Writing Beginner

How To Write an Autobiography 2024 (Tips, Templates, & Guide)

Your life story has value, merit, and significance. You want to share it with the world, but maybe you don’t know how .

Here’s how to write an autobiography:

Write an autobiography by creating a list of the most important moments, people, and places in your life. Gather photos, videos, letters, and notes about these experiences. Then, use an outline, templates, sentence starters, and questions to help you write your autobiography .

In this article, you are going to learn the fastest method for writing your autobiography.

We are going to cover everything you need to know with examples and a free, downloadable, done-for-you template.

What Is an Autobiography?

Typewriter, lightbulb, and crumpled paper - How To Write an Autobiography

Table of Contents

Before you can write an autobiography, you must first know the definition.

An autobiography is the story of your life, written by you. It covers the full span of your life (at least, up until now), hitting on the most significant moments, people and events.

When you write your autobiography, you write an intimate account of your life.

What Should I Include In an Autobiography?

If you are scratching your head, baffled about what to include in your autobiography, you are not alone.

After all, a big part of how to write an autobiography is knowing what to put in and what to leave out of your life story. Do you focus on every detail?

Every person? Won’t your autobiography be too long?

A good way to think about how to write an autobiography is to use the Movie Trailer Method.

What do movie trailers include?

  • High emotional moments
  • The big events
  • The most important characters

When you plan, organize, and write your autobiography, keep the Movie Trailer Method in mind. You can even watch a bunch of free movie trailers on YouTube for examples of how to write an autobiography using the Movie Trailer Method.

When wondering what to include in your autobiography, focus on what would make the cut for a movie trailer of your life:

  • Most important people (like family, friends, mentors, coaches, etc.)
  • Significant events (like your origin story, vacations, graduations, life turning points, life lessons)
  • Emotional moments (When you were homeless, when you battled a life-threatening condition, or when you fell in love)
  • Drama or suspense (Did you make it into Harvard? Did your first surgery go well? Did your baby survive?)

Autobiography Structure Secrets

Like any compelling story, a well-structured autobiography often follows a pattern that creates a logical flow and captures readers’ attention.

Traditionally, autobiographies begin with early memories, detailing the writer’s childhood, family background, and the events or people that shaped their formative years.

From here, the narrative typically progresses chronologically, covering major life events like schooling, friendships, challenges, achievements, career milestones, and personal relationships.

It’s essential to weave these events with introspective insights.

This allows readers to understand not just the what, but also the why behind the author’s choices and experiences.

Towards the end, an effective autobiography often includes reflections on lessons learned, changes in perspective over time, and the wisdom acquired along life’s journey.

Example of the Structure:

  • Introduction: A gripping event or anecdote that gives readers a hint of what to expect. It could be a pivotal moment or challenge that defines the essence of the story.
  • Childhood and Early Memories: Recounting family dynamics, birthplace, cultural background, and memorable incidents from early years.
  • Adolescence and Discovering Identity: Experiences during teenage years, challenges faced, friendships formed, and personal evolutions.
  • Pursuits and Passions: Describing education, early career choices, or any particular hobby or skill that played a significant role in the author’s life.
  • Major Life Events and Challenges: Chronicles of marriage, parenthood, career shifts, or any significant setbacks and how they were overcome.
  • Achievements and Milestones: Celebrating major accomplishments and recounting the journey to achieving them.
  • Reflections and Wisdom: Sharing life lessons, changes in beliefs or values over time, and offering insights gained from lived experiences.
  • Conclusion: Summarizing the journey, contemplating on the present state, and sharing hopes or aspirations for the future.

How To Write an Autobiography Quickly: Strategies & Templates

Want the quickest way to organize and write your autobiography in record time? You can literally write your autobiography in 7 days or less with this method.

The secret is to use done-for-you templates.

I have personally designed and collected a series of templates to take you from a blank page to a fully complete Autobiography. I call this the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint.

