If you are trying to figure out how to write an autobiography, you have probably long since passed the step of deciding whether or not your life is worth writing about. You know you have a story to tell. You know it’s worth telling. And, whether you are doing it for your family and children or for the public at large, you are interested in sharing it.
So the next question is, “Where do I start?” The easiest answer would be at the beginning. But the beginning isn’t always so simple to identify—your life is a story, whether you realize it or not, and to write your autobiography, you have to do a little work on discovering that story. Here are some exercises that will help:
1. Familiarize yourself with other autobiographies. Read the autobiography of someone you admire, one of your heroes, preferably one that has been broadly published, so that you get a feel for how it reads.
2. Research your own life. Your life isn’t just about what you remember. Find out about your family’s history, events leading up to your birth, and the circumstances of your family and the world around you as a child. You may find information you never knew before and make interesting connections about why you are the way you are. Digging into the past has a way of jogging your memories loose and bringing more data to the surface.
3. Organize. Make a timeline of your memories so you have them organized by date, and leave ample space to fill in the blanks.
4. Outline. Make an outline of how you want your story to go, where you want to start, if you want to write it chronologically or skip around on your timeline.
5. Identify your theme or message. It may be very clear to you or it might take some digging, but every story needs a good strong message. What is it that you want your reader to learn? What should they walk away with after reading your book? Maybe your theme revolves around resisting corruption, overcoming a handicap, or persisting through obstacles. It is also possible that this overriding idea won’t be apparent at first. Through your research and organization, you will start to see what your story is about—and the answer may surprise you. If you need a little help, please email me. This is one of my fortes!
6. Write. Okay, this can be one of the hardest steps, particularly if you don’t have much experience with writing. When I’m coaching a writer I always tell my client to just start writing. Even if you don’t love the way it sounds, even if you feel like it’s no good at all, just get words down on paper. Don’t ever let perfectionism stop you from getting things done. Know that you’ll probably edit and re-write this book several times; that’s just part of the writing process. But if you never get anything down in the first place, it’s awfully hard to edit! So my advice is always, “Write, right now!”
7. Ask for help. Whether you are a novice writer or an experienced professional, writing your own story can be difficult because it’s entirely through your eyes. Consult a friend, an editor, or a writing coach to give you a fresh viewpoint and get you through those sticky spots when you run out of ideas entirely. I offer writing coaching at an hourly rate, which has really helped other writers get through their personal blocks.
8. If you find that you’re not up to the task, hire a professional. Professional writers are well trained in storytelling and research and can help you fill in the gaps in your story. Their level of assistance can range from minor assistance with re-writes and research, to doing all the writing themselves under your name (ghost writing). You will always keep the rights to your story. If you’re not an experienced writer, this may be the best solution for you. And if you’re writing your book with the idea of selling it, you’ll definitely need a skilled writer to help craft your story so that it’s marketable.
So now you have a few tips on how to write an autobiography. Enjoy the process! And remember – Write, right now!
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