Write Your Life Story: Three Books You Never Knew You Needed

Yes, this is another one of those posts that recommends books to help you write your memoir, biography, or family history.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “I don't need another how-to book. Aren’t there gazillions of those and aren’t they all alike?”

 Yes and almost yes.

“Well then there now—thank you very much George Gobel—what makes your list so blasted different?”

I’ll respond with what my list is not. It is not a list of books on how to write your life story.

“So you fooled me with your headline when you said it was about writing my life story?”

About writing your life story, not how-to.

“Okay, I’ll stay with you a little longer. This better be good.”

Give your words life
Good is a good start. It is an adjective, as in “a good product: fine, superior,” and thirty-five other synonyms listed in the first entry of the word in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2012). I say the first entry, because the Writer’s Thesaurus has eighteen entries for the word good as an adjective, two as a noun, and four as phrases. Each entry has dozens of synonyms, with an antonym or two thrown in, for a total of more than 500 (I counted them) synonyms and antonyms.

At a hefty 1,050 pages, this book has more than 15,000 main entries, 300,000 synonyms, and 10,000 antonyms. Compiler Christine A. Lindberg says subtle differences can guide you to the best alternative. Complementing the entries are word notes throughout by more than 200 contributing authors.

Give your characters expression
Your life story has characters who enter and exit, speak and stay silent; they act and react, and so do you as the storyteller. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012) guides you through thousands of verbal and nonverbal emotions. Included are physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, expressed and suppressed feelings.

Authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi say their book will help you brainstorm new ideas about emotions and make your writing fresh and engaging. Although written for novelists, the book is exceptional (opposite of normal and usual) for writing your life story.

Give yourself the look of a professional
Computers have made it too easy to check spelling and grammar. A couple of clicks of your computer’s mouse and all the mistakes are underscored in red and with suggested corrections. Yeah, sure. It is up to you, or someone you hire, to proofread and edit your manuscript. Whether you are writing your life story for family and friends or to be published for all the world, you do not want to appear ignorant of grammar and punctuation.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, Eleventh Edition (Jossey-Bass, 2014) is an easy-to-use guide that will give you the skills and knowledge you need to look like you know what you are doing. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, who vs. whom, periods, commas, hyphens, dashes, capitalization, and writing numbers are just a few of the dozens of topics. The book is based on the work of Jane Straus (1954-2011), educator, best-selling author, and founder of GrammarBook.com.

“I’m convinced. Now what?”
Buy these books, dog-ear them, mark all over them, and recommend them. You will treasure them for a lifetime.

Tell us the best books on writing your life story you recommend and how they helped you.

Images courtesy Amazon.com.


  1. Great choices Wayne. I also recommend The Emotion Thesaurus. They have several other volumes, probably equally good, but this is the one I know.

    Martha Alderson's book, The Plot Whisperer is another I'd add to that list if I were you. It's equally valuable for memoir or fiction. She's been a guest on NAMW events more than once.

    The Smashwords Style Guide is another must-have, that's available as a free download from Smashwords.com. The instructions on using styles is just as relevant for print books, and Coker covers the topic better than anyone I've seen. Styles are the keys to the self-publishing kingdom. Master them and save money when you hire a layout person who works by the hour.

    1. Thanks, Sharon. I'll take a look at the Alderson and Coker materials.

  2. Wayne, thanks for introducing me to a couple of writing helps I don't have. I do have The Emotion Thesaurus and highly recommend it. Another Sharon mentioned, The Plot Whisperer, is also another in my library and a handy item. I wonder if The Blue Book of Grammar looks like a great tool -- I'm looking into it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these various books.

  3. Glad to be of help, Sherry. A challenge with lists: Ask 100 people and you 100 different lists.

  4. Thanks, Wayne. I'm getting down to the nuts and bolts - ie, my sentences and the imagery of my writing. These are great suggestions. I am really intrigued by the emotional thesaurus. I keep seeing recommendations for it and am going to buy it to help me with one of my weakest areas - portraying emotional variations. Thanks for this blog.


  5. That's what I use the emotional thesaurus for, Jerry: helping me with my weak areas.