And it’s completely free to download right from this article. 🙂

In the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint, you get:

  • The Autobiography Questions Template
  • The Autobiography Brainstorm Templates
  • The Autobiography Outline Template

Here is an image of it so that you know exactly what you get when you download it:

Autobiography Blueprint

How To Write an Autobiography: Step-by-Step

When you sit down to write an autobiography, it’s helpful to have a step-by-step blueprint to follow.

You already have the done-for-you templates that you can use to organize and write an autobiography faster than ever before. Now here’s a complete step-by-step guide on how to maximize your template.

  • Brainstorm Ideas
  • Order your sections (from medium to high interest)
  • Order the ideas in each section (from medium to high interest)
  • Write three questions to answer in each section
  • Choose a starter sentence
  • Complete a title template
  • Write each section of your by completing the starter sentence and answering all three questions

Brainstorm Your Autobiography

The first step in writing your autobiography is to brainstorm.

Give yourself time and space to write down the most significant people, events, lessons, and experiences in your life. The templates in the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint provide sections for you to write down your brainstormed ideas.

How to Brainstorm Your Autobiography

This will help you organize your ideas into what will become the major sections of your book.

These will be:

  • Y our most significant events and experiences.
  • The people who impacted you the most.
  • The challenges you have overcome.
  • Your achievements and successes.
  • The lessons you have learned.

The “other” sections on the second page of the Brainstorm template is for creating your own sections or to give you more space for the sections I provided in case you run out of space.

As I brainstorm, I find asking myself specific questions really activates my imagination.

So I have compiled a list of compelling questions to help you get ideas down on paper or on your screen.

How to Write an Autobiography: Top 10 Questions

Order Your Sections (From Medium to High Interest)

The next step is to order your main sections.

The main sections are the five (or more) sections from your Brainstorm templates (Significant events, significant people, life lessons, challenges, successes, other, etc). This order will become the outline and chapters for your book.

How do you decide what comes first, second or third?

I recommend placing the sections in order of interest. Ask yourself, “What’s the most fascinating part of my life?”

If it’s a person, then write the name of that section (Significant People) on the last line in the How to Write an Autobiography Outline Template. If it’s an experience, place the name of that section (Significant Events) on the last line.

For example, if you met the Pope, you might want to end with that nugget from your life. If you spent three weeks lost at sea and survived on a desert island by spearfishing, that is your ending point.

Then complete the Outline by placing the remaining sections in order of interest. You can work your way backward from high interest to medium interest.

If you are wondering why I say “medium to high interest” instead of “low to high interest” it is because there should be no “low interest” parts of your autobiography.

But wait, what if you met the Pope AND spent three weeks lost at sea? How do you choose which one comes first or last?

First of all, I want to read this book! Second, when in doubt, default to chronological order. Whatever event happened first, start there.

Here is an example of how it might look:

Autobiography Example

Order The Ideas in Each Section (From Medium To High Interest)

Now, organize the ideas inside of each section. Again, order the ideas from medium to high interest).

Within your “Significant People” section, decide who you want to talk about first, second, third, etc. You can organize by chronological order (who you met first) but I recommend building to the most interesting or most significant person.

This creates a more compelling read.

Keep in mind that the most significant person might not be the most well-known, most famous, or most popular. The most significant person might be your family member, friend, partner, or child.

It comes down to who shaped your life the most.

So, if your “significant people list” includes your dad, a famous social media influencer, and Mike Tyson, your dad might come last because he had the biggest significance in your life.

Write Three Questions to Answer in Each Section

Ok, you’ve done the heavy lifting already. You have the major sections organized and outlined.

Next on your autobiography to-do list is to choose and write down three questions you are going to answer in each section. You can write your questions down in the provided “boxes” for each section on the template outline (or on another piece of paper.

This is easier than it might seem.

