Telling Your Story With a Guided Autobiography

by Donne Davis on December 3, 2012

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Have your children or grandchildren asked you to tell them stories about your childhood? Do you keep thinking you’ll get around to it someday but somehow never get started? If the task seems daunting, you may want to consider taking a class in Guided Autobiography.

At our November GaGa Sisterhood meeting, members got a chance to sample one of the Guided Autobiography themes with Ann Stevenson, a trained Guided Autobiography Facilitator. Ann presented a workshop on how to begin writing your autobiography.

Ann has always been drawn to family history and has information on both her maternal and paternal sides of the family dating back to the 1600s and 1800s. She was drawn to Guided Autobiography because there were stimulating topics for writing and telling her life stories. Participating in a class helped her “stay on task” in enjoyable ways and hear about others’ fascinating lives.

Dr. James Birren, one of the founders of the field of gerontology, developed the concept of Guided Autobiography. In 2001, he wrote Telling the Stories of Life through Guided Autobiography Groups. The process of writing and sharing your stories in a group helps you recall memories and gain an appreciation for the direction your life has taken.

Rather than chronological, Guided Autobiographies are structured around nine major life themes, which help us gain access to memories and organize them in a way that honors the complex threads that shape our lives.

  • The major branching points in your life
  • Your family
  • The role of money in your life
  • Your major life work or career
  • Your health and body
  • Your sexual identity
  • Your experiences and ideas about death
  • Your spiritual life and values
  • Your goals and aspirations

Ann led our group through the first exercise, which uses a “tree of life” to explore the essence of our characters and where those traits and qualities came from. She gave us all paper and our own box of crayons to draw a tree with many roots, a sturdy trunk, and many strong branches.

She explained that the roots represent the gift of our forebears and asked us to write down the traits that we’ve inherited from important people in our past.

On the trunk we wrote our talents, strengths, and values that represent who we are that add meaning to our lives. Finally, she asked us to consider all the people we’ve influenced in our lives, including family and friends, and to write on the branches the characteristics and qualities that we have passed on to others.

When we finished, we wrote a few paragraphs about our trees and why the roots, trunk, and branches were important to us and what they meant. Then we broke up into small groups to share our thoughts.

Everyone agreed that having the opportunity to think and write about our traits then share them with others was a profound experience. It was a wonderful beginning to exploring in more depth what we may want to write about and share with our children and grandchildren.

If you would like to explore writing your autobiography, you can contact Ann Stevenson for information about her classes at: ann@annlstevenson.com.

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