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The Discipline of Writing Your Life Story

I can’t wait to write my life story. I’ll start tomorrow. The discipline of writing – here I am telling you how to fix it while I’m dragging my feet in doing so. I write for 15 minutes and then find something else to do. But I make it work. More on that 15 minutes thing later.

There are hundreds of books on motivation. They tell us the same message. No one can motivate you. It’s an inside job. Tell that to any number of people – bosses, parents, spouses; all have motivated me to raise the bar on a number of occasions. But here’s the point. That kind of motivation is external and it only works short-term. You do it to please someone else. But what works for you? What’s the internal motivator secret? Remember, it’s an internal job. So forget all those books on motivation. There’s something that must come first. Self-discipline.

I won’t go over the necessary steps to master self-discipline. It really comes down to one thing.

A man named Elbert Hubbard researched over 1,000 success principles and the most important was this. “Self-discipline is the ability to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.” If you practice self-discipline, everything else falls into place. And you practice self-discipline by applying it daily, starting right away. Not tomorrow. Now.

If there was just one book I could recommend that might help you find the power to write your life story, it wouldn’t be our own Writing Your Legacy. In fact it wouldn’t even be a book about writing. New York Times Best-Selling Author Brian Tracy wrote NO Excuses – The Power of Self-Discipline and every new writer should read it carefully. Best of all, it’s available at Barnes & Noble for just $7.98. That’s a bargain-basement price for the best information you might ever discover.
A Great Idea!

At a writing your life story seminar in Saint Louis, I learned a valuable technique from Jason W. Womack (Check him out at He travels the world telling folks how to be more productive with their lives. He suggests the 15 Minute Rule. ‘Focus intently on what you are doing now, but only for 15 minutes. Then stop, do something else and go back to another 15 minutes of deep focus.’ He claims that you will get far more accomplished in just a couple hours of deep focus in a workday than you can otherwise. It certainly works for me. It’s the one way I can banish all distractions from my writing.

Life Story Writing – Going to Sea

Perfect timing. Last summer I was a passenger on board one of the Windstar Cruise Line ships. As we sailed from Athens to Venice, I had an idea. The passengers seemed like ideal candidates for the same kind of extended learning program I taught at a local Canadian college. They were mostly over fifty, they were articulate, and I’m sure they all had kids and grandkids. The ideal demographic for those who might enjoy writing their life stories and sharing them with loved ones. So I spoke with Captain John up on the Bridge. By great coincidence, a head office staff member was nearby, joined our conversation, and gave me a name to contact back at Seattle HDQ. Perfect timing. I got even luckier. After submitting a 10-session proposal to this individual, she emailed me back and suggested that we talk. During the first phone meeting she said: “I like it. Are you able to catch the November transatlantic sailing from the Canary Islands to Barbados?” That was just a month away.

That was the first of two (so far) transatlantic enrichment classes I would offer with Windstar. Because the ships were at sea for 14 days with no stops in between, it meant that I pretty much had captive audiences each time. However it was also a first-time offering for the company and there was little time for promotion. What if nobody showed up? I was more than happy when six people enrolled. Each day we met for two hours and discussed the lives we had lived. Using the legacy themes from our book Writing Your Legacy, we covered our life’s work, our favorite food and drink, the music we live by, our passions, our families, our spiritual beliefs, and our future dreams.

The second transatlantic cruise happened this April, from Sint Maarten in the Caribbean to Lisbon. I had time to promote the course and ended up running two daily life story sessions for our guests. It was a delight to facilitate discussion with incredibly articulate people. It actually took me three classes before I was able to gain their respect – at first it was like trying to herd cats. CEOs and experienced travelers do not easily give up control. But no one made me walk the plank. It all worked out. They let me run the show.

One class member had visited 111 countries. Another, a retired top executive of a major auto company, wanted nothing more than to be a chef. A child psychiatrist knew everyone in the world of new-age psychology, including Joseph Campbell, Fritz Perls, and Timothy Leary. Another had chaired NATO conferences during the Cold War. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t know all of this up-front. I might have volunteered to walk that plank.

The evaluations were positive. There was only one problem that I had no control over. Heavy seas. It was actually funny watching our chairs suddenly start sliding away from the table. Then they would slide back during the next roll. Going with the flow…

I look forward to teaching another transatlantic writing your life story course. That may come as soon as this November – the perfect time to get away from the coming winter.

Writing Your Life Story

My passion is hearing your life stories. No two can ever be the same. We may share the same adventures, walking side by side, but our perspectives might be completely different. A desert hike can be a spiritual journey for one while the other finds it hot and exhausting. In many cases we walk alone in our lives with no one to share our adventures and the lessons we have learned along the way. Our lives become ordinary to us and we forget the wonder of each day.

Almost every potential student of mine asks the same two questions. What’s so special about my life? Why would I write about my life story?

There are four compelling reasons.

  1. A life unexamined is a life of missed opportunities. Kierkegaard wrote: ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards’.
  2. A life story is a legacy. It is a gift to the next generation.
  3. Jim Birren, founder of Guided Autobiography, wrote: “I continue to be amazed at how resilient people are. Most don’t even know how impressive they are until they tell their stories to one another.”  We are all magnificent survivors.
  4. We live in the present. Writing our life story allows us to look back, often resulting in a growing appreciation of the things we accomplished. We come to acknowledge that each of our lives is remarkable. A life story is our celebration.

There are many ways to capture your own life story. Dozens of D-I-Y books exist in the marketplace. For a different approach, I recommend You Don’t Have to Be Famous – How To Write Your Life Story by Steve Zousmer, How To Write Your Own Life Story by Lois Daniel, Writing Your Life – Putting Your Past on Paper by Lou Willett Stanek, and The Power of Memoir – How to Write Your Healing Story, by Linda Joy Myers. I counted my own life story resources and now have over 50 titles. I’ve read them all and these  selections are among the best.

Writing Your Legacy – A Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story, will be released by Writer’s Digest Books in July 2015. Co-authored with Dr. Cheryl Svensson of Los Angeles, we will show you how to write your life story in short mini-memoir segments. For many of you this can be the perfect method. Otherwise, the above-mentioned titles may serve you best.

There is no right or wrong method. Whether you write your life story in chronological order – concentrate on a singular theme, memoir style – or base it on several core themes, mini-memoir style – you will always get it right. You are the expert in everything you.