Simply choose one of the sample autobiography questions below or create your own:

  • Why did I choose this person/event?
  • What does this person/event mean to me?
  • How did I meet this person?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?
  • What is the most interesting part?
  • How did I feel about this person or event?
  • How do I feel now?
  • Why does this person or event matters to me?
  • How did this person or event change my life?
  • What is the most challenging part?
  • How did I fail?
  • How did I succeed?
  • What did I learn?

Questions are the perfect way to write quickly and clearly. I LOVE writing to questions. It’s how I write these blog posts and articles.

Choose a Starter Sentence

Sometimes the hardest part of any project is knowing how to start.

Even though we know we can always go back and edit our beginnings, so many of us become paralyzed with indecision at the starting gate.

That’s why I provided sample starter sentences in your How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint.

Here are the story starters:

  • I began writing this book when…
  • Of all the experiences in my life, this one was the most…
  • I’ve been a…
  • My name is…
  • Growing up in…
  • It wasn’t even a…
  • It all started when…
  • I first…
  • I was born…

Keep in mind that you do not need to begin your book with one of these story starters. I provide them simply to get you going.

The key is to not get bogged down in this, or any, part of writing your autobiography. Get organized and then get writing.

Complete a Title Template

At the top of the How to Write an Autobiography Outline is a place for you to write your book title.

Some authors struggle forever with a title. And that’s ok. What’s not ok is getting stuck. What’s not ok is if coming up with your title prevents you from finishing your book.

So, I provided a few title templates to help juice your creativity.

Just like the story starters, you do not need to use these title templates, but you certainly can. All you need to do is fill in the title templates below and then write your favorite one (for now) at the top of your outline. Presto! You have your working title.

You can always go back and change it later.

How to Write an Autobiography Title templates:

  • [Your Name]: [Phrase or Tag Line]
  • The [Your Last Name] Files
  • Born [Activity]: A [Career]’s Life
  • The Perfect [Noun]: The Remarkable Life of [Your Name]

Examples using the Templates:

  • Christopher Kokoski: Blog Until You Drop
  • The Kokoski Files
  • Born Writing: A Blogger’s Life
  • The Perfect Freelancer: The Remarkable Life of Christopher Kokoski

Write Your Autobiography

You have your outline. You have your title, templates, and sentence starters. All that is left to do is write your autobiography.

However, you can use tools like Jasper AI and a few other cool tricks to craft the most riveting book possible.

This is the easy way to remarkable writing.

Check out this short video that goes over the basics of how to write an autobiography:

How To Write an Autobiography (All the Best Tips)

Now that you are poised and ready to dash out your first draft, keep the following pro tips in mind:

  • Be vulnerable. The best autobiographies share flaws, faults, foibles, and faux pas. Let readers in on the real you.
  • Skip the boring parts. There is no need to detail every meal, car ride, or a gripping trip to the grocery store. Unless you ran into the Russian Mafia near the vegetables or the grocery store is perched on the side of a mountain above the jungles of Brazil.
  • Keep your autobiography character-driven . This is the story of YOU!
  • Be kind to others (or don’t). When writing about others in your story, keep in mind that there may be fallout or backlash from your book.
  • Consider a theme: Many autobiographies are organized by theme. A perfect example is Becoming . Each section of the book includes “becoming” in the title. Themes connect and elevate each part of the autobiography.
  • Write your story in vignettes (or scenes). Each vignette is a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end. Each vignette builds. Each vignette should be described in rich sensory language that shows the reader the experience instead of telling the reader about the experience. Each vignette is immersive, immediate, and intimate.
  • Include snippets of dialogue. Use quotation marks just like in fiction. Show the dialogue in brief back-and-forth tennis matches of conversation. Remember to leave the boring parts out!
  • Choose a consistent tone. Some autobiographies are funny like Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. Others are serious such as Open by Andre Agassi. Your story (like most stories) will likely include a mix of emotions but choose an overall tone and stick with it.
  • Don’t chronicle, captivate . Always think about how to make each section, each chapter, each page, each paragraph, and each sentence more compelling. You want to tell the truth, but HOW you tell the truth is up to you. Create suspense, conflict, and mystery. Let drama linger until it becomes uncomfortable. Don’t solve problems quickly or take away tension right away.

