Does Writing your Life Story mean you 'tell all'?

Telling your Truth

Writing your life story is about telling your truth as you perceive it. The experience of documenting your story is often tempered by the unleashing of emotion whether it be anger, joy, grief or happiness, and the wise and responsible storyteller will explore their perspective with insight and humanity. This can be particularly challenging if the life experience or relationship was not positive but kept secret and dark, deep within the silent and stony chambers of an aching heart. 

People have moments of indiscretion, behaviours outside of their normal true nature, or relationships that were abusive and damaging.  When understanding your perspective on your life story, it is useful to reflect on whether you want an accurate description of the rich tapestry of your life and what defines you, or an undisciplined drainage of harsh facts. 

I remember once I was holding a Q&A session on life writing, and a woman told us her brother’s story needs to be told but he wouldn’t tell it, therefore, she would have to tell it. This is a very dangerous attitude in these litigious times. 

Similarly, many of my clients disclose a hurt or pain that has been closed away for a life time. It is humbling to watch as the issues are aired on those draft pages, and the client seizes and controls the options and choices that appear. This is empowerment. Quite often, the experience will not appear on the next draft, but sometimes it does - and this is their emancipation. 


Your Truth is your Perception

When I first started writing memoir, it was about my family and friends, and all they wanted to know was if they were in the book and what did I say about them. I have learnt many lessons since those early days and a key wisdom is that truth is embedded in the perception of the experience and can be shaped by age at the time of the experience, emotional integrity at the time or some external pressure that shaped the memory. 

I have also learnt that you are not obligated to ‘tell-all’. I now understand that by allowing words to connect with readers’ emotions and experiences, the message is still crystal clear and even more powerful.

Here are some other hints that you may find useful to convey life story truth

  • Write in a positive or even neutral perspective. Use accurate and clear words to describe experiences and record the details of your emotions whether they be grief or joy.
  • Describe your feelings and how they made you feel and what they made you do, rather than the indiscretions of the other person. Allow your words to convey powerful experiences without making judgment or criticism.
  • Write with compassion and understanding for yourself and your characters. Context is a wonderful leveller for every writer and placing people within their situation whether it be social, environmental or moral, can be extremely powerful. Avoid naming behaviours and allow your readers to form their own views.
  • Avoid clichés and the overuse of adjectives and adverbs and any claims you make should be evidenced.
  • It is wise to tell those named in your book that you have done so. I remember someone telling me they picked up a published book because they recognised the author as a former acquaintance. They were shocked when they found themselves occupying several pages of this memoir. Luckily it was favourable, and nothing further happened. However, it is wise to gather your courage and tell those in your book that you have named them and their experiences. You may even be surprised when they add further insightful information.

Your draft is your draft

A point to remember is that your draft is your draft. You can pour your heart out to your draft sitting securely within your computer and no-one shall ever be the wiser. This is a great way to separate your emotions from your professional writing self. Multiple rewrites and edits will often sort the weeds from the rich tapestry of life stories and family characters.

It is liberating to write your life story or to work with someone who is writing it for you. You get the chance to reflect on your life issues and to delete, delete or give them their place on the printed page. 

If you would like your life story recorded, review our list of life story professionals or give me a call and we can get to work. 

Author: Rose Osborne

Write My Journey


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