12 mistakes writers make when writing about their life
February 12, 2020
I come across people every day who are wanting to write about their life but get stuck because they don’t have any clues about how to do it. Because of this, they often become overwhelmed and give up the project. Here are some fundamentals to clear the way:
Not understanding the difference between memoir and autobiography
Autobiography is about a person’s whole life and may be a chronological telling of it. Memoir will cover a certain aspect, event or period of interest in life and can be anything from one day to a period of years but usually not a whole lifetime. Essentially, the word memoir comes from the word memory and as such is a collection of memories.
Not actually telling a story
If you want to engage your reader you can’t simply list a whole lot of events and hope that’s of interest to them. Please tell a story. This is what people want, to be able to walk around in your story and get to know who you are. It will need all the elements of good storytelling such as plot, characters, sense of place, humour, voice and most of all emotion.
Too many details
Your reader does not want to read about every single minutiae of your life. Details are good to move the story along and give the reader a good picture, but you don’t need to list every single thing about what you did every single day.
No clear focus
Why are you telling your story? If there is something in particular that you’ve learned, that should be the focus and the story should be about you and not go off on tangents about other people and countries that have no real correlation.
The obvious way to tell a life story is to write it in a chronological way but sometimes it can be interesting to play with time a little. But don’t do this unless you have a good reason for it. If you are writing in a linear way, don’t then digress into other stories that take the reader away from the main story if it isn’t part of that same timeline.
Writing about people that will get you sued
This can be tricky if you have people in your life who have done things that impacted you in a negative way. You are not protected legally just by giving them another name because people will be able to join the dots. If the events you describe are public knowledge (like a court case) and you are telling something that is truth and factual, there is no issue. A good editor will be able to flag issues for you.
Writing for revenge
You may have had a falling out with someone and you think, I’ll get them back in my tell-all book. Firstly, this makes you look bad, but it may also get you sued. Write a story for the right reasons.
We’ve all learned something from life events and our story can help others to learn something too, but when you get all preachy with people and tell them that your way is the only way, you’ll turn people off.
Not being authentic
The more authentic and real you make your story, the more readers will engage with it. No one wants to read about perfection. We want to know about the nitty gritty of life and how people survive and thrive through their story because that’s what we relate to.
Lack of perspective
If you write your story and you have no self-awareness, this will become evident. For example, you might talk about how badly you were treated by someone but not realise that what you’re describing shows that your behaviour isn’t that good either, your reader will soon lose empathy for you.
Worrying about other people’s feelings
This goes back to authenticity. This is your story and your version of events. Of course, be mindful of how you talk about other people but also realise that everyone will react to how you’ve described things in a different way. It then comes back to perspective. Be honest and respectful.
Not writing well enough
I believe that anyone can write but it doesn’t just happen. Any story needs development and work. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, find a writing group, attend a writing workshop or work with a writing mentor. As it happens we have a life writing workshop coming soon.
Your story is worth telling even if it’s just meant for your family. Often the life lessons that you have can help someone else, so don’t be selfish and keep them tucked away in your head. Please remember, no one wants to read a 500-page manifesto about what you ate for breakfast every day for seventy years. They want to learn more about you, which will help them learn more about themselves.