How Do I Format an Autobiography?

Most autobiographies are written in the first person (using the pronouns I, me, we, and us).

Your autobiography is written about you so write as yourself instead of pretending to be writing about someone else.

Most autobiographies are also written in chronological order, from birth right up to your current age, with all the boring parts left out. That doesn’t mean you can’t play around with the timeline.

Sometimes it’s more interesting to start at a high moment, backtrack to the beginning and show how you got to that high moment.

Whatever format you choose, be intentional, and make the choice based on making the most compelling experience possible for your readers.

How Long Should an Autobiography Be?

There are no rules to how long an autobiography should be but a rough guideline is to aim for between 200 and 400 pages.

This will keep your book in line with what most readers expect for books in general, and will help get your book traditionally published or help with marketing your self-published book.

How To Write a Short Autobiography

You write a short autobiography the same way that you write a long autobiography.

You simply leave more out of the story.

You cut everything down to the bones. Or you choose a slice of your life as you do in a memoir. This often means limiting the people in your book, reducing the events and experiences, and shrinking your story to a few pivotal moments in your life.

How To Start an Autobiography

The truth is that you can start your autobiography in any number of ways.

Here are four common ways to begin an autobiography.

  • Start at the beginning (of your life, career or relationship, etc.)
  • Start at a high moment of drama or interest.
  • Start at the end of the story and work backward
  • Start with why you wrote the book.

Good Autobiography Titles

If you are still stuck on titling your autobiography, consider going to Amazon to browse published works. You can even just Google “autobiographies.”

When you read the titles of 10, 20, or 50 other autobiographies, you will start to see patterns or get ideas for your own titles. (HINT: the title templates in the Autobiography Blueprint were reverse-engineered from popular published books.

Also, check out the titles of the full autobiography examples below that I have included right here in this article.

Types of Autobiographies

There are several different kinds of autobiographies.

Each one requires a similar but slightly nuanced approach to write effectively. The lessons in this article will serve as a great starting point.

Autobiography Types:

  • Autobiography for School
  • Autobiography Novel
  • Autobiography for a Job
  • Short Autobiography
  • Autobiography for Kids

Therefore, there is actually not just one way to write an autobiography.

Memoir vs. Autobiography: Are They The Same?

It’s common to feel confused about a memoir and an autobiography. I used to think they were the same thing.

But, nope, they’re not.

They are pretty similar, which is the reason for all the confusion. A memoir is the story of one part of your life. An autobiography is the story of your full life (up until now).

What Is the Difference Between an Autobiography and a Biography?

An autobiography is when you write about your own life. A biography, on the other hand, is when you write the story of someone else’s life.

So, if I write a book about the life of the President, that’s a biography.

If the President writes a story about his or her own life, that’s an autobiography.

What Not To Include In an Autobiography

Autobiographies are meant to be a snapshot of our lives that we can share with others, but there are some things that are best left out.

Here are three things you should avoid including in your autobiography:

1) Anything That Readers Will Skip

Your life may not be filled with non-stop excitement, but that doesn’t mean you need to include every mundane detail in your autobiography.

Stick to the highlights and leave out the low points.

2) Character Attacks on Others

It’s okay to discuss conflicts you’ve had with others, but don’t use your autobiography as a platform to attack someone’s character.

Keep it civil and focus on your own experiences and how they’ve affected you.

3) Skipping Highlights

Just because something embarrassing or painful happened to you doesn’t mean you should gloss over it in your autobiography.

These are the moments that shape us and make us who we are today, so don’t skip past them just because they’re uncomfortable.

By following these simple tips, you can ensure that your autobiography is interesting, honest, and engaging.

How To Write an Autobiography: Autobiography Examples

I have always found examples to be extremely instructive. Especially complete examples of finished products. In this case, books.

