Now that we’ve explored your life journey from several different perspectives, it’s time to take all the important elements of your experience and organize them into the chapters of your life.
Before we proceed, it might be a good idea to revisit Lesson No. 2, where you created a mission statement for your project. In that lesson, you considered who you were writing for, the time period you wanted to cover and where the information was coming from.
Now is the time to review your timeline against your mission statement. Does your work so far fit the goals of your mission statement. If not, why not? Are there gaps in your stories? Do you need more information? If so, note what you need and come up with a plan to get it. Use what you have learned to complete the research end of your project.
Once you have all the necessary elements in place, it’s time to start putting them in the proper place. The first thing you want to decide is how to group your materials.
Although most people prefer to tell their life story from the beginning, it’s not the only way to proceed. You may prefer to break up your life story along thematic lines. For example, you may want one chapter about the places you’ve lived, another on the jobs you’ve held, etc.
Regardless of the manner in which you choose to group your stories, you’ll need some sort of an outline. Start by grouping your stories in 8-10 chapters and give each one a name that clearly and accurately describes its contents. Then list the stories that will go in each chapter. Keep outlining until you’ve accounted for everything you want to include.
Outlining may seem like a boring, tedious exercise, but it will pay huge dividends. Once you have a good outline in place, the writing falls into place. The very best newspaper reporters follow the “10 percent rule.” They devote 10 percent of their writing time to outlining. Even if they have just 10 minutes to write a story, that one minute of outlining is critical in determining what is absolutely necessary for the top of a story.
It will work for you, too.
Tomorrow: Let’s write!
This is Lesson No. 20 of a mini-course on how to write a personal history. The course will continue throughout May, which is Personal History Month. To get future lessons delivered to you, you may subscribe to our RSS feed or get e-mail delivery to your inbox. It’s easy. Details can be found in the column to the left of this post.