Life Story Writing: for beginners

Life Story Writing: for beginners image

Life story writing is becoming an increasingly popular way of documenting personal history. Many people feel compelled by the urge to capture family history before it disappears forever, so they begin to write a memoir. 

And then they stop. 

Because they don’t know where to start, or where to end, or how to include photographs, or how long it should be, or how to present the finished product, or whether their story is worth telling anyway.

And that’s when a professional life story writer can help people to write their own personal history. 

Working as a professional life story writer is fascinating and rewarding. I thoroughly enjoy my work in this field. Are you considering a career in life story writing? Here are my top six tips for beginners … 

1.      Join up

Seek out the professional life story writing association in your home country or state and join up. Life Stories Australia is a wonderful association of passionate, experienced and knowledgeable life story professionals. Membership to LSA includes access to resources, support and collegiality and also provides professional guidelines and an outline of expected industry standards.

You could also consider joining the writers’ association in your state or territory. The Australian Society of Authors and Writers Victoria can provide writing advice and regularly run workshops on life writing.

2.      Listen up

There are numerous excellent podcasts on life story writing. Storyical by Peta Roberts is my personal favourite. Each episode profiles a different personal history professional. Peta always begins the interview by asking her guest to recite their job title, I find the varied responses she gets to this apparently simple question so interesting. Storyical is a fascinating podcast; listening to the life story writing work being completed, all around the world, is highly motivating!

The Life Story Coach podcast is another fantastic resource of practical advice and is definitely worth a listen. 

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3.      Read up

There are SO many books out there on life story writing. It really is very easy to become overwhelmed by the abundance of titles found in bookshops and libraries.

My recommendation is Patti Miller. Anything by Patti Miller. Widely regarded as the best memoir teacher in Australia, Patti Miller’s guides are invaluable. Her latest book ‘Writing True Stories’ introduces and develops key writing skills and I think it is essential to have a copy in your writing tool kit. 

I have heard a rumour that Patti will be presenting a life writing workshop here in Melbourne, in March 2019. These workshops always sell out fast so you will need to get in quick if this holds appeal.

The very first book I purchased on life writing was Jennifer Campbell’s ‘Start and Run a Personal History Business’ which is a great source of straight forward advice and actionable tips.

Reading published memoirs is an enjoyable way of honing your craft. I love to visit the library and borrow a range of memoirs so I can study the structure and craft of biography writing. 

Some of my recent favourites include:

Shy by Sian Prior

Try Hard by Em Rusciano

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Educated by Tara Westover

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

An Angel at my Table by Janet Frame

Work, Strife, Balance by Mia Freedman

The Good Girl Stripped Bare by Tracey Spicer

4.      Show up

It is a great idea to attend local networking events. You can find your local chapter of BNI (Business Network Internationaland become the first life story writer to register in your region.

Get to know the librarians at your local libraries. They are a great source of information for life story writers, particularly if you are writing the history of a community, business or town. 

Libraries often host free information sessions on genealogy and family history research. Librarians can also assist you when navigating Trove and other websites.

5.      Dream up

Think about the clients you would like to work with and the stories you would like to be able to help them to tell. Consider who your target market will be. 

If you have specific experience of a certain time and place perhaps you could position yourself an expert in that region or field.

It is often difficult to know how to price your services in the beginning; the colleagues you meet through your professional association can provide excellent advice about recommended rates. 

I can recommend Wave free accounting software to help you keep track of your invoicing in a manner that is both professional and organised. 

6.      Scale up

Think about how people are going to find you. Will you have a website? Will you build your business mostly on word of mouth? 

You might consider having a website, joining LinkedIn, having a Facebook business page, a presence on Twitter or perhaps Instagram. These social media channels can help you find clients and, just as importantly, they can help you to connect with others in your field and are a great way to share knowledge and advice. 

You can build your own website with SquareSpace or WordPress. Don’t forget to register your domain name, and business name, before you do anything else. 

What are your essential tools of the trade? 


I’d love to hear from you,

Lyndal    lyndal@lyndalwrites.com    www.lyndalwrites.com

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  • 2018-09-24 06:38:37

    Great tips for people getting into the field. And thanks for mentioning The Life Story Coach. I started the podcast to serve as a resource for people interested in the business of personal history—just like you've with this post! The more we keep the conversation going, the more people will discover our services. Thanks for sharing your advice.

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    • 2018-09-27 07:49:57

      Hi Amy I really enjoy your podcast, it's a fantastic resource. Yes, I do agree, the more we talk about what we do (and why we do it), the more people will discover our services. I look forward to learning more and I'm so pleased to 'meet' you here!

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