Below you will find examples of published autobiographies for adults and for kids. These examples will guide you, motivate you and inspire you to complete your own life story.

They are listed here as examples, not as endorsements, although I think they are all very good.

The point is that you don’t have to agree with anything written in the books to learn from them.

Autobiography Examples for Adults

  • A Promised Land (Autobiography of Barack Obama)
  • If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t) (Betty White)
  • It’s a Long Story: My Life (Willie Nelson)
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography (Rob Lowe)
  • Becoming (Michelle Obama)

Autobiography Examples for Kids

  • This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability (NOT Disability) (Aaron Philips)
  • Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid (Mikaila Ulmer)

Tools to Write Your Autobiography

Here are some recommended tools to help you write your autobiography:

Final Thoughts: How To Write An Autobiography

Thank you for reading my article on How to Write an Autobiography.

Now that you know all of the secrets to write your book, you may want to get it published, market it, and continue to upskill yourself as an author.

In that case, read these posts next:

  • Can Anyone Write A Book And Get It Published?
  • The Best Writing Books For Beginners 2022 (My 10 Favorites)
  • Why Do Writers Hate Adverbs? (The Final Answer)
  • How To Write a Manifesto: 20 Ultimate Game-Changing Tips

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my autobiography

Shaping Your Legacy: How to Write a Compelling Autobiography

  • The Speaker Lab
  • March 12, 2024

Table of Contents

Ever thought about how your life story would read if it were a book? Writing an autobiography is like creating a map of your personal journey, each chapter representing milestones that shaped you. But where do you start and how can you ensure the tale holds interest?

This guide will help unravel those questions by delving into what makes an autobiography stand out, planning techniques to keep your narrative on track, writing tips for engaging storytelling, and even ethical considerations when revealing private aspects of your life.

We’ll also touch on refining drafts and navigating publishing options. By the end of this read, you’ll be equipped with all the insights you need to create a compelling autobiography!

Understanding the Essence of an Autobiography

An autobiography provides a comprehensive view of one’s life journey from birth to the present day. Imagine climbing into a time machine where every chapter represents different eras in your life. The goal of an autobiography is to allow readers to explore a factual, chronological telling of the author’s life.

Autobiographies aren’t merely catalogues of events, however; they need soulful introspection too. Think about why certain episodes mattered more than others and how those experiences influenced your perspectives or decisions later on.

You’ll also want to infuse emotional honesty, allowing yourself vulnerability when recalling both triumphant milestones and painful obstacles. Authenticity creates connections between authors and their audience, so let them see real human emotions behind every word written.

Distinguishing Features Of An Autobiography

The unique thing about autobiographies is they are first-person narratives . This allows readers to experience everything through your eyes, as if they’re living vicariously through you. From triumphs to trials, each page unravels another layer of who you are.

While memoirs are also first-person narratives of a person’s life, there are different from autobiographies. In a memoir, the author focuses on a particular time period or theme in their life. If you’d rather skip the details and dates needed for an autobiography and focus more on emotional truths, you might consider writing a memoir.

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Pre-Writing Stage: Planning Your Autobiography

The planning stage is a crucial part of writing your autobiography. It’s where you map out the significant events in your life, establish a timeline, and identify who will be reading your story.

Selecting Key Life Events

To start, you need to pinpoint key moments that have shaped you. While you will include plenty of factual details in your autobiography, you won’t include every single one. Rather, you’ll be spending the majority of your autobiography focusing on the transformative experiences that defined your life journey. After all, an autobiography is not just a catalogue of events; it’s also an exploration into what these experiences meant to you.

Establishing A Timeline

Next up is establishing a timeline for your narrative flow. Since you’re writing an autobiography, it’s important to first map out your story chronologically so that you can keep your events straight in your mind. MasterClass has several suggestions for key elements you might want to include in your timeline.

