Making the Personal Universal: Writing An Autobiography

by Brian "Fox" Ellis

Like a New Year’s Resolution, many of us have at some point been told that we should write our life story. This is often followed by the retort, if only in our heads, who would want to read it?

The trick to writing a personal narrative that is of interest to others is to make the personal universal, so that readers say to themselves, yes, I can relate or Wow! I wish I had done that! Or I am so glad that did not happen to me, but I see your strength in the telling.

The Twinflower Inn in Bishop Hill is hosting their second annual writers’ retreat with a focus on the personal memoir. The goal is help answer both of these questions: how can I best tell my story? And how can I do it in a manner that people want to read it? The weekend is set to launch Friday evening January 16th at 7:00 pm with a storytelling concert at the Twinflower Inn.  Folks are invited to come hear wondrous stories and to tell a few of their own!

Whether interested in writing for personal gratification, for family members, for print on demand, or publication, there will be workshops and coaching to help the novice and the more experienced writer get a solid start on their autobiography.

Limited to a dozen or so writers the aim is to create a supportive and nurturing environment. This Writer’s Retreat will provide a balance of instruction, coaching and quiet time to write. If one wishes to learn more about building a solid story structure, finding the universal aspects of a personal story, participating in constructive conversations, and outlining a manuscript, then this retreat fulfills a long held desire. Folks are encouraged to attend the entire weekend, but if people want to show up for just one or two of the classes that is also encouraged. See the complete schedule on line at

Saturday and Sunday will be a balance of workshops and time to write, coaching and positive peer review. Workshops will cover these topics: Telling a Good Story Well, Story Structure & Story Maps; Strategies for Diving Deep and Bringing Back Pearls of Wisdom; The Long Arc -  Outlining, Pacing, and Piecing Together Your Narrative; Poetry, Songwriting, and The Bardic Tradition; An Exercise in Rewriting as Re-Thinking, Re-Imagining, Re-Envisioning; and Manuscripts, Cover Letters, and Getting Published.

Saturday evening at 7:00 pm Storyteller, Songwriter and Humorist, Don ‘Buck P.’ Creasy will give a concert at The Bishop Hill Arts Council Welcome Center as part of their coffee house series. Creasy is also leading the songwriting workshop Saturday afternoon.

Most of the workshops will be facilitated by the host, Brian “Fox” Ellis. He is the author of 16 books, 18 musicals, twelve CDs, and more than 100 magazine articles. His first book, “Learning from the Land” is a collection of personal narratives that explore our relationship with the land. His first children’s book, “The Web” based on a personal story, won a national award. He has traveled the world collecting and telling stories for more than 36 years but now calls Bishop Hill home.

Fox offers a few suggestions for those wanting to get started. He says, “One way to approach these stories is to draw a floor plan of your home, a diagram of your yard, and a map of your neighborhood. Take a partner on a virtual tour of these places looking for stories. What happened in this room or under this tree or down on the corner? Use these maps and diagrams as the key to unlock long forgotten memories.”

“Family photographs are another great key for unlocking stories. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and it is true. Look through old family photos to help you remember the Kodak moments. Choose a photo or two that capture a particular adventure. Look the picture over carefully to help you remember the details leading up to and following this picture. What stories can this picture tell? You might want to put together a sequence of two or three pictures from a particular vacation or baseball season to help tell your tale.”

For more ideas to help write your personal narrative there is a simple pdf at:

Unlike many New Year’s Resolutions, this retreat offers an opportunity to finish that project that has been on the bucket list for several years.

Here are the details for attending:

Making The Personal Universal:
A Writers’ Retreat with a Focus on the Personal Memoir
January 16 -19, 2015 @The Twinflower Inn, 110 North Olson St., Bishop Hill IL

Folks are encouraged to attend the entire weekend, but if locals wish to show up for just one or two of the classes that is also encouraged. E-mail to register.