If your life is a story – what’s the moral?
This is a question I’ve been struggling to answer since first deciding to write my memoir a few years ago. Ironically, it’s the same question I’ve been helping our authors answer about their own stories — for well over a decade.
After many books, success stories, and changed lives, I should know how to approach this question.
So what’s my problem?
I’ve stopped and started writing my life story over and over, each time from a different angle. Sometimes chronologically, sometimes by types of lessons learned, and sometimes a mixture of both. In one draft, I divided my life into themes by decade. My twenties, for instance, was the pink-haired Hollywood filmmaking and “finding myself” decade. None of it was working, though, and quite frankly I was getting more and more irritated at the mere thought of my own life. It just seemed so … boring!
Yet, whenever I told pieces of my story in speeches and media interviews, various persuasive people tried to get me back to the keyboard to give it another shot. “You tell people’s stories for a living!” they’d say. “Why not tell your own?”
That’s a fantastic question. Why can’t an accomplished ghostwriter — a person whose profession it is to develop, craft and write other people’s life stories — figure out how to write her own?
So I dug deeper, and identified 3 big reasons why writing my memoir has been a challenge. Somewhat surprisingly, these are the same things I’ve been hearing from my clients, over and over through the years. If you’ve also been struggling to tell your own story, see if any of these reasons ring true for you.
1. I Need Perspective
There’s the expression about being so inside of a situation that you can’t see the forest for the trees. Well, trying to see your entire life, scenes, situations, stories, life lessons, screw-ups and redemptions, all at the same time, can make you feel like a tiny insect, buried deep inside a tall tree, lost in an unending forest. All you see is the sliver of wood in front of your face and it makes you wonder: what’s the point?
Without perspective, you are unable to see the big picture; the beauty, the patterns and the pathways. It truly does require an expert eagle eye, flying in the sky far above, to gain perspective on the value of your story and seeing where it intersects with your message: your own personal editorial helicopter pilot.
2. My Story Needs Shaping
Let’s say you finally do gain perspective on your life; the main through-line of all your stories, and morals of those stories, comes into focus once and for all. You can now see how all those seemingly random events from your years on this planet have some semblance of a point, and can possibly even help others.
Now, as your own autobiographer, you have a new challenge: how to shape all that wisdom into a readable, entertaining, inspiring, informative tale that will engage readers on Page One and hold their attention until the end.
Suddenly you’re a bug in a tree again, staring at the sliver of wood and wondering how all all those millions of pieces can possibly fit together to make something so much bigger.
3. I Don’t Have Enough Time (and Attention)
The third big reason that writing your own memoir can leave you trapped in your own head, trying to tunnel a way out: these little things called “time” and “attention.” We each have a certain amount of each, and where we choose to invest them can determine the results we see in our lives. With my memoir, I finally hit a crossroads: I realized that I could either continue banging my head against the wall trying to get the right perspective on my life and shaping a compelling story around it – or I could get help from another expert, and then invest my own time more productively.
In an instant, my choice became clear: the ghostwriter needs a ghostwriter. In order to achieve the right perspective, craft a compelling story, produce the only quality of book that I find acceptable, and protect my time and attention, I would need help.
So now, I find myself in the shoes of all our authors: experiencing a massive sense of relief that this big goal has been handed off to an expert who will do a much better job of telling my story than I could have done on my own.
The doctor is now the patient. I’ve been on the other side of this process so many times, but now I’m finally in the role of the client — and it’s much more exciting than I expected. It feels as if I’ve made a choice that was right in front of me for a long, long time.
Stay tuned for the next chapter…