First Steps in Writing our Story


‘I feel as though I want to start writing my memoirs!’ said one client recently, as our work ended. At times of transition or loss, we often find ourselves taking stock and reflecting on our lives. We may want to gain a more connected-up sense of who we are, to re-ground ourselves and our identity. We may also want to re-visit some past phases of our lives to gain a deeper understanding, put the pieces together and make peace with our past.

Regular reflective time can help you to live more fruitfully, discern new directions and keep hold of ground gained. Personal writing can be a valuable part of the process. A page or computer screen does not judge what you write on it. Writing something down enables you to express what you cannot say elsewhere. It also becomes a permanent record.  You can re-read it, reflect on it and discover things that you did not realise were there as your writing talks back to you. Writing can be re-worked or developed. It can be referred to as you chart changes, or destroyed as a symbol of letting go. The physical act of writing can help you stay focussed, as it requires your concentration.

We may want to write our own life-story, or key aspects of it, to support our well-being and personal development, but it can be hard to know how to start. The best approach to this potentially overwhelming project is to break it down into manageable pieces. One approach could be to draw on Dr. Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal ™ workshop exercise called Steppingstones. Dr. Progoff’s Steppingstones are ’those events that come to our minds when we spontaneously reflect on the course that our life has taken from its beginning to the present moment… the significant points of movement along the road of an individual’s life.’

The first task is to identify and list what these marker points may be. Limit your selection to around a dozen.  You may wish to start with ‘I am born,’ but you could select a significant starting point for any aspect of your life that you want to track: career path, relationship history, and so on.    

Settle yourself quietly as you prepare to make your list. Write whatever comes to mind as a significant stage on your way. You can re-assemble these elements in chronological order later if need be. List them in a word, phrase or short sentence, and number the list. You now have some headings to help you focus on particular episodes in more detail.

Choose one item on your list. Take time to re-engage with the memories it evokes. Then you could simply start writing, using the opening prompt, ‘It was a time when…’ You may prefer to ask and answer particular questions: 

  • What were your feelings and thoughts at that time?
  • What were your pressures, influences, freedoms and limitations?
  • What was going on around you and who was important?
  • How did you respond and what decisions did you make?
  • Would you do things differently now? How?
  • What memories and lessons do you want to keep?
  • What do you want to let go and leave behind?

 As your writing of different episodes builds up, you may read back over them later to find that some themes, desires and drives that form common, linking threads. Are these things you want to take forward into where your story goes next?  

Remember to treat yourself kindly after a reflective writing session. It can be emotional work, and may leave you feeling a little more fragile than usual for a while.  


For further personal writing ideas, I will be running 3 Write Well Workshops fortnightly on Saturday mornings in Chester in February/March 2013. See for more details and to book in.

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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

    Read more about Julia
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