Tips on Writing Your Lifestory, 2 of 12: Maslow, Wolves, Olympians, and You

Women’s 100-meter hurdles, 2012 Summer Olympics
2. Define your motivation for writing your lifestory.

All creatures feel the need to be connected, whether honeybees or humans, wolves or whales, amoebae or anteaters; whether by village, tribe, pack, household, school, work, neighborhood, city, county, state, country, religion, or politics. Realize it or not, in writing your lifestory—be it biography, memoir, or family history— you have a need to be connected.

Identify your need
American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) created a five-stage hierarchy of needs. Other researchers expanded Maslow’s work into seven and eight stages. Maslow’s stages in order of importance are survival, protection, belonging, self-esteem, and personal growth. A dependency factor is common to all stages—humans need to be connected. If you were to trace any household object, such as a pencil or ballpoint pen, from your house back to a retail store, distribution center, manufacturer, raw materials and so forth, you would discover this dependency in thousands if not millions of lives.

Define your motivation for writing—the reason or reasons you want to be connected—and you will be able to write. Do you want to become famous? Make loads of money? Find personal enjoyment? Honor family legacy? Give back to the community? Help your children and grandchildren understand and appreciate their heritage? Find personal or family healing? Share your journey of faith to inspire others? Set the record straight? Think about all the connections within those questions.

Find your passion 
Marriage and family therapist, author, and memoir writing instructor Linda Joy Myers puts it this way: “The most important ingredient in writing a memoir is motivation–a passionate reason to get the story on the page, a ‘fire in the belly’ feeling that what you have to tell is important and significant.”

The foundational theme for your connections enables you to construct the narrative of your lifestory. Is your theme travel, nostalgia, war, public or celebrity life, humor, charity or service, personal struggles, spiritual faith found or lost, surviving loss of a loved one, social or cultural issues, advice based on experience, confessional, coming of age, rags to riches, dysfunctional family, romance, or trauma? A myriad of themes is available—even revenge, with caution.

Revenge is not a good reason to write your lifestory. It might make an exciting fiction book or movie, but don’t use it as your lifestory to get back at someone; that only perpetuates your hurts and theirs. It is okay to write about revenge as a teaching and learning tool, says Marion Roach Smith in her The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life, but don’t use your story as a weapon.

Learn from athletes 
Several television commercials during the 2012 Olympics showed aspiring Olympians becoming motivated by watching winning Olympians and noting their times or scores. The Olympians-to-be wrote the times in sand or on a note attached to a refrigerator door.

Write your motivation on a sticky note and attach it to your computer screen or refrigerator, or write it on the cover of a spiral notebook. It’s okay to have more than one motivation, but more than three muddies your focus and can be overwhelming. Think about what you want to accomplish with your lifestory. Think of the benefits of the results of your published work. Think of how your lifestory not only will make a difference in your life but in the lives of those who read it.

Next week: Read stories you enjoy and follow their approaches.

What is your motivation for writing your lifestory?

Photo courtesy Tom Kelly/Flickr/Creative Commons


  1. I love that - don't use your story as a weapon. Besides, you can get sued.(Psst, you forgot to mention that chances are really high that you will NOT get rich from your memoir, so think of a different reason).

  2. You're right, Linda. Getting rich from writing is highly unlikely. It's easy to get published using today's print-on-demand technology. It's much more difficult to gain a credible reputation as a writer and to make a living at writing.

  3. Another great set of tips on writing our stories. I especially appreciate the bit on not using your book to exercise revenge. In communicating with my brothers about the draft memoir I'm writing, I actually think they believe that revenge is my motivator. I have yet to convince them that if they'd listen to me they'd understand that revenge is not a part of what I want to tell at all. It's an amazing story of what once was bad and evil turning into something good and filled with grace. Sigh . . . they'll just have to read it, I guess. Thanks again for being out here nudging the rest of us to do this the best way.

  4. Thanks, Sherrey. You're right on target with finding a positive outcome to a bad situation.