How To Write An Autobiography
Some people want to write an autobiography to simply share their stories with their family.
Others want to engage a broader audience. Those authors usually feel strongly that they have life lessons to share with the world.
If you’re working on tackling how to write an autobiography, you have already overcome the first barrier of deciding whether or not to share your personal story with others. You know it’s worth telling.
Now that you’ve decided, where do you start?
Here are some tips to help you get going:
Consider writing a memoir instead
An autobiography tends to be a bit clinical in its approach. For one thing, you have the burden of starting with the beginning of your life and moving forward through your entire existence.
When writing a memoir, you have the luxury of selecting a segment of your life. You can cover only the exciting part, like when you overcame a particularly gnarly hurdle or triumphed over near-impossible odds. You can select your memoir’s theme!
Most readers agree that a memoir is usually a better choice, because it’s more personal and reads more like a novel.
Read a lot of memoirs or autobiographies
You will learn a lot by reading the autobiography or memoir of someone you admire. Pick a hero you adore and read up on them. Most celebrities have written a few books (or hired a ghostwriter to do so for them). Reading these personal accounts will help you figure out how to structure your book.
It’s a good idea to read each book twice. Read it the first time for pleasure, then read it a second time to thoroughly review how the author communicated her thoughts to you. Could you really empathize with what she went through in the story? If so, analyze how the author achieved her goal.
Research your own life
To be complete and accurate, your book must cover more than what you can remember. You will need to become a bit of a detective and delve into your family’s history! Take the time to interview family members and ask probing questions to uncover details.
Here are some areas you might look into:
- Events leading up to your birth and your birth story.
- The environment and circumstances of your family (and the world around you) when you were a child.
- The background of your parents and grandparents.
- Difficulties your family overcame to bring you where you are today.
As you interview various people, you are bound to discover information you never knew before. You just might make interesting connections about why you are the way you are.
Digging into the past has a way of jogging memories loose and bringing more data to the surface. Be ready to follow any new direction and ask a lot of follow up questions.
Organize and outline
Once you have all the information gathered, make a timeline of your memories so you have them organized by date.
Then make an outline based on the individual incidents from your timeline. Determine where you want your story to start. If you decide to stick with an autobiography, you’ll need to cover your entire life chronologically. If you opt to write a memoir, you’ll want to focus on a key period from your timeline.
Identify your theme or message.
Every story needs a good strong message. You need a memoir theme.
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. Or perhaps you overcame a handicap. If you persisted through an obstacle to achieve a goal, that often makes for a good theme.
These themes might not be apparent when you first embark on your writing adventure. Through your research and organization, good themes should pop out—and what they are may surprise you.
If you need a little help, please email me. Finding the primary themes of a story is one of my fortes.
This step can be one of the hardest, particularly if you don’t have much writing experience. My advice is 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. Remember that before you publish, you’ll edit; that’s how the writing process works. However, if you never get anything down in the first place, it’s awfully hard to edit!
So, my advice is always, “Write, right now!”
Ask for help when needed
Whether you are a novice writer or an experienced professional, writing your life story can be difficult because it’s so close to your heart. Some segments might be painful to recall and write.
If you need help, ask for it.
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 sometimes coach writers at an hourly rate. It can help you push through writer’s block.
If you can’t write an autobiography, hire a ghostwriter
Have you been trying to write an autobiography or memoir for nearly a decade and haven’t gotten very far? You aren’t alone. Writing your life story can be challenging.
Hire a ghostwriter. Professional writers are well trained in storytelling and research. Their level of assistance can range from minor help with re-writes and research to doing all the writing themselves under your name.
You will always keep the rights to your story.
If you’re not an experienced writer, hiring a ghost is the best solution.
As you embark on this new adventure of writing your autobiography or memoir, enjoy the process! And remember—Write, right now!
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