Tips for Writing Your Personal Life Story

“Look forward. Turn what has been done into a better path.
Think about the impact of your decision on seven generations into the future.” —Wilma Mankiller, Chief of the Cherokee

This quote has stayed with me ever since I heard it at a workshop in Rapid City, South Dakota in 1996. I had not considered the legacy I would leave for generations to come. This Native American concept emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life, respect for previous generations, and nurturance of future ones.

Have you felt a nudge or impression to write some of your thoughts and impressions?

Have you lived through a trial or trauma and felt it was important to record your experience?

Have you learned some important life lessons that would benefit younger generations?

We stand at a pivotal point—as each generation does—a place where we can look backward and forward. We may view our own contribution as insignificant and justify our reasons for not illuminating it, or we can truthfully acknowledge that we were born into this earth-life experience at a critical time that allows us to have a lasting influence on generations to come.

Begin Writing

Julia Cameron’s book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, is an excellent resource of activities aimed at those transitioning into the second act of life—leaving one life behind, and heading into one yet to be created. It’s also a course for anyone who wishes to expand his or her creativity.

“Here are several basic principles for Creativity Recovery:
• Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.
• When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good orderly direction.
• Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward out dreams, we move toward our divinity.

“The Basic Tools section in each chapter includes a Memoir section. A weekly guided process of triggering memories and revisiting your life and answering questions in several-year increments: ages 1-6, 7-12, 13-18, 19-24, 25-32, etc. By answering a short list of questions each week, you will trigger vivid memories, discover lost dreams, and find unexpected healing and clarity.

Inspiring Quotes

“Every life is fascinating. And when we are willing to look at, and thus honor, the life we have led, we inevitably bring ourselves to a place of both power and appreciation. As you become open to revisiting your life, your life will become open to revisiting you.

“As you delve into early childhood memories, you will reconnect with the wonder of a familiar—and perhaps long-ignored—sense of possibility. You will start to examine and discard old ideas that may be stopping you from exploring new horizons: the inner blocks of skepticism and self-censorship, even the idea that it’s “too late” to begin something new.

“You will begin to look at yourself—and your story—with more compassion. With wonder, you will begin to recognize yourself as a unique being with much to contribute to the world.”

“Once you begin writing about your life, your Inner Censor shows up. In dealing with the Censor, it helps to know that its negative voice is not the voice of reason. Rather, it is a caricature villain who will always be on the attack until we stand up to it and say, “Oh—that’s my Censor.

Afraid of feeling foolish, we often back down from our dreams. In reality, it is the Censor’s voice that is foolish, talking us out of our joys and future rewards. When the Censor shows up and tells you that your idea is crazy, respond with, “Thanks for sharing,” and move forward.”

Create First, Edit and Refine Later

In Celebrating Women’s Voices, I introduce the concept of first-thought writing. We forget to create first, and evaluate later. We can’t drive a car in first gear and reverse at the same time. Likewise, when we mix different types of thinking, we strip our mental gears.

Most of us highjack our writing attempts and other creative endeavors because we evaluate and edit too soon and too often, and therefore create less. In order to create more and better ideas, you must separate creation from evaluation, coming up with lots of ideas first, then judging their worth later.

For instance, write or brainstorm, even for a short amount of time, say 10 or 15 minutes without stopping. Then let what you’ve written rest, even for a day or so. Write, then get away in your hammock or other favorite place and let your mind rest. Then another time separate from creating, work on the editing and refining process. Celebrating Women’s Voices includes a variety of topics to get started writing.

One More Idea

As I converse with individuals about writing their personal life story, I hear expressions of both enjoyment and exasperation. Some follow a timeline, compiling dates and events as they occurred from birth to the present, highlighting the important memories and experiences in sequence.

You can add depth and flavor into your writing by asking different questions as you review your life’s experiences. Consider these:

• What were 5-6 transformational or defining moments in your life?
• Where did your given name come from, and why is it important to you?
• What are some of your favorites: color, flower, book, author, type of meal, dessert, game, candy, vacation spot, season, fruit, veggie, flavor, quote, song, hobby, sport, movie, etc?
• Who are the five most influential people in your life?
• What are 3 lessons you learned from your father/mother?
• What legacy do you hope to leave your children and posterity?
• What has been your life’s purpose?
• What are 4-5 things that have contributed to your life in a deep and abiding way?

It’s easy to wonder if you’re coming up with the kind of answers others are expecting, or you may feel inadequate as a writer. Create ease by remembering that there is no one right way to record the events of your life, and critical feedback closes the door to this type of insightful writing.

Record new questions as they arise and come to your attention. These are precious, personalized, and will draw you into a deeper understanding of yourself. Record them for future writing.

In the conclusion of Celebrating Women’s Voices, I wrote: “Our thoughts about our lives and learning—the things we ponder and notice, what is interesting to us, the depth of wisdom that comes from our experiences—all this and the story of our lives, contribute to the record of this world.

“Our life’s star didn’t blink momentarily and then die—we were here, alive, and visible. We worked, entertained, suffered, learned, laughed, loved, rejoiced, and wrote about it. We need to tell our stories and share the deep feelings of our heart voices, not so that younger ones can necessarily follow the same pattern, but so that they can see that we value our lives, our voices, and our thoughts enough to record them.”

The tips in this blog post can help you start the process of writing your life story, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Julia Cameron suggests, “Writing by hand is essential. When we write by hand, we go slowly enough to record our thoughts with accuracy. On a computer we whiz along, dashing our thoughts to the page; our perceptions are fleeting. Many of us feel we can write faster on the computer. Fast is not what we are after.” Instead, we are writing for clarity, to release/let go, to create, to forgive, and to tell the truth about our lives. Start with a notebook. Later, you can use the computer. Once you begin, you will receive nudges and inspiration about how to proceed further in your story-telling.

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