“I’m going to write my life story!” I remember proclaiming those words back when I was around 19 years old. I also remember the response I got from some lady who heard the proclamation.
“How can you write a life story if you haven’t even lived yet?”
Oh. The lady had a general point. But she was also unaware that the stuff I had lived through by the time I was 19 was probably enough to fill about six books. Seven if you counted falling under a moving subway train.
But it didn’t matter. The time wasn’t right. And the book would have been a scattered mess of drunken stories written by an angry teen who pretty much hated everything and everybody.
Not a really fun read.
Besides, Facebook hadn’t been invented yet. How would I ever promote the book without social media? (I’m kidding.)
So years went by. I wrote and illustrated a flurry of other books that were fast, fun and each took less than a month to create. A rat dictionary. A dog dictionary. A yoga book with skeletons doing the poses. A book about dealing with jerky people.
A horribly tragic fable some mom chose to read to her kid, thinking it was a kid’s book just because it had silly cartoons. That was the most enraged one-star review I ever did see.
But the life story, that would be a big one. As I kept it locked up on the back burner, it kept getting bigger by the millisecond. Not just because new stories unfolded every year, but because by now it had become an albatross.
You know those projects. They may start out as grand ideas, but when they sit idle in the background, they start to morph into giant, hideous monsters. Instead of being an exciting project that is calling our name, the thing becomes an exasperating burden that is screaming at us to either create it or forget it – once and for all.
If I didn’t finally do something about this book, my head was going to explode. That meant the time was finally right to write. In addition to getting the timing right, you want to make sure your mindset is right.
I had dabbled at the life story here and there over the years, but not with the right attitude or thought process. During one attempt I tried to race through it, thinking I’d forget all the juiciest details if I didn’t write them down fast enough.
Sure, I whipped up three chapters in about 52 seconds, but all they did was outline what happened in chronological order. It had no depth or real meaning. “See Spot run.” “See Jane play.” “Watch Ryn take a Greyhound bus.” Yawn.
Another attempt had me thinking I had to get back into the character of that angry teen when I was writing about the teenage years. I pulled out all my old journals – and couldn’t even make it over to the keyboard to start typing.
Those old journals were packed with some pretty depressing stuff. One page even had blood smeared on it. Geesh. No way am I going back there. That shut the project down for another 10 years or so.
Having the right angle for the story is another must. People don’t want to read a shallow chronological timeline, no matter how much trouble you got into on and around subway trains.
“You’re not as interesting as you think you are.” Don’t remember where I read that quote, but it’s a good one. In order for your life story to be interesting to other people besides yourself, there needs to be some kind of point.
Why are you telling it? What’s the use? Why would anyone care?
If you’re penning your life story as therapy for yourself, then don’t worry about those questions. But if you’re planning to publish it for the world to enjoy, then make sure it’s enjoyable. Deliver something interesting, valuable and entertaining for your readers.
In my case, I decided to morph it into a life story plus life lessons combo. The first part of the book outlines the hells I’ve been through. The second part focuses on the solutions I’ve used to come out the other side.
Once you’ve got the timing, mindset and angle of your life story down pat, the rest is gravy, right? Not so fast. The rest is probably the hardest part of all. Actually writing the thing.
In fact, you could spend years working on the timing, mindset and angle without writing a single word. I know because I did.
And I was about to fall into the trap of stalling some more by over-analyzing the layout, second-guessing the direction, hemming and hawing about the total word count. It got to the point where everyone I was seeking input from all came back with the same response:
“Just sit down and write it!”
So I did. But not without changing the first line about 13 times. And not without help. The more I learn about and tap into the powers of the universe, the more I enjoy their assistance.
Creativity and the cosmos go hand-in-hand, so I’d start each writing session with a little thank you note. “Dear Cosmos, Thank you for fueling me with the creativity and flow I need to rock this book to Mars and back.” Yaay!
Two months into the project, and I’m about three-quarters of the way done. Double yaay! Another helpful hint is to track your ongoing success. An ongoing progress report can be a major help, tracking how long and which days you’ve worked on the book.
Getting an accountability pal is another big plus. Mine is writing her own book and we check in regularly to share updates. When you know someone’s expecting your latest update, you’ve got instant motivation to ensure you have one.
One final tip is the same tip I get from my favorite writing clients. It’s short, simple and never fails to remind me why I write in the first place. “Have fun with this!” they say. Now that the book’s off the back burner and being powered along by the cosmos, you can bet I am.
Ryn Gargulinski is a writer, artist, Reiki master and speaker who’s life story is expected to debut in Feb. 2023. Stay tuned!