My Read on Instant Autobiography Kits

Several people have asked if I plan to mention the Microsoft Story Template, available for download from the Microsoft website, or the books that have you fill in blanks to complete your lifestory in several dozen questions. I wasn’t planning to mention these, but since the question continues to surface, I will. Quite bluntly, I don’t recommend these tools.

I don’t recommend the Microsoft template because its formatting is highly complex, and unless you are a certified Word Wonk, you’ll quickly lose control of it. Your answers will generally exceed the space they allow, and your pictures won’t fit in the boxes they provide. Furthermore, it has a colorful background image of the type that’s much loved by people who sell ink cartridges. The image won’t print all the way to the edge of the paper. It won’t run through a standard copier, and it won’t work with electronic publishing services.

The Instant Autobiography kits are a slightly different matter. They are designed for people who write by hand, and think in generalities. The space they allow for answering questions is similar to what you found in high school on short essay exam questions. There is room for one or two paragraphs, but unless you write with a magnifying glass, you’ll run out of room on the interesting items. At the other extreme, you are likely to find that half or more of the questions are irrelevant to your life. You’ll end up with a book of patchy responses, and it may well miss the key questions that define what makes you you.

Having gotten the negative angles out of the way, I do like that they offer trigger questions, and they do fit with one of my Key Concepts:

Any lifestory you write is better than writing nothing!

‘Tis better indeed to fill in part of a book than to write nothing at all. If this is what you think you, or someone you love, can manage, then by all means, go for it.

My aim with this site, with my workshops, and with my forthcoming book, is to help ordinary people learn to write extraordinary stories defining their own lives in their own voices and their own terms.

Wow! I did it! A fully formed, crystal-clear purpose statement just popped out of my fingers from some deep, dark recess of my mind. Remember, we talked about purpose a few posts ago in The Value of a Clear Purpose.

Lest there be any confusion, I do highly recommend the use of Trigger Questions. If there is any value in prefab books, it’s the questions. Use the ones you like, and leave the rest. If comments indicate an interest, I’ll post trigger questions. For now, try these:
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • Tell when and where you were, and how this has influenced your life.
  • What do you remember about summer vacations?
  • How did you have fun in the snow?
Have fun, and write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


Sunshine said...

The myriad of tools and triggers geared toward life stories writing indicates the growing interest in the process and the product. For some the MS download may be helpful at a basic level, yet the limitations may serve only as a guide to development of one's own template. Each of your posts is a helpful step in the creation of a memoir.

EB said...

You are doing a great job in aiding people to write their memories.
I,for one would like to see a list of trigger questions in addition to the ones you gave.

seniorwriter said...

Yes! Some of those fill-in-the-blanks guides just seem too simplistic and uncreative. That's what I tried to combat in my own book, "Seniorwriting." It favors a more creative, thoughtful approach. My "trigger" questions are similar to yours, too.