Life stories can be told in many different ways but typically they are written chronologically, starting with when and where you were born, where you went to school, your first job, marriage, children and so on. However, what if you could write your life story on a postcard.
Even though the chronological approach may appear to be the most logical way to recall and write about your life for many people it is doomed to failure. Writing an entire life story from the beginning to the end is just too daunting. There must be many unfinished life stories out there.
Writing your life story in bite-sized pieces
It is because of this risk of failure and disappointment that I encourage people to write about their lives in bite-sized pieces. For example, you could pick out a specific period, event or experience and write a piece which just focuses on that topic. If you write enough of these (and they don’t have to be in any particular order) you may end up with a full-length book.
However, because of my desire (obsession!) to inspire and encourage people to adopt the bite-sized approach (an approach which can be applied to any type of writing), I stumbled across an American writer called Michael Kimball who has taken the bite-sized approach to a whole new level.
Creating a life story as a performance art
Back in April 2008 Michael Kimball was at a performance arts festival in the US and was asked as a joke why he wasn’t participating. The reason he gave was that as a writer he didn’t do performance art but this led to a discussion about what a writer could do as performance art and he came up with the idea of talking to people about their lives and writing it on a postcard as they waited. “I thought it would be fun and funny, and that I’d ask a few questions and write a few postcards and that would be that… When I looked up, a line had formed.”
What started out as a bit of fun turned into a longer-term project and by 2013 Michael Kimball had written over 300 postcard life stories some of which were subsequently published in his book Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (On a Postcard). Both the Kindle edition (£4.75) and the paperback edition (£36.81) are available from Amazon (see link below).
How long is a postcard life story?
Michael Kimball’s postcard life stories are all under 600 words which fit neatly on to a standard 4” by 6” (c.10cm by 15cm) postcard – anything longer than 600 words and you risk missing the point of a life story on a postcard.
Could you condense your life story onto a postcard?
Well, why not have a go and see if you could write your life story on a postcard. Start by scribbling down who and what you care about most and how the people around you have influenced your life. Make a note of some of the challenges you have faced in your life and what motivated you to keep going. Make a list of any defining moments, event or decisions which affected the course of your life. Don’t worry about how many words you use at this stage.
When you have some ideas to work from, try summarising them and putting them into some sort of order. Check how many words you have written – if you are using a word processor switch on word count so as you can check how many words you are writing as you go along. Then, when you are ready, grab a blank postcard and write your story on it. Don’t worry if you can’t fit it all in (you could always do a bit of editing and then write it again). The most important thing is to have a go at trying to convey as much as you can about yourself and your life in as few words as possible.
If you really can’t squeeze your entire life story onto a postcard, try concentrating on significant turning points, events or periods or focus on people who were an important influence on your life.