Do you know the single biggest thing that stops most people from telling their life story?
It’s not the fear of getting it wrong, or doing it badly. (Although would-be autobiography writers and memoirists do worry about those things.) It’s not the worry that they’ll upset somebody. It’s not even the fear of being honest about their life in print.
In my experience, the most common reason people don’t write their autobiography or memoir is this:
They don’t think they’re important enough.
In other words, they’re not a celebrity, they’re not a famous actor, musician, or athlete, so who’s going to care about their life story?
At this point, you might be nodding along in agreement. Perhaps you’ve thought about committing your life story to print, but you’ve been scared that no one will want to read it…
Well, in this article I’m going to do my utmost to snap you out of that kind of thinking and give you all the good reasons why your life story does matter.
So, should you write your life story? Give these 10 reasons a read, and then tell me what you think…
Life story writing is an end in itself
You’ll have heard seasoned travellers say that the journey is its own reward; the same applies to life story writing.
The process of thinking about your life, reviewing all its ups and downs, and revelling in its drama and pathos is just as important as actually writing the manuscript. How lovely it can be to set aside an hour or two here and there to really focus on something that is all about you. It’s not just a deserved luxury, I’d say it was actually a very useful thing to do, as this next reason illustrates…
When you tell your story you get to spend some quality time getting to know yourself!
One of the most surprising benefits of life story writing is getting to look at your life from a different angle.
Many of us have felt like we’ve taken the wrong path in life once or twice, or else we look back on our mistakes and rue the choices our younger selves made. But that’s because we’re so used to looking at our lives in the wrong order! It’s like trying to solve a puzzle when all the clues are mixed up.
When you start writing your story down, you’ll get a broader overview of your life to date. Suddenly, the things that felt like significant missteps can look more like little diversions; necessary steps on the road to somewhere better. Writing your life story can make sense of it all, and make you feel better about your life in the process.
When you write your life story, you’re in charge
For anyone who is holding back from writing their autobiography for fear that it’s too incendiary / too racy / too controversial, remember that you’re in charge.
It’s your story, and you don’t have to include anything you don’t want to include. Exclude the bits you don’t like. Miss out the sequences that drag the story down. Eliminate the people who don’t deserve space in your book. And cast out all the bits that leave you worrying you’re going to offend or annoy somebody important.
It doesn’t matter how much you take out, or fail to include, it will still be your story. Just the version of your story that you want to tell.
The value of family stories as social history
What’s so special about your family? Maybe, like me, you come from a normal enough background. Maybe your life progressed along fairly conventional lines. And maybe you’ve even managed to get to the stage you’re at now without feeling like anything especially eventful has happened to you or your family. Does that mean you can’t write your life or tell your family stories?
As I’m writing this, I’ve just been helping a client tell her life story in a book that she is going to self-publish. At several steps along the way, she’s asked me if certain details are really of interest to her prospective readership. And every time, I have been able to reassure her that they are potentially of huge interest. The ways she and her peers were disciplined at school and at home, the lengths hard-up people had to go to in order to make ends meet, the jobs she did that no longer exist… Her book is packed full of social history.
It all comes round again
Another interesting feature of many memoirs and biographies is the little window they give into the ways we live our lives now, compared with then.
Living through austerity in the post-war years might have seemed like ancient history to some. But that was before the recessionary events and economic instability we’ve all experienced recently. Linking back to events from 60, 70, or 80 years ago can often reveal fascinating similarities, and give us the chance to compare and contrast how we as individuals, as families, and as communities dealt with these things.
Your story will preserve a way of life that younger readers won’t have any experience of
Just as family stories can help to write a social history of your times and places, so your memoir or autobiography can preserve things that would otherwise be forgotten.
Think about the massive wave of change that we’ve seen in this country over the last 20 years, never mind the last 50. Technology is embedded in our lives in ways we wouldn’t have dreamed of when I was a child. And the ways my generation used to pass the time would probably sound archaic to younger readers… and that’s why those things are worth saying. It’s what makes each generation’s experiences worth holding onto.
There are people out there who want to read your story
Perhaps it’s just a handful of friends and family who have expressed an interest in hearing you tell your story. But isn’t that enough? If even one person has told you they’d love to read your memoir, you’ve got the green light to go, go, go!
And if you know one person who wants to read your story, you can bet there’ll be more. If your story delves into social history, or explores a way of life, or a location, then plenty of people will want to read it.
Local historians might want to read it. People in a specific trade or industry might appreciate a look at your book. Your local library might want to stock a copy.
The point is, your book could potentially have a larger readership than you might imagine – and that is another very good reason to get writing.
Your story can help others
I’ve been lucky enough to work with so many people with helpful insights to share. Some of them have lived through bereavement, overcome trauma, or survived illnesses, and their stories have given immeasurable support to people they don’t know and will never meet.
Your book does not have to change the world, but if there’s even the smallest chance that it could help just one person, I’d say that it’s a story worth telling.
Writing your life story feels like a big tick on the ‘To Do’ list!
If you’ve been carrying the idea of writing your life story around with you for years – or even decades – getting to the end of the writing process can feel like a getting a big weight off your shoulders. For many people, it’s one of the biggest ticks on their personal ‘To Do’ list!
Some autobiography and memoir writers feel the catharsis of getting it all out there. Some feel empowered by having said things they have long wanted to say.
Writing your life story might just help you work out where you’re going next
Some people find that writing their life story is like a line in the sand. Their autobiography brings things to a nice, neat resolution, leaving them feeling ready to get started on the next chapter of their life.
Looking back on what we’ve done and where we’ve been is a very effective way of helping us see where we need to turn next. Some people find threads in their life that they want to pick up on, whether that’s things to do, places to be, or people to see. Some feel empowered to try new things, some just want to make new memories for their next book!
So, should you write your life story?
How do you feel about that question now?
I hope that I’ve helped convince you that writing your life story can be cathartic, life-affirming, fun, comforting (for you and your loved ones), and something you really should do.
If you’d like any help telling your story, you can of course get a ghostwriter – like me – to help you. That comes with the added benefit of all the other reasons I can give you about why your story really is worth telling!
Book a free half hour life story writing consultation with me to find out how I can help you tell your life story.