. There are people out there, just like you, who have been putting off telling their story for one reason or another. You can help one another stay motivated, stick to the task, and hit agreed word counts every week or month.
Work with a writing mentor
A writing mentor won’t write your book for you, but they will give you the help, support and guidance you need to make the process a lot easier. You can engage a writing mentor at the beginning of the process, or when you find you get stuck having started writing.
A writing mentor can help you with:
- Structural advice – tying all the elements of your story together in a way that makes sense.
- Writing with feeling – giving you the confidence to give your writing some emotional heart and heft.
- Overcoming difficulties along the way – if you get stuck, they’ll have tips and tricks to get you unstuck.
- Innovative ideas to take your writing in an interesting new direction if you want to avoid falling into the same-old-same-old approach to storytelling.
If you want to write a book, write a blog first
If the thought of writing an entire book sounds next-to-impossible, try breaking it up into smaller, simpler stages. Try blogging.
If you stick to blogging regularly you’re sure to find that the simple act of writing a little bit on a regular basis can soon build up into a book-level wodge of content.
You don’t even have to make the blog public if you don’t want to, although knowing people are checking in expecting to see new material is a great inducement to keep writing! You never know, you night build up a bit of a following, and that could be handy if you ever want to sell your book.
Books based on blogs tend to fall into two categories:
If your book is going to be more of an anthology of personal stories, you might be able to use your blogs in a more-or-less verbatim way. Collate them as you see fit and job done!
But if the blog is going to act as the raw stuff of a longer-form narrative, it’s going to need some knocking into shape. I worked on an editing and ghostwriting project like that, based on a huge slew of blogs; the book was published by Routledge in 2021.
Get a professional ghostwriter to write your book for you
Inevitably, I’m going to suggest that if you want to tell your story. but you don’t want to have to write the book yourself, you really need a professional ghostwriter or life story writer.
I’ve worked with lots of people who have wanted – and in some cases, have been trying – to tell their story for years. They’ve been amazed at just how easy the process of working with a ghostwriter has been. More importantly, they’ve fulfilled their dream of seeing their book in print in just a few short months, without having to do any of the writing themselves.
So, if you absolutely, definitely, don’t want to write a single word, but you want to tell your story, in your voice, for your audience, do consider getting a ghostwriter to help you.
Get your family to write your memoir or autobiography for you!
A bit cheeky, but if you’re tired of your family and friends telling you that you really should write your autobiography, have them do it for you!
Why not? It could even be fun.
- Let them schedule some interview dates and times with you.
- Make sure they record every interview so they can write your story using your words!
- Build up an archive of useful material for them to draw upon.
- Talk through your photos and other mementoes with them.
- Leave the work of writing the manuscript to them and offer any ‘constructive’ feedback!
Putting the onus on your family and friends to tell your story isn’t just a handy way of dodging the writing, it can actually be a really entertaining process in itself. Even if the manuscript never gets written, you will still have told your story, and you will have had a good time doing it, as I’m sure the recordings will prove.
Leave the writing to me
Hopefully you’ll have found something here to inspire you, and you discover that creating your memoir or autobiography isn’t quite as onerous as you thought it’d be. But if you still feel like you’d rather run for the hills, than write your book, let me know…
Book yourself on a free half hour ghostwriting consultation, and we can talk through your options, from writing mentoring, and editing, through to full-blown ghostwriting, depending on how involved (or uninvolved you want to be).