3 Powerful Ways to Write Your Life Story
We live in such an amazing time, a golden age of literacy. We are not relegated to just the stories of books and films, but have the capacity to share our own stories in written form.
This is powerful and sacred work, a tool for understanding our condition within the human condition. Writing can be a portal into what Plato called “the examined life.” And writing leaves in its wake a personal and cultural her-story (history) that can inform future generations.
If I were to title this decade of my sixties, I would call it Reclamation.
These years continue to reveal themselves as a time of taking to heart the things I thought I lost, or broken. As I’ve gathered these things to me I’ve come to find that nothing is ever really lost and those broken parts, aren’t as broken as I’d thought.
Part of my reclamation is rediscovering the younger version of me who sat with that small, electric Corona typewriter and made up stories when I was barely in double digits. Gathering to my heart the pain of unrequited poetry and journals full of angst and dreams.
Your sixties and upward are really the perfect time to gather your stories and share them with family or friends, to recount tales of extraordinary courage, or perseverance and tell your heroine’s journey. There are several ways you can do this:
Record Your Reflections in a Journal
Journals reveal those snippets of life through daily or regular reflection. They are less about what happened and more about capturing the tone, feeling and insight of what happened. They are an expression of the heart.
As a young woman, I was enamored with Anais Nin’s journals that explored her sensuality and sexual being, her search of what was uniquely hers.
Later on I would fall in love with May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, a watershed book for a woman writer of that day because it was less polite than it was angry (an emotion not always culturally acceptable for women).
I have only one rule for journal writing: date your work. The dates are signposts that allow you to look back and know where you were in your life when you wrote that passage.
The Slight Difference Between Diary and Journal
In our day, lots of young women had diaries. I got one for my twelfth birthday. It was white leather and had a little lock on it, guaranteeing that my thoughts would be private. A diary is a chronology of personal events, a report on the details of the day whereas a journal is more self-reflective, an examination of life that may lead to insight.
Diaries have grown into something more than writing about the cute lifeguard at the pool that you were falling in love with – yep, that’s what I filled my first diary with, a recollection of summer days spent poolside, imagining my life as Mrs. Lifeguard.
Diaries now can be garden diaries or kitchen diaries, the tracking of life through those places. My friend, Tod Davis, wrote a book called Jam Today, that is really a kitchen diary, filled with observations and recipes – an absolute delight.
And if you want to take the deep dive into diaries, read Tristine Rainer’s book, The New Diary. It’s a work from the 1970’s, which is still valid today.
Write an Autobiography
Autobiography and memoir are somewhat synonymous, but I like to make a distinction between the two. Autobiography is the full story of a life. I think of Howard Thurman’s amazing autobiography, With Head and Heart, which recounts his earliest childhood recollections to his meeting with Martin Luther King, to the first integrative church that he built in San Francisco.
What a story.
Memoir, the way I hold it, is about a slice-of-life event that changed and transformed you, the writer. For instance, Sue Monk Kidd wrote a book called, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, which is her story about moving from Christian tradition into the sacred feminine. Within the church she grew up in, her memoir begs the question: “where are all the women?”
As you can see, there are several ways to write your life. Of course, there is no right or wrong way. You can tell your life beginning to end, or you can tell your story through your years as a quilter or a hiker.
Life is rich and there are so many ways to reveal our her-story. Some questions you might want to ask yourself:
- Am I writing for publication or self-publication?
- Who am I writing for? Is it for my family and friends? Am I writing just for me?
- Do I want to tell the story of my entire life, or a segment of my life?
- Am I more comfortable with the musings of journaling, or do I want to create a book?
How do you like to write about your life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Stephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. In her Sixty and Me column, she’s going to explore how you make the art of writing work for you. Her debut novel is represented by Dystel Goderich Literary Management in New York. You can find Stephanie at StephanieRaffelock.com or Tweet her @Sraffelock.