Biograph is a vital tool for life writers. We know because we started as life writers—and because we use the Biograph app with our own clients. It empowers them to tell their stories and to connect to their team. It helps us streamline the process, so that the logistical headaches of a major project dissolve into the pleasures of collaboration.
In this article, we walk you through how we use the Biograph app, step by step. Treat this article as guide and inspiration: it’ll show you how you can use Biograph to better serve your clients—and how it will help you build richer, more exciting books.
STEP ONE: ONBOARDING
A few months ago, we were hired to help Brian Gunn write his autobiography. Brian was a prominent Chicago tech entrepreneur. He worked at Motorola when it was still a fledgling start-up, then headed out on his own to start his own company, Gunn Enterprises, which holds several key patents for cell tower technology.
“I wanted to write a book that summed me up,” Brian recalls. “I didn’t want it to be just another business book, with war stories from the boardroom. I wanted to capture my personality, my experience, my life. Once you cut through all the numbers, business decisions are made by human beings. I wanted my readers to see the human side of my success in business.”
Brian needed an easy way to record his thoughts and memories. Formal interviews were great—but they only got the broad outlines of his story. We needed a way to engage him in casual, unguarded moments, where he might slip into a novelistic reverie or drop a couple of telling details that would help conjure the world of Gunn Enterprises for our readers. We needed the Biograph app.
Brian already trusted that we had the skills and experience to make an extraordinary book from our research, conversations with his people, and our long-form interviews with him. So, he also trusted us when we recommended a tool that could supercharge our collaboration to create an even better book: “It’s easy-to-use—and it’ll help make every stage of our work together smoother and faster.” Ever an early adopter, Brian was in. We emailed him a link, he downloaded the app on his iPhone, and opened it up for the first time.
STEP TWO: GATHER LIVING MATERIAL
For Brian, the Biograph app was simple, intuitive, and helpful. “All you gotta do is hit ‘New Biograph,’ then record yourself. Often I add a photo to help jog my memories, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes if I’m feeling stuck, I pull up one of the guides and get my juices flowing that way. I’ve recorded biographs in the bathroom, sitting in traffic, on the treadmill. Anytime I have an idea or memory that might be useful for the book, I just whip out my phone and record it.”
Brian used Biograph the way a writer might use a journal or notebook: the go-to place for all relevant, miscellaneous, and tangential ideas. For us, though, the Biograph app had a great advantage over a journal. Everything Brian recorded on the app, he shared with us. We had his thoughts almost the moment they came out of his mouth—neatly transcribed and searchable. No need to wait to digitize and comb through handwritten records. And no need to bug Brian to get those records from him. The Biograph app not only helped Brian document his life. It also helped us short-circuit one of the stickiest—and, for both writer and client, most frustrating—aspects of a life-writing relationship.
STEP THREE: COLLABORATE ASYNCHRONOUSLY
“Writing a book and building a business isn’t actually all that different,” Brian reflects. “It’s a collaboration. Your team matters.” Brian wanted to make sure that his team’s voices were reflected in his book. “It’s my story, but they’re part of that story. So, it’s their story too. They gotta be part of it.”
Any life writer knows how hard it can be to track down long lost business partners and estranged family members to schedule an interview. In Brian’s case, the key players in his story weren’t just executives and investors. They were also secretaries and salespeople—some of whom he hadn’t seen since the 1980s. It would’ve taken years to track them all down.
The Biograph app made it easy to get great material from a wide range of people who’d worked at Gunn Enterprises. We sent out a link to the app through the company’s listserv, inviting current and former employees to share their stories via the app. We gathered hundreds of stories—some funny, some bittersweet—documenting Brian’s life and career. The Biograph app allowed us to bring voices into the book which would’ve otherwise remained silent.
