Giving somebody license to tell your personal story might feel like a bit of a risk – suppose they miss all your finest achievements, ruin your jokes, and get your tone of voice wrong?
Don’t worry. As well as being great writers, personal biographers are patient and practised listeners. They won’t just get to grips with your story, they’ll come to understand your reasons for telling it. They’ll pick up your tone of voice, and they’ll do the job of writing your story more easily, more quickly, and – dare I say it – better than you can.
Talk is cheap, so to substantiate this outrageous claim. Here are seven reasons why you should consider working with a personal biographer on your life story…
Your personal biographer will make sense of your story
Don’t you hate it when people interrupt the anecdote you’re telling to ask you lots of questions? Invariably, we all omit the things that (to us) seem self-evident when we tell our stories. So, our audiences butt in and ask questions to help them make sense of an event they weren’t a part of.
The more information people have to go on, the easier it will be for them to visualise the story you’re telling. And this is especially relevant to anyone writing an autobiography.
Every good story is a balancing act between imparting all the facts people need, alongside the action and the emotional consequences. Your personal biographer will get that balance right. They’ll identify the areas that will help your readers understand all the big picture details – as well as uncovering the feelings and the emotions that colour your stories.
An objective biographer will uncover more of your story
It sometimes requires an objective outsider to ask the sorts of questions that uncover new insights and new perspectives on old, established stories.
When you hire a personal biographer, you don’t just get their writing skills, you get their interviewing skills too. They’ll help you uncover all the stories behind the stories, and pull out all the interesting anecdotes that might otherwise have been forgotten.
Your biographer will also be able to challenge you in ways you can’t challenge yourself. By asking more about how and why events happened, and investigating their consequences, they’ll build up a more comprehensive story of your life.
Your biographer will identify the right shape for your story
One of the difficulties in writing your own story is not just recalling the significant events of your life, but putting them in an order that makes sense.
Not all stories benefit from being told strictly chronologically. Some stories work better with a thematic approach. Some need something altogether unique…
Your biographer will see the shape that best fits your story and structure it accordingly.
Every biographer is a great editor too
Biographers should tell more jokes: they understand the importance of the set up, they paint the story with economy, and they always land the punchline.
The more one writes, the more one is able to untangle the essential components of any story and present it succinctly. That’s why personal biographers are good editors, and why your personal biographer will get to the heart of your story, making it leaner, more impactful, and easier to read.
Every book is a essentially a struggle between a story that’s too big and too broad to be constrained, and a word count struggling to contain it. When difficult decisions need to be made, it’s invariably the objective biographer who can see which parts of your story need to be jettisoned, and which parts need to be clung onto for dear life.
That isn’t just about objectivity though, it’s about a biographer’s writing nous and experience. It comes of knowing what makes for the best, most compelling, most complete version of your story. It comes of knowing that a good story doesn’t have to touch on every detail to present an authentic picture of someone’s life.
Your biographer will give your story some dramatic welly!
Whatever life story you’re telling, a biographer or ghostwriter will know when to home in on the drama, pathos, or humour. I’m not saying you couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do the same, but this is one of those cases where experience pays. Your personal biographer knows the tricks of the trade, and will have helped to bring out the drama in many books.
Remember too that many personal biographers are used to working on what might be called ‘ordinary life stories’ – you don’t need to have lived a life of high adventure or derring-do for them to want to help you write the best version of your life story.
I’ve worked with many people who have written solid accounts of their life, but their stories have lacked a vital spark in the retelling. That’s because it’s hard to convey the meaning behind the moments of your life unless you’ve got someone to help you access and articulate those memories.
Don’t worry, this isn’t about turning your book into something it’s not. It’s just about making sure that when you talk about the people, the places, and the events that have shaped you, your readers will feel a deeper level of understanding. When you describe those joyful or painful moments, they’ll feel them too. These are things that make good books better. And these are the things that good biographers can do for you.
Your biographer will write in your tone of voice
They say you only notice a bad referee, or an unsympathetic conductor when they get in the way of the action or the performance. Writing is similar. It may seem like quite an intangible thing, but if the tone of voice isn’t quite right, the people who know you best are going to find your story jarring.
So, you’re probably asking why a personal biographer can write in a more authentic tone of voice than you…
Your natural speech patterns will stand out to your biographer as they’re getting to know you over many hours of interviews. By the time they’ve been steeped in your turns of phrase, they’ll be able to channel the voice they have come to know so well.
It may actually be harder for you to write in a way that sounds authentic. (I stress that I’m generalising here, so apologies if you’re reading this thinking I don’t fit that stereotype!) When you write, you may be thinking about presenting your ideas in a clear and cogent way. You may not have much time to finesse your writing. You may even second-guess your inclinations, making your writing even less fluent.
Often, I work with people who have made a start on their life story and have anonymised or ‘corrected’ their tone of voice entirely. They do it because they think their book should be some rigid, formal document, rather than the no-holds-barred story of their life. Usually, this manifests itself in a terribly formal style that may have won plaudits at school, but won’t make reading your story much fun.
An experienced biographer knows how to present your vocal mannerisms in the most natural way so that readers are aware of them without them sticking out like a sore thumb. Your book will sound authentic.
A professional writer is going to save you 100+ hours
It will conservatively take over 125 hours to write a 30,000+ word book.
But if you work with a professional writer on your autobiography, your time commitment is reduced to the time it takes to carry out the interviews, and review your draft. 10-20 hours, tops.
Of course, it’s not just a massive time saving… Think of the stress that goes with writing a book, and making sure that every word is right, and that the structure works, and that it says what you want it to say. Your biographer will take care of all of that as a standard part of their service.
With a bit of help from your friendly neighbourhod biographer, your story can be written, edited, designed, printed, and published in just a few months.
Let me loose on your story!
So, that’s my take on why you might want to let someone else loose on your story, and how a personal biographer can help you.
If you’d like to find out more about the process of working with a personal biographer, book a half hour biography consultation – and you can tell me a bit about your ideas for your book while you’re at it.