On the craft and business of life story writing
What is personal history? And why should I care?
Let’s start with the easy question: If you’re a writer looking for a way to earn a living from your creative work, you should learn about the field of personal history. Because while many, many streams of income are drying up for writers, personal history isn’t one of them. It’s a current that’s growing stronger, a real way to build a career doing what you love: telling stories.
Back to our first question. Being a personal historian means you spend your working days talking to people about their life, then creating a book, audio, or video about that life. You’re a memoirist-for-hire, a creative writer (or oral historian, or videographer) using another person’s experience as your subject and source material.
I’ve been a full-time life story writer since 2012. As a stay-at-home mom a decade earlier, I created a thirty-minute video about my grandmother’s life. This was long before I heard of personal history, but I clearly had the impulse. What’s more, that impulse showed up even earlier, when as a young woman I asked my other grandmother about her life and surreptitiously jotted down some of the facts on a scrap of paper. Why surreptitiously? I felt embarrassed by my curiosity, afraid my grandma would suspect I was gathering her legacy because she might soon die. She did. She was 89.
I’ve lost that scrap of paper and any opportunity to ask my grandma more, better, deeper questions about her life. I was smarter with the second grandma, the one I followed around with a video camera for months on end. (If you’re curious, you can see the end result here.) Today I don’t do video life stories, although I plan on bringing you some information about that medium on this website. My main focus is on life story books, with some work in audio. Much of what you’ll read here is devoted to the written format, but at its core, creating life stories is creating life stories. I expect you’ll find lots of good information no matter what medium you work in.
If you have questions, ask. I’d love to hear your ideas on topics that would interest you, issues that confuse you, and ideas that inspire you.
There are far more people with stories to tell than there are people who can help them. I’m hoping that together, we can solve this, and in doing so, create a work life that is meaningful, rewarding, and just plain fun.