How to Write Your Autobiography
Have you ever considered writing your autobiography? Maybe you don’t think you’re famous enough. Or perhaps you don’t think your life is interesting or exciting enough to put it all down on paper. The truth is, writing an autobiography can be a fulfilling endeavor for both you and your family. In fact, writing your story can change your point of view on your life, and can even help you process events and personal experiences that affected the course of your life.
But writing your autobiography can be intimidating, bringing up questions such as: What should I write about? What should I not write about? How should I structure it? How do I get started? In this article, we’ll touch on those questions and more so that by the end, you’ll hopefully feel more comfortable with how to write an autobiography and have a good idea of where to begin. Let’s get started.
Why write an autobiography?
There are several reasons you might want to write your autobiography. Perhaps you just like to write. Maybe you have questions about your childhood and writing your autobiography will help you research your past and fill in the gaps. Or maybe you want to preserve your life story for future generations. No matter the reason, there’s little doubt that writing your story will be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for you and your readers.
Memoir vs. autobiography. What’s the difference?
Next, let’s clear up a common point of confusion – the difference between an autobiography and a memoir. In short, an autobiography is meant to cover the author’s entire life, starting from his or her childhood days to the time just before writing begins. A memoir, on the other hand, seeks to tell of specific memories, events or aspects of the author’s life.
Other important differences between an autobiography and a memoir:
Autobiography: Encompasses an author’s entire life, including historical details like date of birth and any significant events that may have happened in early childhood before the author was aware of them.
Memoir: Focuses on a particular period of time or set of events in the author’s life.
Autobiography: Tends to be written chronologically.
Memoir: May begin at any point in the author’s life and take the reader forward or back in time, as necessary.
Autobiography: Contains documented facts, specific dates, and detailed information.
Memoir: Tends to read more like a story with a more personal approach and presentation.
Autobiography: To document historical details and specific events of the author’s life.
Memoir: To communicate underlying themes or emotional revelations through perspective rather than facts.
How do I get started?
If you’ve thought through your reasons to write your story and whether you want to write an autobiography or a memoir, the only question left is how to get started. Here are nine tips for writing your autobiography.
Get familiar with the genre
Reading autobiographies will help you get a feel for how they’re written. Some of the most popular autobiographies include those of Benjamin Franklin, Katharine Hepburn, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela and Billy Graham. Choose a person or category of people (historical figures, celebrities, sports icons, etc.) that inspires you, and read several examples. This will help you find the style that best fits your own story.
Consider your audience
Knowing who will read your autobiography will help you structure and communicate your story. Writing for family members requires less detail than writing to the general public, since many settings and people will be familiar to your readers. Plus, providing your own memories and details about events can give family members a perspective they’re not familiar with, and may even help bring resolution to family disputes and misunderstandings.
Brainstorm your memories
Take some time to think about your life and piece together significant events and entertaining stories. Ideas to help you remember include:
- Look through family photos.
- Talk with your parents, grandparents, siblings and old friends.
- Look through diaries, journals, letters, calendars and emails.
It may also help to think through specific periods or events of your past to spur your recall including:
- Preschool days
- Elementary school and high school years
- College or university
- Special events
- Romance life / courtship / marriage
- Retirement years
- Your family history
- Friends and loved ones
- Places you’ve lived
- Favorite foods and recipes
- Holiday traditions
- Accomplishments and awards achieved
Develop a theme
As you begin to remember the important details of your life, you may be surprised to discover a central theme to the events and relationships you recall. Good autobiographies have a central idea that unifies the author’s life story throughout the book. As you begin to write, think about how to carry this theme through as you unveil your life story to your readers.
Get your story organized
Once you have a solid list of events and their associated dates and personal connections, the next step is to create an outline to help keep you organized. You may choose to tell your story chronologically or you may want to arrange it according to themes or major life events. Some writers use index cards they can lay out and arrange and rearrange to help them visualize their story. Others prefer a computer for easy editing and searching. No matter how you choose to do it, getting your thoughts and ideas organized will go a long way toward helping you stay on track.
Find a time each day when you can let your memories and thoughts flow. Some people find they’re sharpest in the morning, while others write better after the sun sets. Find a time that works best for you and then stick to it on a regular basis. It may be helpful to surround yourself with things that inspire you, including photos, quotes from friends or family, or music that relates to the time period you’re writing about that day.
Engage your readers
Once you’ve finished writing about a particular scene or event, read what you’ve written out loud. Check for awkward phrases or passages that contain too many details. Good stories should escort the reader smoothly from one account to the next. You can also keep your readers engaged by painting a picture with your words. Don’t just say, “It was a beautiful day.” Take the time to describe the sky, landscape and scenery with as many of the five senses as possible.
Use writing tools
If you’re having trouble getting started, check out an autobiography template. Whether in a book or online, these tools help you think through your life with a series of questions. As you answer them, the template simply arranges your answers into story form. Dictionary and thesaurus websites are also invaluable tools of any good writer. Just don’t try to impress your readers with complicated words. Your readers will appreciate you telling your story in your own words and you’ll feel more comfortable writing in your own style.
Remember to edit your work
Editing your own work can be challenging, even for professional writers. When you’re so close to the content, it can be difficult to be objective. Ask a few friends or family members to read a draft and give suggestions. While you always have the final say in what goes or stays, their feedback may prove helpful, Plus, they may find spelling and grammatical errors you overlooked.
Finally, when you think you have your story in its final form, set it aside and take a well-deserved break. After a few weeks, read it again. You’ll be amazed how many things your fresh eyes pick up that you didn’t see before, and your story will be so much better as a result.
Writing your autobiography can be incredibly enlightening and enjoyable. By putting together a structured plan and working hard to stay focused and motivated, your life story will soon be a reality that will be cherished by your loved ones and future generations.
Stay Inspired at Lake Seminole Square
Wish you had a group of people who shared your interests and creative hobbies? At Lake Seminole Square, your friends and neighbors get together for book clubs and writing groups. It can be a fantastic source of encouragement and support as you venture to write your story.