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Planning Retirement Online

Writing your Autobiography

    February 2008   


You Are Next in Line: Everyone's Guide for Writing Your Autobiography (Capital Careers & Personal Development)

Writing your Autobiography

Everyone has a story to tell: the story of his or her life. And who is going to tell it, if you don’t? American author, Armiger ‘Jay’ Jagoe is determined to spread the word that writing your autobiography is not just about recording your story for the next generation. ‘It’s magic,’ he says. ‘When people tell their story, it makes them feel better both physically and mentally. They start to feel very excited about their lives and the importance of who they are.’

Jagoe, who is just about to publish his own autobiography, visited the UK recently to publicise his most recent book: Next in Line, Everyman’s Guide for Writing an Autobiography. It’s based on the 12 components of autobiographical writing found in his own autobiography - which he then used to write the book – as well as creating a 23 page guide to lead individuals through a series of four two-hour workshops aimed at encouraging them to put pen to paper.

‘When my children asked me to write about my life, especially my World War 11 experiences which I never talked about, I bought every book available about ‘how to write our life story’. To my disappointment, I found them as ineffective as instructing a potential creative painter to paint by numbers. I winged it with my own book which I’ve called ‘Southern Boy’. 

‘But when I finished, I analysed what I had done and realised that writing a successful autobiography involves carrying out a core evaluation of your life. You have to recognise and appreciate the uniqueness of self before one can write a successful autobiography.’

The process of autobiography according to Jay is not about recording your life in detail in the style of a diary. ‘With rare exceptions, diaries are dull and boring. They are too filled with trivia. A good autobiography is the full package, your life story – not just finding out who did what, when. The important thing is the little details – that’s what makes a story come alive.’ 

And an autobiography is certainly superior to a biography. ‘I never intend to read another biography,’ he says. ‘I want to hear only what someone tells me about him or herself – not what an outsider reports.’

His workshops begin with an exercise of talking about earliest memories – and then help to identify a purpose in putting together the life story. A group will have a leader but will frequently break up into pairs in order to work together – and this is best carried out with people who are not close family or friends, he says. ‘It makes it easier to be frank and honest.’

He has already given the guide to American libraries and ‘senior centers’ – and the programme has taken off with extraordinary success. What he finds of particular interest is that at the completion of a workshop, members frequently don’t want to disband – but instead form a club which then meets weekly. 

‘Although the initial purpose of Next in Line workshops was to encourage seniors to write about themselves, I was surprised that all participants greatly benefited, even if they didn’t get around to writing. I think the remarkable self-rejuvenation which takes place is because the participants suddenly realise and appreciate their worth and purpose in life.’

He is now working with the Office on Aging at the National Institute of Health to document the impact of the workshops on graduates. And he believes exactly the same process could take off in the UK – perhaps using an organisation such as Laterlife to get the process on the move. ‘I’d be very happy to come over to lead some workshops to get the process moving, ‘ he says. 


Meanwhile, his book You Are Next in Line, Capital Books, is available on Amazon or through booksellers.   Watch this space. 



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