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How to Write an Autobiography – Best Tips to get it Started

Do you ever have the sudden urge to start writing about your ancestors and about your very existence? Are you thinking about writing an autobiography? Are you helping someone to write hisor her autobiography? If yes, you may want to read on.

Now, when it comes to writing about your own lives, you can produce two different types of books – a memoir and an autobiography. While both have no much difference, a memoir can be called an emotional version of an autobiography or memories of one or more aspects of the writer’s life, such as his travels, career or marriage.

Why Should You Write an Autobiography?

You definitely need not have to be a famous person to write a story about your life. Everyone lives with different stories and tell-tales that they can share with friends and family. But if you want to contribute something more to the history of human race in your own way then we suggest that you write an autobiography.

Autobiography helps you put together the pieces from your past, your family, your heirloom, and your heredity, label them and organize them. You will be assembling back together each of your family member’s lives into a puzzling and intriguing story.

For instance, you may have thought that you knew your aunt very well until you discovered the secret journal that showed a whole new side of her you didn’t know, which you would rather want to tell others.

Types of Autobiography

Before you start writing one, you should identify the type you want to write. Autobiographies can be further divided into 3 types:

a)    Fictional Autobiography

A fictional autography represents an autobiographical novel in which the lead character narrates their story. The book is written in the first person. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte are good examples.

b)    Spiritual Autobiography

These autobiographies endorse the author’s religion and his journey to spiritual enlightenment. It will have detailed illustrations and testimonial accounts, accompanied by lapsing events.

c)     Memoirs

It is a smaller form of autobiography that talks about events built around emotions. For instance, a soldier may write his memories about his past wars and call it his war memoirs or an avid traveler may share his travel experience and call it his travel memoirs.

Start Writing an Autobiography – Steps Involved

1.     Choose Your Story

Autobiography is all about stories and narratives. You have to think about a particular story or a particular part of your life that you would like to share or that is worth an audience. Remember, autobiography is not writing your entire life; you have to choose a specific aspect of your life and work on it.

You have to choose a topic that you can share in vivid details, that is funny, that is legitimate, and that is also informative (if you want to add value). Some of the life aspects you may want to ponder writing about include:

  • Career: Getting your first job or getting the best job in your tenure.
  • Accomplishments, awards or any achievements, including graduating from school, your first national sports prize etc.
  • A trial period: losing someone you loved, recovering from injury or disease, a court case or a divorce.
  • A happy and meaningful experience: your marriage story, your first international travel, your encounter with an inspiring person, a life-changing event, or discovering life in a hobby.  

2.  Why Do You Want to Write?

Ask the question and answer it. What is the purpose of this autobiography? What do you want to accomplish? Why do you want to tell your story? People write autobiographies for different reasons – you could write it for an interview application, the autobiography could be for your blog catering to a larger audience, it could be for your class, or it could be in print.

If it is for a purpose or concept, make sure your story responds to the purpose.

3. Whom Are You Writing For?

Every book is written thinking about the actual readers. The intention of each book should be delivering what the reader is looking for. You have to identify your readers. Consider who will be reading your autobiography. Think about their anticipations from an autobiography. If it is for family and friends then you can be creative and open up a little more. But if it is for a larger audience, you need to plan diligently. You have to write something interesting, exciting, and trending while making sure that your story revolves around you.

Your core concept will define your audience. For example, if you are writing about your childhood love story, then you should target the youth readers. If you are writing about your pathway to spirituality, your target audience will differ.

4. Write Down Your Ideas

You have to generate the topics you want to write about. Question yourself, probe your past, list the tales or memories you would like to pen down, cluster them, and look at the samples.

Freewriting could be a good way to generate topic ideas. Sit at your desk and write whatever comes to your mind for 10 minutes. Don’t edit it or stop even for a second to review it, unless the 10 minutes are up. Once you have written, review your note. Read it and underline the most interesting and useful lines for your autobiography. Repeat the exercise several times. Use the passages you have underlined and written more about it. This is one way you could develop ideas for your memoir.

Or, you can use the clustering method. Write down the main subject and a brief explanation at the center of a paper. Circle it and draw a few lines extending from the circle. At the end of each line, write a corresponding idea. Develop as many clusters as you can until you have explored all connections.

If this also doesn’t work for you, use the listicles method. Brainstorm your past and make a list of topics or subjects you would like to talk about. Group together similar topics and ideas and expand the list by adding more ideas.

