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Ralph Dranow : Writing Your Life Story: Ten Common Questions

Writing Your Life Story: Ten Common Questions

By Ralph Dranow

Have you ever dreamed of writing or co-authoring your life story but been held back by fears and doubts? I help people write their life stories and would like to examine some common fears and questions that could get in the way of your dream of writing a memoir.

1. What if my life hasn't been that interesting? What if I don't have anything original to say?

You could be selling yourself short. Just having the gift of life, with all the tremendous potential that entails, makes the life of each one of us interesting, however ordinary it might seem. In the process of writing, we examine our lives more closely and often realize that seemingly small things might have more significance than we'd thought. And if you've written honestly about your life, then what you have to say is original, because each one of us is unique; no one else has exactly the same story to tell. In telling your story, you're embarking on a voyage of self-discovery that will enrich your book and your life.

2. Who would want to read it? Isn't writing about myself egotistical?

If you've written an honest, vulnerable book, then you've tapped into a universal core of feelings that will make it more than just your individual story. Other people will be able to identify with it, and if you've written your story well, then it could be a great gift to them. Only stories that are shallowly written or dishonest are egotistical exercise.

3. What if I'm not a writer, or not a very accomplished one?

Some people are more articulate as speakers than writers. If you fall into this category, you can hire a qualified person to interview you and write your story.

If you like to write but don't feel you have enough experience to write a book, you have some options. You can take a memoir writing class; there are some good classes available. If you decide to work on your own, there are many helpful books you could read, such as Turning Memories into Memoirs: A Handbook for Writing Lifestories by Denis Ledoux and Legacy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spense.

Another option is to hire a writer to collaborate with you on your book.

4. Would hiring a writer to help me with my life story be expensive?

The cost of the project could be looked at with the perspective of what's really important to you. Many people feel quite comfortable spending thousands of dollars on a family vacation or a new car. Perhaps writing your life story might be just as important to you as this vacation or new car. Or it could be even more so, because it would leave you with something permanent, a legacy for your family, friends, and future generations, as well as a potentially valuable voyage of self-discovery.

5. Would the story still be mine if someone else writes or co-authors it?

Yes, if the person you hire is careful to maintain your own voice so the story feels genuinely like yours.

6. How long would this project take?

If you're working on your own, it could take several years. But if you hire a writer or collaborator for your book, then the process will be quicker, maybe even as short as several months.

7. What if I'm nervous about revealing all the intimate details of my life, especially things I'm ashamed of?

Your memoir could be just for yourself, a journey of self-exploration that no one else sees. But if you desire a wider audience, then this is a valid concern. One thought is that you could touch with compassion and your present level of awareness aspects of your life that evoke shame for you. We all make mistakes, and if you can be compassionate about yours, then it will be easier to share these parts of your life with others.

Also, writing involves selection; you can always decide what to include and what to leave out. Through the process of writing, it will be easier for you to decide what's essential to your story and what isn't.

8. What if my family and friends get upset by what I say about them? I'm concerned that I might be violating their privacy.

This is a delicate issue. Again, the book could be just for you. But if it's for a wider audience, then you might need to weigh what's more important to you, writing your life story or not hurting the feelings of people you're close to.

If you write as compassionately and honestly as you can about your life and those close to you, then you've done your best. The people you've written about might see themselves in a new and more empathetic light as a result. Of course, there's always the possibility they might not. Although your writing may be compassionate, there's room for feelings of anger too. But if including certain incidents or details would cause more harm than good in your estimation, you can always leave them out.

9. If I've forgotten a lot of details about my life, would it be dishonest to make things up?

It would be dishonest to invent incidents that never happened but not to fill in the details of actual incidents as best you can. Very few of us have total recall of all the details of our life. But if we make a strong effort to stick closely to the facts, that's all we can reasonably do. And in the process of writing, you'll find that buried incidents and details will surface, one association leading to another.

10. How do I get my book published?

Trying to get your book published by a mainstream publisher could be difficult, as it's a very competitive process; only a small percentage of books submitted to mainstream publishers get published. For some books, though, this direction might make sense. Then it would probably be best to look for an agent to help you get your book published.

Another option is self-publishing. These days, with advanced technology, a self-published book can look very professional. Also, now it's possible to print copies one at a time, in response to demand, which helps lower the cost of self-publishing. •

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Dranow. All rights reserved.

Ralph DranowRalph Dranow loves to work with people who have written something deep and passionate but feel that the writing is not quite there yet. With his writing and editing skills, he can help make the writing flow so that his clients feel their ideas and feelings have been given their strongest expression. More »

Updated 1/6/14