Peter Harris is 73 and has finished a project that has absorbed and excited him for more than two decades. He’s been writing his autobiography. Sounds daunting? Not so, says Peter, who had no previous experience in writing. He shares the journey and tells why you should consider writing about your life too.
So, we’re retired and we reflect on our life so far, hopefully a life full of adventure, work, love and play.
I’m retired, I’m 73 and I’ve completed my autobiography – my earliest memories, family, friendships, working life, adventures, experiences, what my world was like when I grew up compared with now.
It’s been a great experience. I’m not a journalist, but I do love the English language. My philosophy is if you can read, you can write.
The project was originally inspired by a 97-year-old great aunt, who jotted down some notes in pencil about being taken to her wedding down Puckle Street in Mooney Ponds in a horse-drawn jinker.
But the spur to finish the project came in 2007. Out of the blue, Susie, my wife of 31 years, was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND). She died 54 weeks after the diagnosis. It was a reality check, a reminder that life is fragile, that there are no guarantees. It was then that I realised if I wanted our descendants to have a record, I needed to make it happen – it was time to leave a record of my life experiences for my family.
I have been blessed to marry again and, with the encouragement of my wife Bernadette, I have completed my objective. I ended the story at the date when Susie died but with an added heartfelt chapter called Life After Death.
So, the beginning was about 20 years ago. Susie and my children heard of my new passion yet they, like me, had no idea that the project would take so long or and grab me so hard. There has been much genuine encouragement and advice from family and friends to keep me on track with a readable style of writing.
This brings me to … can you do it too?
The answer is … absolutely.
I haven’t taken a course in writing because I wanted this to be my story in my words. I’ve written and rewritten it as I have progressed with the goal of making it interesting and informative.
It needs to be said that there were periods in my life when I was far too busy to write. Sometimes, there would be months between sessions. Then whammy, I would become almost obsessed and sit down at the laptop and continue my story.
Sometimes, I would recall an experience in the middle of the night or just before falling asleep and I would scribble on a notepad by my bed or make a quick note in myphone.
Whenever I felt inspired, I would challenge my memory and write like crazy.
We can’t make time, but we can allocate time to tasks.
I can assure you that when you sit down for 30 minutes to write, you will look up and see that four hours have gone. That’s when you must press ‘save’. Actually, press it more regularly than that.
The end result for me is … The Life and Times of a Baby Boomer – My Story. 71,610 words, complete with photos from ‘back in the day’ that I scanned so they could be included in the book. At least they won’t be left to fade in the family photo box or – for the electronic versions – lost in the ‘cloud’ never to be seen again.
Where, oh where, to start?
I started by writing down my very first memory and it took off from there. I included only what was appropriate to avoid embarrassing friends or being sued.
I decided to attack the contents in chapters, with each one covering a period my life, such as The Beginning, The Trip of a Lifetime, Working Life, Romance and so on.
So what are the benefits?
Writing is fantastic ‘brain gym’ and it filled in hours of my life and yielded a tangible result. My memory was tested, as was my brother’s when I asked for “details forgotten”. But most of all, it was great fun!
I didn’t have to do too much research – apart from such things as the technical details of a 25 pound Howitzer which came from the Gun Drill Book I kept from those days – as most of the memories came back to me naturally.
I did need spell check and I did discipline myself not to take myself too seriously. Seriously!
What does it lead to?
I then gave thought to turning some of my more entertaining anecdotes into personalised children’s stories for our grandchildren.
Maybe I’ll jot down, in some sort of sequence, my thoughts about life – or maybe not.
Writing my story was wonderfully enjoyable. It filled in hours on those days when I was free or just felt like sitting in front of a keypad to teach myself to type with a purpose.
It was amazingly stimulating. If you choose to get started, I’m sure you will enjoy the wordsmithing and the reflections on the time we have spent on Earth … so far.
Have you written down any aspects of your life? Are you tempted to write your autobiography?