Reviews – Breathe Life into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read
The pages of this newly-published how-to book are filled with helpful advice and examples to help the reader create an interesting, well-written life story. The authors, Dawn and Morris Thurston, have presented a methodical approach to putting your thoughts and stories on paper. This book will be helpful to those who have always wanted to write their life story but never had the courage to pick up a pen. It also serves the experienced writer well with ideas, hints, and tips to overcome a writer’s block hurdle.
The book begins with a “pep talk,” a chapter filled with encouraging words. The authors demonstrate that by following a plan, and using this book for guidance, the reader will become a writer. Everyone has a story to share. With encouragement, these stories can be written and preserved.
The authors offer an abundance of quality writing examples throughout the book. These examples serve to accentuate the points made in each chapter. Many how-to books tell the reader how to write. This book offers numerous examples of good writing throughout each chapter that demonstrate each principle. These examples illustrate the authors’ point of showing readers the details of your life through your life story rather than merely superficially telling a story. Showing involves action and vivid descriptions. This principle of “showing” resonates throughout the book.
The authors have created a guide to help the reader to “learn by doing.” There are several dozen specific tips offered throughout the book that will provide impetus for moving pen on paper. These tips, offered in grayed boxes, correlate with each chapter’s theme. They allow the book’s reader to apply principles learned in each chapter to immediate practice. Appendix A provides a complete list of these learn-by-doing exercises.
Dawn and Morris Thurston have written a useful manual. Their years of experience in writing, and helping others to write, shine through in the pages of Breathe Life Into Your Life Story. If you have been thinking of writing your life story, or even if the thought has not crossed your mind, this book will provide the encouragement and the guidance to put your life stories on paper. Your grandchildren will be glad you did.
Association for Mormon Letters, Jeffrey Needle
Many who are converts from Protestantism will remember the grand old hymn, “Tell Me The Story of Jesus”:
Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.
It was one of the first hymns I learned when I converted to Christianity in 1968, and it remains a favorite—easy to sing, beautiful words, and a constant reminder that the life of Jesus Christ is worthy of our contemplation and, to the extent possible, emulation.
And while this hymn will likely live forever, another hymn, not yet written, is likely to disappear in about an hour: “Tell Me The Story of Jeffrey.” No, I haven’t written this story yet, and likely will not do so. Nothing memorable, and nothing much worthy of emulation. Like most people, we find our own lives rather unexciting.
Mormons, on the other hand, have a passionate desire for life stories. The challenge to “redeem the dead” has flowered into a full-fledged frenzy of journaling, record-keeping, and sharing of family histories. I’ve read a few of these. Some have been interesting, others have been, well, about as dull as my own story would be.
The Thurstons have written a clever and lively how-to book with the tasty subtitle “How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read.” This is harder than you may imagine. Even the most interesting life can be written in a dull, lifeless way. The Thurstons want all of us to know that there are techniques that can be learned, and practiced, in pursuit of a lively, readable story.
Much as an exercise instructor teaches his student to breathe and bend, to twist and turn, the authors transform the awesome task of writing into a series of rhetorical exercises. Step by step, they lead the prospective writer through the steps of building a proficiency in telling the story. They detail the pitfalls many writers face, and explain how to move from envisioning your project to bringing it to completion.
Each lesson has a “Learn by Doing” exercise, designed to hone the skills taught and to give the writer the confidence to move on to the next step in the writing. In the margins are quick inspirations and, at times, hilarious observations by writers we know and respect. I will admit I laughed out loud at this impatient bit of doggerel by the rascal George Bernard Shaw: “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine right of articulate speech, that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and the Bible; so don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.” (p. 135)
Aw, come on, George, give me a break. Starting a writing project makes me croon. But, old Shaw has a point. We do share the language of some of the great writers. And, yes, we do have the “divine right of articulate speech.” But do we have the human ability to write in an articulate and interesting manner? The Thurstons seem to think so.
Finally, I must observe that the authors take a holistic approach to writing. They insist, and I agree, that one’s entire life must go into the project. People who read your life’s history want to relive that life with you. They want to walk where you walked, even breathe the air you breathed, as much as is possible through the medium of the printed page. The authors are relentless in pushing the aspiring writer into achieving a great victory over the fear and uncertainty that face new writers.
Breathe Life Into Your Life Story is a great introduction to writing that even experienced authors will find helpful. I’m not sure that people will want to sing a hymn to you, as we do to Jesus, but maybe this isn’t the greatest of goals. Maybe we should be aiming at developing the confidence, and the skills, required to pen an exciting autobiography. This book is an excellent place to start. It is highly recommended.
Midwest Book Review
Writing teacher Dawn Thurston and award-winning ancestral biographer Morris Thurston present Breathe Life Into Your Life Story: How to Write a Story People Will Want to Read, a no-nonsense guide to crafting an engaging autobiography. memoir or personal history. Chapters cover how to write at the gut level and reveal one’s feelings, what to do and not do when writing about specific places, connecting the events of one’s life to history, using suspense and conflict to draw the reader further in, and much more. A wealth of “learn-by-doing” exercises round out this excellent self-improvement guide highly recommended for would-be biographers, and also packed with valuable tips, trips and techniques for aspiring writers of fields.