Stuck at home? How to finally write your life story

I’ve herded a lot of cats, er life stories, in my time, and completed some extraordinary books for seemingly ‘ordinary’ people.

Writing your memoirs or life story is one of those really important things many people mean to do, but never get around to. Or, in my father’s case, he couldn’t see the point in sharing the details of his very ‘normal’ life.

My father was a child of WW2 who went onto become a soldier himself, fighting in the Congo and at Suez Canal and being taken prisoner and escaping, twice. That was before sailing to New Zealand. But I digress.

I make a living writing life stories and I’m going to be honest. People’s life stories are often untidy, unpredictable, messy and full of random tangents. This is the reality of being human and this is why more people don’t write their stories.

But it is possible, with some cunning tricks, to break things down and organise your information, so that you can write your own life story. Here’s how I suggest you do it:

  1. Decide who you are writing your book for – will this be a public document? Or for your family and future generations? Or will it be for people to read when you’re gone? This will clarify what you say in your book, for example, you might want to release all the skeletons from your closet with wild abandon once you’re dearly departed. Or you might want to capture important information about your life and your heritage for your close family. Or you might want your life story to be made available for others to read, in case your story helps other people navigate their own time on this planet.
  2. Brain storm all the important events, memories, people and places that you feel must be included in your book and write them onto a piece or two of paper. Just willy-nilly, let those ideas flow, don’t over think them, or judge them, just let them come out of you and onto paper. The more relaxed you can be here, the better. Think: waterfall.
  3. Next, we get a bit organised. Try to put a date to those memories. Be as specific as you can, even if you can only take a guess at the year.
  4. Then it’s time to order those moments into a linear time line. You can do this anyway you like, but I suggest decade by decade. Make a big list of all those life events and memories, starting at birth.
  5. Next stage – go through each decade and try to remember more. Are there any more significant people, places, events and memories that you know must be included in your book? Get them in there! Don’t hold back, think of colours, sounds, smells, tastes, it all matters.
  6. Congratulations! You’ve formed the skeleton of your book, plus some bits of the body … err muscles and ligaments?
  7. Now start to write. You can start anywhere you like, and the most obvious place is to start at the beginning. Write as many words as you like, decade by decade. You can even break it down into chapter headings as you go, such as ‘The day Mr Smith stopped laughing at my jokes and gave me detention.” Write in first person, from your perspective, as this is your story and no one else can tell it quite like you can. Personally, when ever I think of my dad I hear him swearing, and sometimes this makes me smile. Don’t hold back.
  8. Keep writing. Just keep going. Don’t judge your writing. Don’t worry about your spelling (we’re working with a feckless and strange language that was spawned from about six other languages here). Just tell the story of your life. One memory at a time. Give yourself many rewards as you get through those years, such as time outside in the sunshine, a cup of tea, or a wee piece of chocolate.
  9. Once you’ve got the first draft done: congratulate yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back my friend!
  10. Then, go through the words of your book again and tidy it up. Draft one is always messy. Draft two is for making sure other people understand what you’re saying.
  11. Next, ask someone to look over it to check it for basic spelling and grammar mistakes. Tell them you want to preserve your own voice, but you need someone else to look over it for basic mistakes and to make sure it makes sense.
  12. Dig up the photos to accompany the moments, and write the date, the people (with correct spelling please), and the place on the backs of the photos. I’m saying this partly because one day you won’t be around, but those old photos will be.
  13. Wow! You have reached the layout stage! And you’ve written your book (which is amazing)! If you want to print your book you have options: 1. Get your story onto a computer document, get those pictures in there, with the information you wrote on the back of your photos and make it look pretty. 2. Find a lovely person to help you do this for free. 3. Pay someone with the skills to help you do this.
  14. You are ready to print your book. Again you have options: 1. Print the manuscript yourself at home. 2. Ask your local print shop to pop it into a simple book format and print it for you. 3. Pay a professional to print it for you in a slightly more impressive format.
  15. Congratulations – you have done it! Another pat on the back. Actually I think a little celebration is called for here. Share your story with those you wrote it for and give yourself many high fives, until the novelty fades and you move onto the next big life project such as: organising your linen cupboard.


Charlotte Squire runs Charlotte Squire Communications – an all women comms business – who help people write and publish life stories and other books. They take stories through from a seed of an idea, to a satisfying reality that will last generations. Get in touch if she and her team can help with any part (or all) of the book writing process. or 027 525 7455.


2 Replies to “Stuck at home? How to finally write your life story”

  1. Sweet! I love your encouragement! Thank you Charlotte! And I love your stories, I bought the waikoropupu spring one as my own birthday present and so enjoyed reading it, bought more as pressis for family, gave mine to a friend and ment to replace it for ages, where can I buy another copy? From you? Please.
    I am full of stories, true ones, have started to write with Rose Diamond’s help but lost momentum. Hope to carry on, it is sooo satisfying! I get high from the learning and positive turns and surprises. Life is sooo rich!
    Yes, I also miss my Papa’s stories, he would have turned 100 in March and I scrambled to find something – all I came up with was my own memory and a few photos, found nothing directly from him! So sad, he was such a vibrant man dying too young!
    Thank you and I like to call on you sometime to inspire/ support my momemtum and do let me know what you would like in exchange.
    Hope you get to write!
    Love and blessings,
    Yana from Tui Community


    1. Hi Yanna! Loved your comments 🙂
      Oh I hear you regarding your darling father. If you’re anything like him I’m sure he was a special man.
      Wow you’ve been enjoying my book! That’s awesome. I’ve got some copies at home, I’ll get one to you somehow?? Could I leave you a copy somewhere? PM me? Or my cell is 0275257454.
      I’m starting up a new project right now called Community Memoirs where people team up to write short life stories(20-30 pages, including photos), which become part of a book. I ask people to write a letter to their loved ones, telling the story of their life, including challenges, things they did well or could have done better, and advice for future generations. It’s a much more affordable way of recording a life story than a full blown memoir. And I think it will be fun! Lots of love xx


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: