How to write an autobiography

How to write an autobiography

Why write an autobiography?

There are bad reasons:

  • to make a million dollars (unless you’re a celebrity or hero)
  • to exact revenge – getting back at someone by spilling the beans
  • to revise history – creating a false past

Then there are some good reasons:

  • to leave a message to future generations
  • to pass on your heritage
  • to put closure to a period or episode
  • to process experiences
  • to preserve family history
  • to share what and who you are

However, if you’re not a writer the task can seem overwhelming. Here are some suggestions. Start by making lists. Make lists of relatives, boyfriends/girlfriends, places you’ve lived over the years, pets you’ve owned, schools attended, and other things like that.

But the most important is the Life-Lists. Choose categories as you go along: elementary school days; military life; college; family vacation; illnesses. More will occur to you as you write. Under each category, write down a word or two to identify some event that you want to remember.

Next, narrow each life list to 10 core life events which will be the most significant or memorable events to demonstrate that category. Write about each of your core events. Start with a rough draft in which you simply concentrate on getting all the information down on paper. Then go back and polish for details, grammar, and tone.

If you’re not confident in your writing ability, you may enlist someone else’s help to edit. But remember, in an autobiography, it’s important to retain YOUR VOICE in the final narrative. Your personality should come through. Using flawless grammar or fancy words may very well take away from the charm and value of your autobiography.

Use a variety of writing styles throughout the book. Use the one which best suits the event you’re working on. One style is Narrative, in which you give a pretty much linear account of events without much reference to underlying emotions or moods.

Then there’s Descriptive writing, which is appropriate when you want to paint a picture of something for your reader, either because of its beauty, its ugliness, or simply because it’s very different from what that reader may know. There’s Emotional writing when you have strong feelings about your topic and want to evoke some emotional response in your reader.

Action writing is characterized by short sentences with strong verbs. This type of writing is for exciting events when you want to carry your reader along in a headlong rush to find out what happens next.

When you’ve done all you can with your autobiography, you’re ready for finishing. Organize all the pieces you¡¦ve written into some kind of order. If you don’t type, have it typed and saved on a floppy disk. This is also the time to engage an outside editor if you so desire.

There are a number of ways to publish your autobiography. If you feel it has interest to a large general audience, by all means, send it to a publisher. A writing book will give you details on submitting your manuscript professionally and there are other books that list publishers interested in this type of work. But most of us will probably self-publish our autobiographies.

If you just need a few copies (say for family members), take your final manuscript to a copy store with a service desk. For a reasonable fee, they will not only make as many copies as you like but they also can offer several choices for binding it. You can even create your own cover which they will reproduce and attach to the finished book.

Or you can check those writing books for self-publishing companies which will produce a professional looking book at your expense. Be warned that these businesses usually require a relatively high print run and can be quite costly.

What will you do with your finished book? Family members will be delighted to be presented with a copy, no doubt. You can donate a copy to your local library. The lives of local people add a personal touch to the history shelves.

By the same token, school libraries and teachers might be interested in having a copy. If you’ve been active in a particular club or organization, that group would probably also be grateful for a copy.

The most important thing is to begin. By putting your life story down on paper, you can leave a lasting legacy for those who come after you.

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