The Timeline of Life’s Ups and Downs
Ghostwriters, here’s a powerful way to get clients to talk about their lives.
I call it The Timeline of Life’s Ups and Downs. The basic idea is to ask the client to draw a curve on a timeline that describes the ups and downs of his or her life from birth to today.
The horizontal axis is time. On the left the timeline is marked birth. On the right side, it is marked “now” or “today.”
The vertical axis charts the client's state of happiness or sadness. If the client is happy at any point in time, the curve will go up. If the client is sad, the curve will go down. The center of the line the emotion is neutral, neither happy nor sad. The job of the client is to draw a continuous curve that corresponds to the major lifecycle events of their life.
Figure 1 is a timeline ready to be completed.
Figure 1. A blank timeline.
I usually say something like, “Every life is marked by life’s ups and downs. Think of the happiest and saddest points in your life. I’d like you to graph those points on this timeline. Start with your birth and draw a continuous curve of how happy and sad you were at the happiest and saddest moments of your life.
Some clients will immediately get it and eventually come up with something like Figure 2. After the curve is drawn, the ghost and the client label each inflection point with a description of the event. Labeling is critical for future reference.
Figure 2. A completed and labeled timeline.
Particularly for a memoir or a book with biographical elements, a timeline of life’s ups and downs is a powerful way of understanding a client’s life story because now the ghost has reference points. It’s probably best at first to talk about the happy events, “Let’s talk about the birth of your first child,” etc. At some point, the conversation can turn to the sad events. The timeline often suggests the structure of the book.
Some clients may need the ghost to model the process. That’s fine. Bring some blank timeline templates and complete the timeline with your own version of life’s ups and downs, as you describe what you're doing. The process will go a long way to endear you to the client and commonalities may surface.
The Timeline of Life’s Ups and Downs is a powerful instrument for starting a collaboration. It puts the client into an introspective state of mind. The process is emotionally satisfying and puts the collaboration on a firm foundation.