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Books: Writing Your Own Story



Recently, Bill Randall of St. Thomas University (Fredericton) told AHB "aging well requires a good strong story" (see AHB, November/December 2007). Randall said, "Our story may be the most precious possession we all have, especially the older we grow."

In addition, Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University, has found the desire to tell one’s story is a nearly universal part of the experience of aging.

Today, increasing numbers of older people are writing down their stories, sometimes egged on by children or grandchildren. For some, getting started can be a problem. Yet helpful resources abound today. Among them: The Association of Personal Historians and notable books by Christina Baldwin and Tristine Rainer.


According to Christina Baldwin in Storycatcher (New World Library), each of us is a natural-born storyteller and "storycatcher". Baldwin, a pioneer in personal writing, coaches the reader in both arts in 10 engaging chapters. Each chapter ends with a series of open-ended questions.

Here are some examples:

Do you know your birth story? Who told you the story? Do you have artifacts from around the time of your birth that have been saved for you?
Where were you at age 22? What was going on around you?
Imagine a conversation with a grandparent or older adult who is no longer around: What questions would you ask? What do you wish you knew?
Write a dialogue between someone you love and yourself who took a different path. Talk about how you feel about this person’s path – what it meant to you at the time, as well as what it means to you now.
Describe a world event that changed you? How did the world look to you before it happened? How did the world look to you after it happened?

In Your Life as Story

Tristine Rainer opens her book with this stricking image: "Imagine you could trace your course through time and space as an astronomer tracks a planet’s orbit or a comet’s path. Imagine you could get back far enough to see the shape of your life"

In Your Life as Story (Tarcher), Rainer provides a practical, thorough and inspiring guide.

Drawing on her background in fiction, nonfiction and film, she invites readers to probe below the surface of everyday experiences and to "come to terms" with the story lived so far.

Here are some suggestions from the book:

Choose a favourite photo from the period you wish to write about. And ask yourself questions such as:

Why was I wearing that dress or suit?
What were my feelings toward the other people in the photo?
What was I thinking that I looked so happy, surprised or sad?
What does the photo hide?

Play a favourite song or piece of music:

What feelings of a particular time in your life does it capture?
Where were you the year the song was popular? Who were the key people in your life? Try to jot down detailed, specific memories

And if you are interested in meeting other storytellers, you can join a worldwide community at Storycatcher Network.