Writing Your Life Story Part 1: Introduction to Writing


Driving Home by Bo

Driving Home © 2009 Bo Mackison

Have you thought about writing your life story?

“Nope, way too hard,” you think.

That is exactly what I thought, too, until my 88-year-old mother unintentionally gave me the nudge I needed.

My mother has always been quite secretive about her life, never one to share stories.

On a recent visit, she mentioned running into an old friend. I didn’t recognize the man’s name. Finally, my mother divulged that he had been an old beau whom she had known for years before she met and married my father. I remarked that I knew little from that time of her life and she announced that she could list all of the boyfriends she had ever dated. As she started reciting names and memories, I grabbed a nearby notebook and jotted down her list. In ten minutes I learned more about her late adolescence and early adulthood than I had learned in the previous five decades. And it was effortless.

Later I prompted her on other topics. “What trips did you take before you married?” “Who are the five most famous people you’ve met in your life?” Each time I asked a question, she responded with a list full of quirky details. By the end of the weekend, I had several pages of stories featuring my mother.

I also had the opportunity to try the listing method for retrieving my own memories.

My younger daughter worked at a movie theater for many years, and she had unlimited access to movies. One evening, as she was going to another show, her third that week, I remarked I’d seen perhaps a half-dozen movies before high school graduation.

“Really? You only went to six movies as a kid?” She was shocked by the thought. “What did you see?”

It only took me a minute to recall the movie titles. They were highlights of a childhood when movies were a huge treat. Amanda sat down in amazement and asked me about my movie experiences. As she listened, her eyes widened in surprise at the differences between the movie experiences in the 1960s versus today.

After I recalled my memories about movies seen in my youth, I wrote a list and added details.

Here is an example from the list “Movies I Saw in A Theater as a Kid”

Movie Memories © 2010 Bo Mackison

. . . when my friends and I were just sixteen, and beginning to accrue driving privileges, the movie Romeo and Juliet was released with much hype. To our dismay, it was not playing at the local movie theater. No, it was at the off-limits drive-in theater on the edge of town! I had never been to a drive-in movie and doubted I’d get permission to go.

But my girlfriends and I were determined to see this movie. Perhaps it helped that Romeo and Juliet was a Shakespearean classic. Perhaps it helped that I planned to go with five other girls crammed into one father’s trusted Oldsmobile. And I’m sure it helped that my friend’s parents agreed to also attend the show and park their car next to ours.  They kept a watchful eye on us the entire evening. Jan’s dad brought his pipe, her mother brought her knitting, and I don’t think they looked towards the big screen even once . . .

I was surprised at the memories I thought I’d long forgotten. Not only was list making an effective aid for recalling details, it was easy and fun, too.

You can use the same technique to jump-start your writing. List making leads to memory making.

Here is how to start:

  • Think of a topic. Use the movie prompt or one of your own. It is easier to write if you initially give yourself guidelines. For example, instead of listing all of your favorite books, list five books you read as high school requirements. Instead of writing about a summer vacation, list the highlights of your first weekend trip to the big city. Remember, it is easy to expand a narrow topic if you are so inclined, but not nearly as easy to pick a huge topic and find the thread of the beginning.
  • Once you have a list of a few items, fill in the details. The list acts as a prompt for retrieving memories you didn’t know you remembered.
  • Be alert for ideas for new lists. Record them in a notebook as they come to you. Topics may come from family conversations, newspaper or magazine articles, radio or television programs, or your daily activities.
  • Don’t over-think this project. Keep several small notebooks or index cards in your home, car, and purse. As you recall details, jot down key words.

Are you thinking of reasons why you can’t write your life story?

Here are three things that may help you get started:

  • You are creative. Though you may fear you are not creative enough to write your memoir, you are the only person who can write about your life from your point of view.
  • You are writing for yourself. Maybe you will share it with family members or friends, maybe you won’t, but the person you are ultimately writing your memoir for is yourself.
  • Writing is a way to explore and connect with your past, perhaps even resolve issues. Your writing is what you make it. The simple act of putting down the words of your story, or doing the coming memoir projects, provides you with an opportunity to make meaning in your life.
  • This can be a big project, or as small as you wish. You do not have to write chronologically. You do not have to record every experience, every detail. Write bits and pieces, collect them in one place, and you will have a start to writing memoir. Write your life story in whatever way works for you. It is your memoir project.

In this series, I offer a dozen writing techniques and creative projects to encourage you on your memoir journey.

Writing Your Life Story is a multimedia project that will inspire you to create/write/photograph your memoir in fun, easy, and interesting bits. I hope you’ll be inspired to try the various projects. We will be writing unique exercises to flesh out your memories, shoot a few photography projects (with any camera – cell phone camera, point and shoot, digital SLR is fine) and explore other multimedia ideas in the quest to “collect your memoir”.

There are writing prompts, simple photography projects, ideas for inventive interviews, creative research techniques, suggestions on how to physically contain your memoir stash, and much more. Twice a week I will post a new memoir project. Imagine how quickly your memoir will grow, a bit at a time.

I invite you to join me in this multimedia memoir project. After all . . . if you don’t write your life story, who will?

Next: Part 2, Search Engine as Muse

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. that is quite the intriguing idea. I’ll give it some thought

  2. Thank you, Bo. This is something I’ve been thinking about, but have had trouble getting started. You have made it sound much less complicated than I thought it would be. 🙂

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