Once you have developed the ideas, organize those ideas into a brief summary. As in, you will have to outline each idea into brief notes. The summary will help you draft the entire essay or book. Before you begin writing your autobiography, go through the summary and figure out if you have missed an incident.

5. Writing Your Autobiography

Steps 1 to 4 mark the planning-the-autobiography phase. Now it is time to start writing your autobiography. When writing an autobiography, you have to write in the perspective of the first person. Use ‘I, Me, My, Mine’. Autobiography is all about sharing life experiences. There is nothing general in this. Since it is your life, you will have to write in the first person.

You cannot switch back and forth from a second person (‘you’) to the first-person perspective. It should be ‘I’ throughout the book. If you are talking about someone else, refer them as he, she or they.

Do not make the tone conversational. You cannot ask inputs from others if it is an autobiography or memoir. It should look like sharing experience and stories. Make it witty and interesting. Readers should be able to relate to you and your story.

Listed here are steps you need to follow while writing your story:

  1. Start with an engaging note that takes the autobiography right into the story.
  • Introduce by telling your story. Do not beat around the bush or start by a narrative. Your introduction should talk about the main idea about your autobiography and act as a preview. Like the trailer of a movie?
  • Make your introduction most engaging. Such as, describe something that happened, even if it took place towards the end of the story. For instance, you can start by, “I was suspended in my 11th grade because I wrote an open love letter to the kindergarten teacher, who ended up being my wife 6 years from then”.
  • Describe the day, month, year, or the setting vividly so that people can visualize it. Provide context and background, and describe the scene and the characters in your story.
  • Use some tantalizing opening lines, like “although it’s been two decades, this incident probably is and will be the most hair-raising episode of my life”.
  • Do not write anything general, like “once upon a time”.
  • Do not write quotes in the introduction, unless it is very close to your heart, like if it is from your father, mother, or sister.
  • Make sure there is a proper transition between the introduction and story, and between each paragraph.
  1. End your introduction with a sentence that will leave your readers intrigued to turn the page. Here is an example, “under these circumstances, especially when you are a 11th-grade teenager, kids change and probably become severely violent or isolated. But me being me, I did something huge and unforgettable”.

Finally start telling your story, scene by scene, incident after incident, step-by-step, what had really happened, and how things turned out to be. Do not skip any important detail. Even if it’s dark but worth sharing, write it down.

Concluding your story

You should end your story in a memorable way. Your story should be remembered by your readers, even if it was sweet and simple or tragic. Talk about its significance in your life, refer to the beginning of the story to evoke readers’ retention and talk about the person that made your story ‘whole’. Tell your readers what came out of this story and what you learned, what you had expected and what actually happened.

Try to end the autobiography in a positive note.

Tips to Enhance Your Autobiography

You have to make everything right and perfect, regardless of what you write – be it an autobiography, a fictional novel, a memoir, or even a blog. After you have finished your story, you have to polish it, refine it, retune it, and make it worthy of reading, over and over again. Here is how you can improve your autobiography:

  • Go through the grammar and punctuation. Use the Grammarly app for it.
  • Go through the structure of the story. Make sure it has one.
  • Add vivid details to your story to make the story live and memorable. For example, instead of writing ‘the house was palatial’, write, ‘the house resembled a mansion from the 17th century, with an elongated staircase running up from the center. Two Persian statues were placed on both sides of the staircase, a huge chandelier hung in the center…… and so on”.
  • Use flashbacks, direct conversation between you and someone else, and intriguing introductions of special characters in your life.
  • Once you finish your story, do not start reviewing it immediately. Give your work a resting period of a few days. Get yourself out of the writing zone and then read your autobiography with a fresh perspective. They say right, to make the flavors get inside the rice, you need to rest the dish for an hour and then eat? Similarly, if you want the flavors of your story to come out, review and edit after a couple of days.
  • Show your sense of humor. Bring out your witty and quirky side. As long as it does not hurt anyone’s emotions, write whatever strikes you. It is your autobiography after all.

There is something you should remember when writing a true story: if you write history as it is, you will eliminate the risk of potential rewrites. No one can write a true story in a bad way if the story is presented as it is. Today’s audiences are not fools, they easily can differentiate real one from a fake one. Do not sugar-quote your story with lies you may not remember in the future. You will earn a bad name and nothing else.

So, now that you know how to go about writing an autobiography, it is time you write one and share the link with us in the comments. We would love to read your story. If it is a hardcover, please do share the link for that too. If you need any further help in writing your book or essay, do let us know your queries in comments.