memoirs, journals, family histories, and more

brochures, web text, business cards, and more

donor reports, appeals, news releases, and more

Editing your life story

StoryFor months—maybe years—piles of photographs covered her dining room table. Not just photographs, but also old Kodak slides, yellowed newspaper clippings, treasured greeting cards, and miscellaneous handwritten notes. These were the building blocks of the story she wanted to share.

But she struggled with how to tell this story. What to include. Whom to leave out. Where to begin and end. The piles of memories began to feel like walls closing in on her. Finally she called me for help.

She packed up all the piles and brought them to me in a large cardboard box one evening. We met for three hours, and I listened to the stories—of her parents, of her in-laws, of her kids, of their kids. I could see all the work she had already put into the project.

I could also see there was much more to do.

Finding focus

This woman wants to tell her story. She wants her kids and their spouses and children to know some things about her. And she wants her story to mean something to them, to remind them of her values after she’s gone.

But she vacillates between confidence and doubt. “How could I be so selfish?” she tells me at our second meeting. “I was so worried about getting all my photos and memories organized, and I have hardly anything about my grandkids! My grandkids are everything to me—how could I be so selfish not to include them?”

I reassure her: “This is your story—of course it’s about you! And you’re the only one who can tell it. Your grandkids may be a part of your story, but you don’t have to tell that part in this book—they already know that part. Why don’t we focus on telling them the parts they don’t know? After all, you can’t include everything.”

She disagrees: “Oh no, I have to include everything.”

But that’s exactly wrong. No life story includes everything. If it did, it would take another lifetime to read it! And it would be selfish to assume that even your family is interested in all your daily details.

Editing your life story is necessary if you want people to read it.

Providing perspective

After a couple more hours of talking and listening, and after one more meeting where she brings over one more bin of photos and mementos, my client is ready to trust me. She concedes that she is too close to the story, too overwhelmed with the process. She needs the outsider’s objectivity I can bring to the project. Having heard her heart, I know what she wants to accomplish. But not being emotionally attached to her memories, I can provide the perspective she needs.

And so the journey begins.

Being a buffer

Now the piles of photos are on my table. I’m reading the notes and re-sorting the categories, waiting for organizational inspiration to crystallize. Then the doorbell rings.

It’s my client’s husband. He’s delivering another bag of photos that his wife found. She’s captioned them all so I’ll know why they’re important to her. The husband says, “She promises this is the final batch.”

Maybe. We’ll see. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter. The work is mine now, and I can’t let even my client distract me from the editing and sorting I need to do. I might use these new photos; I might not. It’s my editorial choice.

Photos_400And my client can’t verbalize it, but that’s why she hired me. She’s paying me to make the decisions because she needs a buffer between herself and her self-criticism. You see, if she decides to eliminate a photo, she feels guilty for snubbing someone. If I decide to eliminate a photo, her guilt is absolved. I can trim and edit with a surgeon’s detachment, and she can wake up when it’s all over and just be grateful it’s done.

That’s what I’m here for

At this point I can’t predict what the final book will look like or how long it will take to put it all together. But I know I’ve already served my client just by letting her know I’ll take care of it.

That’s what I’m here for.


Related posts:



Grammar and culture


If you're not a word nerd like I am, perhaps you won't appreciate Phuc Tran's examination of some of the differences between English grammar and Vietnamese grammar. But I found it fascinating. Tran could not get into the finer points of grammar and culture in this 14-minute talk, so he makes some generalizations. But his [...]

Community: small is the new big;
deep is the new wide

Community: small is the new big; <br />deep is the new wide thumbnail

Last week I met Eric Crump. He's the "Editor, etc." (so says his business card) of a new local newspaper in a nearby suburb—the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle. He started the Chronicle himself less than a year ago. because "a great community deserves a great newspaper." Eric felt that our existing local newspapers—which give thin coverage to a wide swath of small [...]

Net Neutrality
(democracy and the internet in action together)

Net Neutrality

Last year, I posted a couple of blogs about Net Neutrality. Now, I understand that a name like "Net Neutrality" does not sound terribly exciting, but it is, in fact, a subject very important to the life we take for granted in America every day. Many of you responded to my first Net Neutrality post by digitally [...]

Expressing yourself

expressing yourself

I recently spoke to a Creative Writing class at a local high school. The kids were bright and funny and curious, and I enjoyed interacting with them. "Self-expression" was a topic we touched on—briefly, but more than once—and it got me thinking later. Of course writing is a way of expressing yourself, and wanting to express [...]

Ash Wednesday acrostic haiku

Ash Wednesday


Text, subtext, and context

Text, subtext, and context thumbnail

I'm posting this blog in my Nonprofit Writing category because it was prompted by a series of conversations that took place in a multicultural church. Nonprofits that have some kind of "diversity" component might find it instructive. But I'm also posting it in the Personal Writing category because I keep thinking about it—and that probably has more to [...]

Free tips and ideas…
Become a LifeLines subscriber and receive this blog in your email inbox once a week. Consider yourself inspired!
Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz
Not free, but worth it…
Hire LifeLines to handle your writing, so you can handle your business. In addition to accepting cash, checks, and credit cards, LifeLines uses PayPal to handle payments for services rendered. (You do not need a PayPal account to use PayPal for payment.)
Tip Jar
Tip Jar Appreciate my publishing tips? I appreciate your monetary tips! There are expenses involved with running this blog, and I welcome your support in helping me cover the costs—but only if you feel I'm providing a useful service. Use the PayPal button below to make a donation of any size. (You don't need a PayPal account, just a credit card.) Thank you!