Top ten handy tips for writing your life story with style…


Life stories have a life of their own. They can swallow you up. A book-writing strategy will save you time, frustration and money. 

Who, seriously, is going to be fascinated with your life story? Be realistic. Stories that wow publishers are as rare as a numbat’s teeth. Even many good stories don’t make it to commercial publishing.

The world’s first billionaire author, J.K. Rowling, was rejected by a long list of publishers who couldn’t see the wizardry writing in Harry Potter

But if you believe your story is worth pitching to publishers, look up their websites first to see what they want: usually a synopsis, a couple of sample chapters and photos. 

But for the millions who want to get their lives down in print for the family record and perhaps friends, there are different directions.

Work out how many copies you will need – adding some spares. With modern print methods, you can get a small print-run and print more later if needed.

Visit a print place – it doesn’t have to be a professional printer who might find your print-run too small, anyway – such as Officeworks and ask them about book binding, sizes, costs and types of covers.

You don’t have to write a brilliantly fluid tale. And it doesn’t have to be lengthy.

One option is to compile a book-of-record with photos. Just write captions, cryptic or long.

Also, compile a simple list of your life’s evolution:

1949. Born to Holly and William Johnston in Sesame Street, Floreat, on August 12. My first memory was…

1955. My kindergarten days, the sandpit. Siblings.

And so on…

Many readers appreciate fewer words.

Draw-up a list of chapter headings (1949–1959; 1960–1965 etc) will make it much easier to write and compile. You can dart back and forth between these chapters when something springs to mind about a certain time-period.

Don’t underestimate the time it can take to write a memoir. A Queensland mining millionaire (not Clive Palmer) sent someone to ask me about “ghost-writing” his memoir. By outlining everything required of him, I talked him out of it. He wasn’t ready.

When I explained the decisions that had to be made beforehand (hard cover? For family, or clients or both? photos? Had he prepared anything) he went cool.

Clearly, for him to produce the sort of book he had in mind (grand), covering his personal and business life was going to take a mighty commitment.

Would he be available at regular times without being called to work meetings? Could he allocate hours at a time to sit down and answer questions and to find photos and documents? To check details with family, friends and colleagues past-and-present?

The good news for the average writers of life stories is that it can be done cheaply, efficiently and without becoming a heavy burden.

There are helpful publications available like A Grandmother’s Memory Journal (Hardie Grant) and How to Write Your Life Story – 10 Easy Steps (Jo Hamlet).

Some set it up for you with memory jogs (siblings, first home, pets, fashions, hopes, successes, fun, challenges) and provide the blank pages for you.

10 Tips:

  1. Visit a print place to decide book size and style.
  2. Compile chapter headings.
  3. Compile photographs, in order. Write captions.
  4. List your life’s key dates with happenings (for front or back of the book where readers can quickly see when you were born, key names, where you worked etc).
  5. Allocate regular writing time: e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday – 9am-10am.
  6. Keep writing –  mistakes, typos and all. Get it all down in those chapters. Then edit and fix faults.
  7. Be prepared to revise, revise, revise. Don’t overwrite. Keep it mostly light.
  8. Set a deadline. Be disciplined on writing times.
  9. Check the manuscript with loved ones on sensitive and personal matters.
  10. Enjoy the process of writing your own memoir.