As young women, many of us kept a journal, documenting our lives, relationships, travels, holiday adventures, family stories and milestones. All the secrets and details of our exciting life stories seemed so significant and worthy of detailed description and analysis. Anais Nin was our writing mentor and we knew that one day someone would get great pleasure from reading our sparking literary jewels.
Then technology appeared and we started storing pictures, letters and memories online. Now in our 60‘s, many of us feel the need to start organizing our life stories into a shape that family, friends (and even ourselves) will enjoy. If you think it’s time to record your fascinating and wonderful life, you may be looking for some ideas on where to start.
Here is a roadmap for writing an autobiography:
Start by organizing the chapters of your life in a way that makes sense to you. You can sort by years, decades, locations or life segments. If you start with a structure, the story will be easier to tell. You may want to begin with a little background on your parents or grandparents just to put your own life in perspective.
Once you’ve constructed a timeline, you can set the foundation by writing some background on your childhood and teenage years. As you document your experiences as a young woman you’ll often start to see patterns emerge and notice influences that shaped the way you lived as an adult. In this way, writing your autobiography can reveal a lot about you. It may also help you to understand your current style of dealing with life situations.
Start to write down your earliest memories, houses and cities you lived in. Describe people in your life, such as your siblings, and reflect on what you mother and father were like as people. Think is short sentences. Was yours a fairly traditional or non-conformist background? Did you go to college? Keep asking yourself what happened next?
Writing your life story is a great way to make connection between individual memories and past experiences. What was your style of interacting in high school? Were you part of a clique or more of a loner? What decisions did you have to make in your early adulthood? What was your first, second and third job?
Think about important milestones like college choices, your first kiss, significant friendships and your first love. Write about relationships and see if you can identify themes that shaped in your personality. You might even find yourself returning to a previous chapter to add an important “aha” moment or to note how an important transition impacted your life.
While writing your autobiography, you will often start to see archetypes in the kinds of people who became the cast of characters in your life. Again, these associations will enrich your understanding of yourself, so, take time with each one.
Write about the people who mentored you, the people you loved and the people you most admired and respected. Think about how you absorbed those influences in your life and how they guided your decisions.
Many women in their 60’s have had the opportunity to travel to wonderful places around the world. There are likely some locations that changed your life forever and that you visited repeatedly. Look at pictures to stimulate memories.
One reminder I used after my divorce was to see genuine smiles in those pictures. This experience reminded me that storytelling is often easiest when you stay immersed in the moment and try not to apply too much of your current thinking to the past.
In order to refresh and enhance your memory, you might want to think about the historical context for your life – what was going on around you as you grew up. For example, in this article, I wrote about the decades women over 60 have lived through and how they influenced who we are as a generation and as individuals.
However you approach your story, keep your eye on the present. Your story is definitely not over yet. Hopefully you will take the positive things learned in this writing exercise to shape all the incredible adventures that you can add in Volume 2.
Have you ever tried to write down your life story? What did you learn? Please join the conversation.
Watch my interview with professional writer, Ben Gran for more specific tips on how to write your memoir. You’re not going to want to miss this.