The Story of Writing a Story

Here’s my recommendation of the week: if you have a life, write a life story.

Okay, I know, I know. Some of you might complain you’re not good writers or good spellers or your life is boring. But come on, do it for me. It doesn’t have to be a long book (why not shoot for that minimum of ‘official’ book status: 96 pages?), it just has to be a book that no one else could ever write: your own autobiography.

I long thought about writing an autobiography. Alas, I felt my life was too short, too common, too trite. All that stuff. Moreover, I worried that it was impossible to sum up my life with one overarching theme. Life is more like a recurring TV show than a single novel…and I didn’t know how to compress family, friends, jobs, hobbies, schooling, weddings, funerals, and beard-growing all into a single tome. More than that, there were big chunks of life I didn’t want to think about or share with other people. I worried that people would get offended or upset or bored.

In November 2006, I began (for the second time) writing my autobiography. I’m still plowing through; I’m almost done. Actually, I’m almost done with the first draft. I forget where I read it (I wish I remembered…) but in one book the author said that every book tells two stories: The story itself and the story of writing the story.

I’ve often expressed to my wife that I feel like I’ve relived everything while writing about it… When I detailed events from my elementary school days, I pulled out old dusty papers from the ‘80s. When I wrote about my first public speaking experience, I listened to the cassette tape of that day. When I wrote about the bus trip where I met my wife, I rewatched the footage I shot during that vacation (and subsequently edited it). When I wrote about my wedding, I looked through the guest book. And now that I’m writing about my son, I keep referring back to a book I wrote from that time period. I’ve contacted people to verify events from decades ago, and I continually check calendars and mementos from the past to verify chronology. I didn’t think my life story would have an appendix (heck, even I don’t have an appendix), but there you have it.

After a verbose 530 pages, I am finally writing about the present. Or, more correctly, I am writing about the most recent year that I will write about. For now. I am hoping to wrap this monstrosity up pretty soon so I can work on my next project: editing my book.

Through all this, I keep thinking that many of the people in my story should write their own story.

I encourage anyone out there to write their life story, too. Don’t be nervous…you can set your word processor to autocorrect spellig or punctuation, errors.

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2 Responses to The Story of Writing a Story

  1. Mike says:

    Funny last sentence! I give you credit for sticking with the project. I have thought about writing my story, but at 55 years of age it just seems too daunting. And I still have at least another 20 years things that have not happened yet. I suppose I could write a ficticious ending… How much are you selling your book for?

  2. James says:

    Glad you knew the last sentence was intentionally incorrect. I contemplated inserting [sic] at the end, but that seems so pretentious.

    Good point – I guess no one can really write the “ending” of their own autobiography. But you could write the ending to a given aspect of your life. Like, once you retire, you could write about your career.

    I want to try to get the book published, so it’s a “real” book. If that fails, I’ll probably just make it available for free on the worldwide web.

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