How to Write an Autobiography

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Important Points for writing an Autobiography (toc)

How to Write an Autobiography

The first step in writing an autobiography is to decide who will be reading the book. A family keepsake requires a different level of writing skill than a book that will appeal to the general reading population. Most often, successful autobiographies are written by famous or infamous people.

There are some exceptions. If your life has been extraordinary in some aspect then you might consider writing a book marketed to the masses. For example, Wings of Fire: An Autobiography of APJ Abdul Kalam was written by  Dr. Abdul Kalam and Arun Tiwari. This is the story of Kalam's own rise from obscurity and his personal and professional struggles, as well as the story of AGNI, TRISHUL, and NAG missiles that have become household names in India and that have raised the nation to the level of a missile power of international reckoning.

Nonetheless, every life is a story worth telling. It can also be a very good first venture into the craft of writing. It is easiest to write what you know. A story about yourself would fit that bill to a tee. But even for those people not looking to test their writing skills, there is merit to taking the time to write a first-person narrative of your experiences. It will offer your great-great-grandchildren a window into a world that will likely be interesting to them no matter how well it is written because it is their roots. Also, genetics play a significant role in our lifestyle choices. Should your offspring find themselves on a path similar to yours, it would be very meaningful for them to read about a relative who suffered similar bumps or had a knack for the same craft. It's a gift that will last generations.

This tutorial is a step-by-step instruction aimed at getting anyone started in writing an autobiography - whether it ends up a professionally published book or a treasured family aireloom.


Create an Outline : How to Write an Autobiography

Begin by breaking up your life into logical segments or categories. As long as those defined parts make sense to you, they are acceptable. Educational or career milestones might work.

Another approach is to define turning points in your life. A decision to pursue a career, to move to another geographical area or perhaps an accident or a similar strife that had to be overcome could be a segment. Whatever the event was, it took your life in another direction.

Don't sit and fret over the naming of each category, think of this process as very fluid. Re-naming, adding or deleting categories is par for the course. It is unlikely that you will end up with the same categories you created from the beginning.

If you have always been a goal-oriented person, then perhaps the achievement of those accomplishments would serve as categories. If there was a time in your life when you wandered from place to place you might, at least tentatively title that time period Lost or Searching.

It is very important, for clarity sake, to time stamp each defined period by putting a general date span on each category. Probably these dates won't end up in the final version of your autobiography but they will serve to help keep your remembrances organized.

The main requirement of this step is to define categories that encompass a significant portion of your life.

Identify Moments : How to Write an Autobiography

Under each category create sub-segments. One of the best ways to do this is to write down events that happened during that time period. For example, during your childhood, if your parents divorced this would be an event that would serve as a good sub-segment.

Just as you did with the categories, it is important to time stamp these events. Because the times will be closer, use more exact dates whenever possible. Again these dates are not going to be in your final version but they serve to keep things organized.

Also, just as in Step 1, don't sit and fret about the naming process, it is unlikely these subcategories will stay the same name by the end. The important thing is recognizing these moments in life as ones that helped define who you are today.


Introduction : How to Write an Autobiography

Now that you have an outline stop and consider that some sort of introduction will be necessary. Before your readers dive into your life it is good to give them an overview of who you are and perhaps just a taste of who you are today.

Oddly, it's probably best to write this chapter last. But put it on the outline now because an introduction is important. As you fill in your outline with the story of your life, jot down those bits of information that would fit into the introduction.

Another approach is to write the introduction chapter about why you decided to write an autobiography and what you hope to impart to the reader. Telling who you are today, can help ground the reader and set expectations. It gives them an inkling about where the story you are about to tell will end.

Supporting Cast : How to Write an Autobiography

Likely, there are people in your life that will appear in multiple chapters of your book. Take a few minutes to list these people and write a paragraph about each of them. 

Like many things done during the writing process, the supporting cast paragraphs are not for your readers but information that you can refer to while writing your autobiography. This kind of preparation will help you write a better book.

For example, sometimes people are called by many names, which can be confusing to the reader. Make note in the paragraph about which name you will be using when referring to that particular person.

Write a physical description of each recurring person. If the person changed dramatically through out the years make note of those changes. Then when you are bringing up an exchange with Uncle Arnold note that he is sporting a mullet haircut. Physical details will help bring the characters to life for the reader.

Use Photographs : How to Write an Autobiography

As the saying goes, a good photo is worth a thousand words. Photos can help with descriptive detail and with jogging your memory for events that are worth writing about. Go through old photos, pulling those that might be good to use as art in your book.

Inserting a picture of yourself and the other people you are writing about brings a new dynamic to the book.


Elaborate the details : How to Write an Autobiography

Begin elaborating on the outline you created. Give descriptive details of the events you identified in the sub-segments. Try not only to describe the action but your surroundings at that time. 

Little details such as the color of your sister's eyes and that your house had an old screen door will help pull the reader into the book.

If there is an appropriate photo that goes with the segment then label the photo with the chapter number and a letter. Insert the same chapter number and letter into the text to mark where the photo should be inserted when photo copying or publishing.

The End : How to Write an Autobiography

There are several techniques that can be applied to the last chapter of an autobiography. You could write about the lessons you learned in your life and impart whatever advice you have to the readers. Another path would be to discuss your plans for the future. It could be about arriving at a destination or achieving a hard fought goal.

In writing, there are no hard and fast rules. If there was a person in your life that was a "main character" in your autobiography - often a parent or parental figure - the last chapter could be about how that relationship ultimately developed or ended.

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