How to Write a Life Story

6 simple steps to get started documenting you or your loved one's life story

I wish that I had recorded those stories before she passed away.

Many people have the best intentions of capturing their loved one's life history while they're still alive to tell the stories and recall the memories. If you've found yourself on this page, chances are you're thinking about recording the life story of someone you know. Or perhaps you want to write your own memoir. Not knowing where to start is perhaps the most common and most preventable barrier people face.

Here are six simple steps to get you started documenting a life story:

1Decide on a Format

Do you want to pay for a professional production or a self-guided service? Do you want to capture this on video or audio? Or would you rather have it written down so you can create a life story book? Deciding on how you'd like to format or store the biography can help shape the direction it takes. There could be multiple formats, too. It could be that you record a life story interview with a voice memo and then edit the best pieces to put in a book.

2Consider the Legacy

What is it about you or your loved one that you want future generations to know? What is the legacy being left behind? This can help you narrow the focus on what you want to communicate through the life story. It also helps to prevent a biography or memoir becoming a rather dull statement of facts. Writing a Legacy Letter is one exercise that may help you figure out what thoughts, stories and advice shaped you and what overarching theme or idea may stem from your own life story.

3Prompt Memories

It can be daunting to start at the beginning of life (which is the hardest part to remember for most people) and go through the years chronologically. It's more productive to look at a list of questions and discover which ones have strong, vivid memories correlated with them. Dig deeper into the stories that seem to hold significance and meaning. Write down anything and everything that comes to mind.

4Create a Storyboard

TV-show writers take all the ideas for scenes and write them down on pieces of paper. Then, they move them around until it creates a storyline that makes sense. This same process can be applied to anyone writing a life story. It can help to think about which 'scenes' of life you want your audience to experience. Next, write them down separately. Finally, decide how you want to organize your life story, changing and rearranging the 'scenes' until they're in an order that fits.


Seek out the perspective of friends & family. Get together for coffee and reminisce about old times. Ask about the details they recall. Our lives aren't completely insular. We impact our people in ways big and small. If you are writing about a parent or grandparent's life, it is important to consider how their identity and actions affected those around them. What was your dad like as a brother? If you were to talk to his best friend, what would his favorite memories of your dad be? Someone else's perspective of the story you want to tell may end up being invaluable to your writing.

6Find Ephemera

Going through old family photos and other personal ephemera (think newspaper clippings, recipe cards, ticket stubs, etc.) may help jog memories. Additionally, when they correlate with a specific story being told, their inclusion enhances reader's experience. Digital platforms like Storii even allow users to curate personal music and video playlists and use Google Street View to save significant locations as part of their interactive life story software.