Three golden questions

Dr. Dolly’s Mine Your Memories Column #3


By Dolly Haik-Adams Berthelot © 2021

WHATEVER your life story subject, topic, type, or purpose, Questions are the golden nuggets at its core. This series will ask many, but today we start with the KEY 3 Golden Questions:

⌘ What is your primary story purpose?
⌘ What story form and medium do you envision, and for whom?
⌘ What is your story value–What are you willing and able to invest to achieve your intention?

Like gold, these questions are solid, precious, and can ultimately be shaped into almost anything. And you may have to dig deep to find authentic, realistic answers.

Determining Your Purpose

First, the seminal question, one I ask in any initial consult, is WHY? Why do you want to or need to pursue this life story, whether you intend to have it professionally written or to write it yourself? Whether it is about yourself, a family member, or someone else. Or about your church, business, or organization. Why do it? What is the purpose, the driving force? What do you intend to gain? What do you intend to give? Do you feel your work may actually help others? This BIG WHY impacts everything else. Determining that may take hours or weeks or years to explore and answer thoughtfully, truthfully, and thoroughly. And you may well start with a tentative answer, lest you be immobilized by the immensity of Why.

You may be driven by various impulses, desires, or needs: to leave a legacy, or help someone else leave a legacy; to honor or celebrate yourself or someone else, perhaps for a special occasion, perhaps overall; to be truly and deeply known and understood; to clear up misunderstandings, misassumptions, or simple ignorance about yourself or someone else, or about your heritage, ethnicity, religious or political perspective; to record a history of a person, family, place, or thing; to market, promote, or humanize a business or organization; to entertain, using life experiences; to teach, motivate, inspire, and/or pass on values using life experiences; to learn and grow personally, psychologically, or spiritually; to heal or help others heal. An offshoot could be to develop a fiction work out of the reality.

And any combo of these or other possibilities are legitimate, worthy motivations—but it’s best to understand them, and make them explicit to yourself, to anyone assisting you, and ultimately, though perhaps more subtly, to your future readers.

Caveat: If your real chief purpose is to get rich or famous, honestly, neither is very likely for most folks, so I’m not inclined to consult with you for that motive.

Choosing Your Form and Audience

Second most basic dual question, what form do you envision this story taking and for what audience? Do you intend a brief article or expansive feature story for a newspaper or magazine or for the Internet? A special event page or booklet? A short story to display with a personal heirloom, medal, or other item? An obituary? A history for your congregation and prospective members or a history for your employees, prospective employees, customers? A collection of short stories or chapters that may ultimately become a book, mainly for family and close friends? A similar book or an integrated memoir to be published for a wider audience?

Or is your aim a fictional storybook, novel, play, or film that grows out of the reality? Sometimes you start out with one vision and wind up with another. That’s ok. You must start somewhere. If one thing leads naturally to another, that’s fine.   And if wealth and fame ALSO evolve, that’s fine too–just not as your primary goal.

Deciding What You Can and Will Commit

Third most crucial question, which you also may not really yet know but must consider: What are you willing to do, to give, to invest, to really achieve your story purpose? Most people haven’t a clue what goes into remembering, eliciting, organizing, and crafting a life story, much less designing and/or publishing it for sharing. Unless we are structural engineers, you and I drive over roads and bridges, but that doesn’t equip us to construct either. Reading is essential to good writing, but insufficient, just as driving over bridges doesn’t equip us to build them. People often are about that prepared to achieve their life-writing goals at an optimal quality level, no matter how smart or knowledgeable they are about other things. Yet they often assume it will be quick and easy. As with teaching, it may be relatively easy to do poorly. It is, I feel duty bound to warn you, rather hard to do well, and especially to do excellently. Every aspect may take more time, thought, energy, effort, scrutiny, redo’s, patience, and resources than you imagine.

Am I trying to discourage you? Of course not. If your propose is worthy, the process can be fascinating and rewarding in itself; if you are willing and able to invest yourself as needed, the outcomes and products can be outstanding, meaningful, and immensely gratifying, a gift to yourself and to others, immediately and long into the future. Are you and they worth it? If you think so, I’d love to help you achieve your vision. If you aren’t sure, I’d like to help you decide wisely. You may email me with guestions I can answer quickly, or buy a brief phone consult.

Two sections of may be especially useful as you contemplate your purpose. See Why Share Life Stories? Also review the list of 55 Reasons to Share Your Life Stories and consider which reasons particular call to you. It could be wise to select 3-5 and actually write them out as self-motivators.

This is #3 in the series. You can find a directory of materials in this series at Dr. Dolly’s Mine Your Memories Series.