Identifying Your Audience

Finding out who’ll read your book helps shape its tone and style. Self-Publishing School says understanding whether it’s for close family members or broader public can guide how personal or universal themes should be presented.

While this process might feel overwhelming initially, take time with this stage. Good planning sets solid foundations for creating an engaging autobiography.

Writing Techniques for an Engaging Autobiography

If you’re on the journey to pen down your life story, let’s dive into some techniques that can help transform it from a simple narrative into a riveting read. An engaging autobiography is more than just facts and dates—it’s about weaving your experiences in such a way that they captivate readers.

Incorporating Dialogue

The first technique involves incorporating dialogue. Rather than telling your audience what happened, show them through conversations. It lets the reader experience events as if they were there with you. As renowned author Stephen King suggests , dialogue is crucial in defining a the character of a person (including yourself).

Using Vivid Descriptions

Vivid descriptions are another effective tool in creating an immersive reading experience. But remember: overdoing it might overwhelm or bore the reader, so find balance between being descriptive and concise.

Narrative Techniques

Different narrative techniques can also enhance storytelling in autobiographies. For instance, foreshadowing creates suspense; flashbacks provide deeper context; and stream of consciousness presents thoughts as they occur naturally—a powerful way to share personal reflections.

All these writing tools combined will give you a gripping account of your life journey—one where every turn of page reveals more layers of depth and dimensionality about who you are as both character and narrator.

Structuring Your Autobiography for Maximum Impact

Deciding on the right structure for your autobiography is essential to ensure your book captivates readers and keeps them engaged.

The first step towards structuring your autobiography effectively is deciding whether to organize it chronologically or thematically. A chronological approach takes readers on a journey through time, letting each event unfold as you experienced it. On the other hand, a thematic approach revolves around central themes that have defined your life—think resilience, ambition or transformation—and might jump back and forth in time.

Creating Chapters

An effective way to manage the vast amount of information in an autobiography is by dividing it into chapters. Each chapter should be structured around a specific time frame (if you’re opting for chronological order) or theme (if taking the thematic approach). The key here isn’t necessarily sticking rigidly to these categories but using them as guides to help shape and direct your narrative flow.

Crafting Compelling Beginnings and Endings

A strong beginning pulls people into your world while an impactful ending stays with them long after they’ve closed the book—a little like how memorable speeches often start with something surprising yet relatable and end leaving audiences pondering over what they’ve heard. So consider starting off with something unexpected that gives insight into who you are rather than birthplace/date details right away. For endings, look at wrapping up major themes from throughout the book instead of simply closing out on latest happenings in your life.

Remember, structuring an autobiography is as much about the art of storytelling as it is about chronicling facts. Use structure to draw readers in and take them on a journey through your life’s highs and lows—all the moments that made you who you are today.

Ethical Considerations When Writing an Autobiography

When penning your life story, it’s important to respect privacy and handle sensitive issues well. Because let’s face it, writing about others in our lives can be a slippery slope. We need to tread carefully.

Respecting Privacy: Telling Your Story Without Invading Others’

The first thing we have to consider is the right of privacy for those who cross paths with our narrative journey. While they might play crucial roles in our stories, remember that their experiences are their own too.

A good rule of thumb is to get explicit consent before mentioning anyone extensively or revealing sensitive information about them. In some cases where this isn’t possible, anonymizing details or using pseudonyms could help maintain privacy while keeping the essence of your story intact. Author Tracy Seeley sheds more light on how one should handle such situations responsibly.

Navigating Sensitive Topics With Care

Sensitive topics often make for compelling narratives but dealing with them requires tact and empathy. You’re walking a tightrope, balancing honesty and sensitivity, a fall from which can lead to hurt feelings or even legal troubles.

An excellent way around this dilemma would be by focusing on how these experiences affected you personally rather than detailing the event itself. Remember, your autobiography is an opportunity to share your life experiences, not just a platform for airing grievances or settling scores.

