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Ralph Dranow : Writing Your Life Story: Getting Started

Writing Your Life Story: Getting Started

By Ralph Dranow

Many people want to write their life story but feel paralyzed by the question: How do I get started? This article gives encouragement and guidance to people who are wrestling with this concern and aims to make the process of beginning to write a memoir or autobiography an enjoyable one.

You may have considered writing a book about your life story for a long time, but been paralyzed by the pervasive concern about how to get started. It can feel daunting to write a whole book about your life, which contains so many pieces and layers. Questions such as: "Where do I begin?" "Do I need an outline?" "How do I weave the disparate threads of my life into a coherent whole?" can seem intimidating.

So, how do you get started on this seemingly monumental project?

Well, your starting point could be something small: a brief memory, a small, a bit of dialogue, a description of a place or person. You can start anywhere, with whatever calls to you. You don't necessarily have to have an outline, or to begin at the beginning of your life; that can create unnecessary restrictions on the flow of your writing. (Of course, if constructing an outline or beginning in early childhood works for you, don't hesitate to follow either of these paths. But for many people, it will be easier to get started with fewer rules.)

You'll find that as you write down one memory, others will come to you. It's like turning on a faucet. Once the spigot is opened, you'll be surprised by the strong flow that pours out.

Don't worry at this point about creating a coherent narrative or writing polished prose. This is a first draft, and you'll get plenty of time later on to shape, expand, and winnow out your initial writing. There are many resources, if you need them, to help you with that, such as books, classes, the assistance of a professional writer. Right now you'll just want to coax the words to flow and to get down on paper what you remember — the incidents, descriptions, feelings, and thoughts that have filled your life with meaning.

Knowing about your creative process and how to nurture it can be quite helpful. Are there specific things that will facilitate the start of your writing day? For some of you it will be taking a walk or doing some other form of exercise. For others, it might be meditating, taking a relaxing bath, playing the piano, or putting on a favorite piece of music. Some people may want to light a candle or burn incense to emphasize the sacredness of the occasion.

Some other good things to consider: What's the best time for you to write? Early in the morning, afternoon, or perhaps late at night? Do you need complete silence in order to concentrate, or are you stimulated by the buzz of people, conversations, and coffee machines swirling around you? Do you tend to write in short, intense bursts, or do you need longer, uninterrupted blocks of time? Would certain pictures or words on your desk or on the wall inspire your writing?

Be patient with yourself and the process. It might feel rather slow at first, but you'll gather momentum as you go along. And the joy and excitement of weaving together the threads of meaning in your life by writing your memoir or autobiography will become more and more palpable.

So if you are considering writing your life story, I hope this article gives you the necessary encouragement and guidance to take that courageous first step.


  • Start with something small.
  • Don't feel you have to have an outline, or to begin at the beginning of your life (unless that works best for you).
  • Write down one memory. Others are sure to follow.
  • Don't worry about coherence or polished writing at this point. Just let a first draft flow.
  • Pay attention to what nurtures your creative process — and give yourself that.
  • Be patient with yourself. Momentum will follow. •

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