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Chapter 1 - Opening the Door

Going Back in Time

Writing a life story is really taking a trip back in time. It’s a little bit like time-traveling – where you go on a fascinating journey through the times of your life. Be prepared to re-live and re-visit places you may have long forgotten. Finishing your life story may be a destination, but writing it should be a journey that you enjoy so thoroughly, you will want to continue it on an on-going basis. It may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but like everything else, you just take it one memory at a time. While you are on this fascinating journey, you will need to carry around a notebook so that you can jot down memories and ideas as they come to you.

When teaching my workshops, I always ask my students to watch movies about going back in time. I encourage you to do the same, since it just might spark an idea for writing your own life story. There are lots of them out there. My husband and I have a whole collection of them. Our favourites is the Back to the Future series with Michael J. Fox. What a brilliant idea for writing a life story – comparing the way things used to be, to the way they are now. Every Christmas we watch the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Remember the famous line when the angel Clarence says to George Bailey – “Strange, isn’t it, how a man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” Have you ever thought – What would life be like if I were never born? Have I influenced people in a good way? Have I made a difference in someone’s life? Have I learned something valuable that I can pass on to others? These are the kinds of questions to answer when writing your life story.

Have you ever watched the Biography Channel? I’ve watched it quite often. Why do we watch it? Because we are curious, and we want to know how people live their lives – especially famous people. We have an innate curiosity to hear a good story, and the best stories involve people – living, breathing and doing interesting things. Reader’s Digest is full of true and engaging life stories written by ordinary people like you and me. Well-written and interesting life stories are in demand, but have you ever wondered what makes these stories so appealing? That’s what we’re going to discover.

My own interest in writing a life story began when I was in my late teens. I underwent a life-changing experience that was so profound, I decided I had to write about it, and then share it with others. I have been telling my story ever since. Finally, when asked to share this story in the church I attended, I had to condense it because of time constraints, so I wrote a short booklet called, The Long Road Home. I have included it in the Excerpts of Life Stories located at the back of the book. I went a step further. I knew that my mother and her family share similar life-changing stories, so I asked her and her family to each contribute their life stories, so that I could compile a book, which would complete their family history. I collected 18 life stories (there were 21 children in her family). It took me about three years and was a lot of work, but when I finally finished it, the feeling of joy and satisfaction outweighed the many laborious hours it took to compile it. I ended up with 203 pages, complete with pictures, poetry, newspaper articles and other important documents. It’s called The Bonk Saga: A History of Memories.

Tools for Life Stories


The greatest tool you need to write a life story is a good memory. Even if you feel you have forgotten many things, the ideas and suggested exercises in this book are designed to refresh old memories, once you try them. Similar to others who have tried these same exercises, you will likely recall things that you may have stored away in your memory bank that has lain dormant for many years.


To begin, in order to help you jog your memory, and to get the dates and times straight, you might want to retrieve all vital & significant documents like your birth certificate, your baby book, immigration papers, marriage certificates, baptismal certificates, diplomas and other certificates, etc. If you want to record family names or birth dates correctly, you might want to consult your family tree. If you don’t have one, you may want to consider creating one.


You may also wish to retrieve any old diaries or journals, letters, greeting cards, school-work (including report cards), artwork or anything else that you have saved through the years. You may wish to refer to them to jog your memory, or you may wish to include some of these in your portfolio, as well.

Format for Life Stories

I have included a Life Story Format guideline in Chapter 5. It will show you briefly and simply how to organize your life story from beginning to end. Also in Chapter 5, I discuss different publishing options for your finished story. Please turn to it, so that you can begin to think about the direction you want to take in writing your life story.

Writing Approaches for Life Stories

Depending on what kind of life story you want to write, you can be as thorough as you like and write out a chronological list of everything you have done from childhood up to the present; or you can pick and choose certain things you have done and turn these events into a series of little stories. As mentioned above, if you are interested in publishing a book of memoirs or even one or two stories, then you will want to learn how to write good, publishable stories that include basic story elements – theme, conflict, resolution, dialogue, and so on.

Journal Writing

Paramount to writing your life stories is to keep a journal. Journal writing is new to some and an old warm and comfortable habit to others. If you want to be a writer, or already are, then journaling is as essential to a writer as nails and a hammer are to a carpenter. Just as a carpenter always carries his tools with him, you need always to carry a notebook or journal with you. It is one of your most indispensable tools, since you never know when a memory or inspired idea will come to mind. Keeping a journal serves several purposes. Use it to record your thoughts as they come to you, and record memories of your life past, present and future. Use it to record what you observe about life all around you, and discover that certain things may trigger memories. Some things you might want to reflect on are: What inspires me the most? What is my favourite place to write? What hinders my creative flow? What are my own life’s themes? What are my personal philosophies?

How to Create Stories From Your Own Life