I am currently engaged in writing my autobiography. I am not a person of great public note, but I recently found myself making a speech about my beloved father, who passed away in 2002, and in doing so I realised just how little I knew about him. I knew what we’d done together over the years, of course, but apart from a few stories about his war-time experiences – and I mean a few, as he seldom spoke of them – I didn’t know much about ‘him’. I decided that I would not leave my kids and grandkids wondering who I was and what I did. So I began writing.
I thought I would do about a hundred pages, but owing to having been a police officer I possessed about forty notebooks for work experiences, supported by about twenty years’ worth of planning systems and diaries with associated entries, plus the occasional journal writings. As of today I’m probably well over the 300-page mark, and I’m only up to 2005.
It occurred to me that we all have a story to tell. I bet, when you’re out with your friends, you tell personal stories as a matter of course. Sometimes you’re the trigger for someone else’s stories, and a competition begins over who has the better tale to tell. (Although I do hate it when someone presages their story with ‘the best one was’ and follows that sentence with an utterly uninteresting and badly told fable.)
It would be true to say that I have two intended audiences – my family, and my old colleagues. Those colleagues will all have similar stories to mine – some will be more interesting, too. But the beauty of a biography is that a relatively common experience, properly told, will still be interesting to those who have ‘been there and done that’, because it triggers their own amusing anecdote. They laugh as they think, “Yes I did that, too.” And thus begin their own musings.
Which begs the question: Why aren’t you writing YOUR story?
One of Stephen Covey’s four human needs he identified as Leave a Legacy. Famous people leave public records – but you have a story to leave your descendants. You can’t rely on the BBC to select you for an edition of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, and they certainly won’t do the research for you. To be frank, the pre-history they discover is interesting – but not much. I find that is a failing in many biographies – the fluff that is put in to make a relatively short biography bigger. A book about a celebrity who hasn’t done much is often padded out by irrelevant social commentary, describing the council estate in which they grew up – no one cares, and anyone living in a council estate already know.
So my book is going to be a chronological history of who I am and what I did, with anecdotes about the funny, tragic, and occasionally routine things I experienced. It’s as much a tribute to those I did those things with, as it is an attempt to flatter my own ego. I’m writing it mainly because of the funny things that happened to me, in the hope that my descendants will laugh at their ancestor – so that they learn to laugh at themselves. My legacy will be – have fun, laugh at yourself, and seek out what you want.
You are the hero of your own legend, as I am in mine. Start writing now.