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Beacon Senior News

How to self-publish your autobiography

Oct 26, 2020 12:31PM ● By Debra Dobbins
Bill Chinn with his autobiography

Fruita veteran Bill Chinn shares details from his amazing life

Writing one’s autobiography can be time-consuming and taxing, but it’s a labor of love and a precious gift to family members.

Bill Chinn spent 18 months writing his autobiography at the request of his daughter. 

“After my mother and sister died, I realized that there were few, if any, family members alive who could tell the history of our family, so I urged my dad to write it all down,” said Chinn’s daughter, Diana Cato, 69. 

Once he finished the manuscript, Diana spent an additional six months inserting family photographs, binding the manuscript and giving it a professional polish. Now, Chinn looks back with pride at this 132-page collection of family history he titled “Bits and Pieces of my Life.”

The process took two years, but it will last for generations to come. 

Now 95, Chinn is a self-published author. He is also an ex-Navy man with a subsequent career in the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) that spanned more than 25 years.

A man who’s seen it all

Chinn’s autobiography contains plenty of humor, like his being ordered to be the lookout as his father made moonshine. Or the time he really wanted to kiss a girl, only to find she chewed tobacco. That put an end to that.

Like many kids in the Great Depression, Chinn had a hardscrabble life growing up outside of Fruita. In high school, he played football for a while but had to quit when he could not afford properly fitting shoes. In fact, he didn’t have a proper pair of footwear until he left high school to join the Navy. 

“It was the first time in my life that I had shoes that did not hurt my feet,” Chinn wrote. 

Chinn served on three Navy destroyers. One of them was the USS McCord, which is believed to have destroyed an enemy submarine and severely damaged others with depth charges.

After the war, Chinn found true love in Wanita Webb. They were married in 1946 and eventually had two daughters, Karen and Diana. 

About a year later he accepted a job with the AEC and reported to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for training and eventual Protective Force assignment to Los Alamos, New Mexico.

“At this time the AEC was in the process of transforming the Manhattan Project from military to civilian control as directed by the Atomic Energy Act—a very interesting period in atomic weapon history,” Chinn said.

Being on Protective Force meant that he frequently acted as a courier for extremely sensitive and classified documents for the AEC.

“The early days were shrouded in secrecy. Sometimes our families didn’t know where we were,” Chinn recalled. “It was an interesting and sometimes dangerous three years of my life.”

After accepting early retirement from the AEC, Chinn sold insurance for a while before becoming a quality control manager. Wanita and he later escorted tour groups around the U.S. Through their professional and personal travels, the couple saw much of the lower 48 states, as well as Hawaii. 

In later years, Chinn finally got to wear a cap and gown when he took part in the Operation Recognition program, which honored veterans who were away at war when their high school class graduated. He “walked” with the Fruita Monument High School class of 2006.

Chinn now spends much of his time painting and making jewelry. His love of the arts dates back decades. He is a member of the Brush & Palette Club and has exhibited many of his paintings throughout the years. 

Writing it down

Chinn offered these tips on how to get started with compiling your autobiography:

• The public library has many books with detailed instructions.

• Find a good time of day to write without distractions. It could be early in the morning before everyone else gets up or mid-afternoon when folks are napping or running errands. 

• It doesn’t have to be in chronological order, i.e. birth to death.

• Don’t assign a title until the piece is completed. 

• The more pictures and illustrations, the better. 

• Stay on topic. This is your story; don’t get too involved with auxiliary characters.

• Don’t be picky about the events you include. If you think it’s interesting or important to your story, include it. Just be careful to avoid the mundane. 

• Don’t expect perfection in your first draft. Just get your ideas down. You can always reread later and polish up your prose.

Soon you’ll be immersed in your memories and producing a document that, like Chinn’s, will be a family treasure for generations to come. 

Memoir and legacy: writing for yourself and your loved ones