Writing your life story can seem daunting when you first begin and one of the primary reasons is not knowing what to write about. Many people find that after they write about the three or four compelling memories that got them started, their well runs dry. The writing prompts below are a treasure chest of inspiration, with ideas for everyone. As a bonus, several can be used to illustrate and enhance your stories as you write them.
- Old photographs of you, relatives, friends, events, places, anything meaningful to you. If you have boxes full, select the best and most appropriate ones for each category. Use these as memory joggers while writing, and include relevant ones in your finished copy.
- Scrapbooks may include programs from plays you attended or acted in, dance cards, invitations, announcements, newspaper clippings, and all sorts of other trivia that ties in with stories. Scan the most important for illustrations in your stories.
- Diaries or journals. Avid journal keepers will find a treasure trove of memories and insights. One key difference between life stories and journals is that journals generally record events from the perspective of reactions and feelings and/or straight facts. Life stories take those events and reactions and emphasize their significance by giving form and shape to them and providing context to add meaning for readers.
- Calendars remind you of forgotten events, and they are invaluable for documenting dates.
- Music and songs from earlier times can bring long-forgotten memories flooding back. If you don’t have recordings of your own, check the library, or search the Internet. New websites are constantly appearing that allow you to select and listen to music over the Internet and to download selections at little or no charge.
- Old letters, written to or by you. Perhaps relatives have saved letters you wrote to them or have other material of interest they would be willing to return or loan you. Ask them, and get them involved with your project.
- Family members and friends can remind you of stories you’ve forgotten, or recall details you don’t remember. Tell them about your project and ask about their memories of stories and events. It’s enlightening to explore how differently people remember things. You may want to incorporate some of these differences into your story. Just remember who owns the story-you! Not long ago my sister read one of my stories and began enlightening me about what really happened. “I guess you need to write your own story,” I told her. “You may be right, but that’s not the way I remember it, and this is my story.” One day she just may.
- Internet websites. Search for sites on memoirs, genealogy, historical events, locations, etc. A search for “Life story writing tips” will yield thousands of hits with useful information. If you don’t have Internet access at home, go to the library. The librarians are happy to show you the basics of how to use it, and many libraries offer free classes on doing Internet research.
These suggestions should be enough to get anyone’s memories flowing. Be sure to keep paper and pen handy at all times to capture those ideas when they do occur. They’ll disappear like an ice cube on a summer sidewalk if you don’t write them down.