STEP FOUR: STAY ORGANIZED
We’ve all been there: you’re six months deep into a project. You have a stack of diaries piled up on your desk, six hours of interviews—half of them transcribed—on your hard-drives, and hundreds of emails from the client, some of them with urgent, specific instructions, embedded in your inbox. It’s late at night, you’re pushing to meet a deadline. You know the client said something brilliant about their childhood…somewhere. You can’t find it in your transcripts, or your email. You flip through their diaries half-heartedly. Before you know it, an hour’s slipped away and the cursor is still blinking in exactly the same place.
We use the Biograph app to tackle the organizational challenges that come with a big life-writing project. Instead of spreading out resources, instructions, and notes across multiple platforms, Biograph consolidates everything into one accessible space. With its automated transcripts, you can search your interviews for key terms—and find that magical passage at a moment’s notice.
The Biograph app helps us stay organized and efficient as we move through a big project. It also helps our clients do the same. Brian notes, “If I open my email, I’m going to get distracted. There’s always someone who needs my attention or wants a reply on something. I like having a specific space for thinking about the book—a place where nothing is going to distract me.”
STEP FIVE: PRESERVE EXCITEMENT
The early days of a life-writing project are often a kind of honeymoon period. The client is excited about the project, full of enthusiasm. We all know what happens next. The client loses motivation. His golf game or her windsurfing trip to Maui take precedence. The first draft isn’t perfect—what first draft is?—and the client doesn’t have the patience to wait for you to get it right. You need a way to keep the client engaged—and to keep them from getting discouraged as they wade through the edits on a complex, nuanced piece of writing.
Biograph solves both problems. Brian’s initial enthusiasm for the project started to wane (he was remodeling his mansion at the same time and had to spend a lot of time thinking about carpet swatches). We kindled his excitement by giving him small assignments and prompts in the app. “Hey Brian, hope you’re doing well. One quick question—I’m describing the offices at Gunn Enterprises when you first started the company. What do you remember about it?” He’d shoot back, “Oh, it was this run-down old warehouse in a bad part of town. We tried to pretty it up for clients, but they seemed pretty scared. One time…” Answering these simple questions helped us gather vivid details for the book. They also helped prompt his memory: he’d remember key stories he’d forgotten and narrate them.
Biograph also helped us negotiate the editing process. There’s nothing clients hate more than getting a 150-page document covered in redlines. It’s overwhelming—and it makes them feel like they’re doing the writing, not you. We’d send Brian draft chapters, then ask him questions about them on the app. “Does the voice feel right to you?” “Did we miss anything about your neighborhood growing up?” Asking these questions on the app allowed Brian to give us straightforward, honest feedback about the key elements of his story—without overwhelming him or us.
It wasn’t long before Brian was sending us his own edits and suggestions on the app, unprompted. Because we’d used the app to solicit feedback, he felt comfortable using it whenever he saw an issue in a draft—or realized that we’d mixed up a detail in the timeline of his career. And because using the app was causal and easy, these conversations remained cordial, even friendly—without any of the frustration that could sour life-writing projects when they reach the editing stage.
STEP SIX: BRING OUT THE BEST
Life writing is hard work. You need to keep your clients engaged and motivated, organize your files, and edit a complex and sensitive document—all while working with clients who may not appreciate the difficulties of writing. It can be a stressful and daunting balancing act.
But life writing is still writing. If a project is going to be any good, you and your clients need to find a space where you can be playful, comfortable, and productive. You need a space that brings out the best in you—your creativity, your passion for storytelling, your commitment to your client. If you can’t put away the distractions and frustrations, your writing will be dead on arrival.
Biograph is that space. For you and your client, the Biograph app will be an intuitive and flexible tool that serves you at every stage of the writing process: from engaging a client to keeping them motivated; organizing your files to helping you edit. “I hired you guys because it seemed way too overwhelming to actually write this book myself,” Brian reflects. “I needed someone to keep me organized. But I didn’t want someone to hold my hand. I feel like using your app helped us write the best book—and write it on my terms. It’s a better book because the app brought out the best in both of us.”