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8. Final Writing Jobs

Your quick and easy-to-read guide to life-story writing, by Anna Foster

When you've completed writing the main body of the text it may be tempting to give a huge sigh of relief and feel you've finished. In fact there are still a few extra writing tasks to perform.

A professional writer or editor can help you with these if you prefer.

Chapter Headings

The main job of the chapter heading is to tell the reader what to expect. Factual headings and dates — along the lines of 'Early Years 1942-47' — are the simplest.

You can also be more creative (and playful), by using a phrase from the chapter itself. A farming memoir I edited had the memorable chapter heading, ‘The Cow That Jumped Over the Shed,’ referring to the story of a rather remarkable cow.

Try to avoid clichés, or at least adapt one to your purpose.

You could play with words, so that a chapter about a motorbike enthusiast is called 'Biking Mad'.

You could also distort the title of a well-known book or poem, as in 'Three Men and a Girl in a Boat' to describe a sailing holiday.

Keep the chapter headings reasonably short and don't feel you have to be clever every time.


An introduction is an essential part of a life story. You need to tell readers why you are writing the book.

Leave writing it until the end. It can be very short – just a few sentences - but will undoubtedly be read. You may want to include:

  • Your reasons for writing – what or who inspired you to write, who the book is for, what you have gained from writing it.
  • An anecdote to illustrate the above or an important moment in your life. This will give colour to your prose and draw the reader in. The mix of explanation and 'come on' factor is a delicate balance.
  • How the material is organised.
  • Acknowledgements and thanks. You can thank family members, friends or professional advisors who have either helped directly with the book or supported you in some way.

Contents Page

It’s also essential to include a contents page of the chapters and in some cases, the illustrations. Leave this job to the end when you know the pagination.


Many books are dedicated to someone closely associated with the author. This often appears alone on a page, near the front of the book.

Copyrights and Acknowledgements

Are you quoting from someone else’s book? Are you including published photographs or postcards?

Were you given any material that you would like to acknowledge?

Copyright law is complicated and a simple guide does not exist. A useful website address is given in Contacts.

Most media organisations (book publishers, newspapers, picture agencies) will want some kind of credit. They will often waive a fee for a non-commercial publication.

Researching and compiling copyrights and acknowledgements can be time-consuming. If your book contains many items, list them on a page in small type.

Family Tree

Many life stories include a simple family tree near the front of the book. It saves having to remind readers of family connections in the text and provides an 'at-a-glance' view of the family.

You can of course make the family tree more detailed, especially if you have been researching the family's genealogy.


An appendix contains additional information which is too bulky to put into the main body of the text, and is placed at the end of the book.

A typical example could be a very long diary extract covering several pages, a lengthy exchange of letters or a separate contribution from another family member.


Writers dread this chore and many publishers use professional indexers.

Most life stories have no need of an index, especially if the book is being read only by family and friends.

An index will be useful if the book is aimed at a wider audience and includes many individuals, places, organisations and themes.

If the book is about a professional person and there are detailed references to the profession then an index will also be handy.

If you want to draw up a simple index, think laterally. If Auntie Vivienne used to be employed on fire watching duties during the Second World War, this might appear under three entries; Auntie Vivienne, fire watching and the Second World War.

Start by writing down the names of the individuals, themes, and places you wish to include in a long list, against which you will put the page numbers once the book is paginated.

Alert your printer early on if you want to include an index to make sure sufficient space is left.


At this point, refer to the following checklist, making a note of jobs still to be done. I will look at some in further detail in later chapters, e.g. the covers.

  • Front cover
  • Inside front cover
  • Title page (usually repeats the cover title, author's name and publisher if appropriate)
  • Copyright page (includes publishing information, your copyright as author, copyright and liability statements)
  • Contents page
  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgements
  • Dedication
  • Family tree
  • The text, divided into chapters and illustrations
  • Appendixes
  • Useful addresses, bibliography
  • Index
  • Inside back cover
  • Back cover

Do you have any questions from this section? Please email me and I will try to help you.