My dad grew up in the south of Italy between the two world wars. After his father died prematurely, he slipped through the competing clutches of the Church and the Mafia and ran off to South America with his cousin Blacaman. The two of them spent the nineteen-thirties careening around the continent, carting lions, snakes and alligators and setting up their animal hypnotizing show wherever they could find an audience. Later on, Dad joined the circus and did pretty well for himself, but in those early days they were just a couple of hustlers living from hand to mouth and associating with disreputable people. Unsavory? Probably. Fascinating? You bet!
If your appetite is whetted, so was mine as a boy; trouble is, that’s all I know. Rummaging through a suitcase full of monochrome photographs, I found evidence of this man who resembled Dad, minus a few decades, but didn’t seem anything like the respectable family man I knew. I pestered him for his stories, but he kept a steadfast silence. I assumed he was protecting my innocence — that once I grew up he’d relent — but it wasn’t that simple. He insisted that no one cared (even though I swore I did), and he took his memories uncompromisingly to his grave. I’m still mad at him.
Everyone has a story; every story is important — not just to your loved ones, but perhaps to a whole generation inspired by you. If you’ve promised yourself (or them) that you’ll write it one day, there’s never been a better time for biography.
True, writing’s tough to begin with — and I say that as someone who loves writing and does it every day — but writing a book is uniquely rewarding. I’ve written several, and have helped others by editing, typesetting, illustrating, designing covers and preparing both paper and digital formats. Seems like a lot, but in the end it’s great to hold up the finished product and send out links to it.
Still, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Finding your personal voice brings a story to life and satisfies the reader — but it also brings you the author special, personal clarity. Piecing facts into a narrative gives shape to your life and, by deepening your self-knowledge, bring great peace of mind and self-confidence. I accompany my clients through that process, not just with writing and editing, but also by creating a website or blog that supports the creative process as it happens and sells the book once it’s ready.
It’s been very hard to get a book published in recent years, but today there are more options, not fewer. The Amazon Kindle and other eBook readers make self-publishing easier than ever. You can actually publish with little risk and turn a profit more easily. Electronic books cost nothing to print and can be updated at any time. You never have left-over inventory, pay distributor’s storage fees or get unwanted returns.
Selling through Amazon requires no up-front investment; advertising’s being supplanted by inbound marketing, which costs nothing. Once I’ve helped my clients write, format, illustrate and copyright the book, I help them with this technical stuff and provide moral support.
Writing a book’s like burying yourself in a mass of details; from time to time you lose track of the big picture. That’s why professional help — or a very devoted friend — is indispensible. I’m often the one who tells writers what they don’t really want to hear; they thank me later. I’ve both edited others’ work and been edited myself; it’s a challenge at both ends. The idea is to keep the story within bounds while letting it unfold at its own pace.
What bugs me most about my father’s silence is that it did no one any good. Sharing those stories would have helped him face his demons and brought us closer. Today, we recognize the importance and healing potential of self-knowledge. The important thing is not what you experience in life but how you pass on those experiences. Putting down your own story is a process of integration and then some. In writing your life, you express your wisdom. Find out, and share it.
As well as hosting this blog, Stephen is director of QM Graphics, specializing in the editing, design and publishing of books, eBooks and websites.