Maintaining Honesty: Your Authentic Self Is the Best Narrator

Above all else, stay truthful when writing your autobiography, both when you’re writing about sensitive topics and even when you’re not. While it can be tempting to bend the facts so that your audience sees you in a more positive light, maintaining honesty is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Editing and Revising Your Autobiography

Your initial draft is finished, but the job isn’t done yet. Editing and revising your autobiography can feel like a daunting task, but it’s essential for creating a polished final product.

The Importance of Self-Editing

You may feel that you have written your autobiography perfectly the first time, but there are always ways to make it better. The beauty of self-editing lies in refining your story to make sure it resonates with readers. You’re not just fixing typos or grammar mistakes; you’re looking at structure, flow, and consistency. Essentially you’re asking yourself: does this piece tell my life story in an engaging way?

Inviting Feedback from Others

No matter how meticulous we are as writers, our own work can sometimes evade us. Inviting feedback from others is invaluable during the revision process. They provide fresh eyes that can spot inconsistencies or confusing parts that may have slipped past us.

Hiring a Professional Editor

If you’re serious about publishing your autobiography and making an impact with your words, hiring a professional editor can be worth its weight in gold. An editor won’t just fix errors—they’ll help streamline sentences and enhance readability while respecting your unique voice.

Remember to approach editing and revising with patience—it’s part of the writing journey. Don’t rush through it; give each word careful consideration before moving onto publication options for your autobiography.

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Publishing Options for Your Autobiography

Once you’ve spent time and energy creating your autobiography, the following challenge is to make it available for others. But don’t fret! There are numerous options available for releasing your work.

Traditional Publishing Houses

A conventional path many authors take is partnering with a traditional publishing house . These industry giants have extensive resources and networks that can help boost the visibility of your book. The process may be competitive, but if accepted, they handle everything from design to distribution—letting you focus on what matters most: telling your story.

Self-Publishing Platforms

If you want more control over every aspect of publication or seek a faster route to market, self-publishing platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), offer an accessible alternative. With this option, you manage all aspects including cover design and pricing ; however, it also means greater responsibility in promoting your book.

Bear in mind that both options have their own pros and cons, so consider them carefully before making any decisions.

Marketing Your Autobiography

Now that you’ve crafted your autobiography, it’s time to get the word out. You need a plan and strategy.

Leveraging Social Media

To start with, use your social platforms as launching pads for your book. Sites like Facebook , Twitter, and especially LinkedIn can help generate buzz about your work. And don’t underestimate the power of other platforms like Instagram and TikTok when trying to reach younger audiences. Whatever social platform you use, remember to engage with followers by responding to comments and questions about the book.

Organizing Book Signings

A physical event like a book signing not only provides readers with a personal connection but also generates local publicity. Consider partnering up with local independent stores or libraries, which are often open to hosting such events.

Securing Media Coverage

Contacting local newspapers, radio stations or even bloggers and podcasters in your field can provide much-needed visibility for your work. It might seem intimidating at first, but who better than you knows how important this story is?

FAQs on How to Write an Autobiography

How do i start an autobiography about myself.

To kick off your autobiography, jot down significant life events and pick a unique angle that frames your story differently.

What are the 7 steps in writing an autobiography?

The seven steps are: understanding what an autobiography is, planning it out, using engaging writing techniques, structuring it effectively, considering ethics, revising thoroughly, and exploring publishing options.

What are the 3 parts of an autobiography?

An autobiography generally has three parts: introduction (your background), body (major life events), and conclusion (reflections on your journey).

What is the format for writing an autobiography?

The usual format for autobiographies involves chronological or thematic structure with clear chapters marking distinct phases of life.

Writing an autobiography is a journey, a trek exploring the unique narrative of your life. Together, we’ve covered how to plan effectively, select key events, and set timelines.

Once you’re all set to write, you now have the techniques you need for engaging storytelling, including vivid descriptions and dialogues. You also learned about structuring your story for maximum impact and navigating sensitive topics while maintaining honesty.

Last but not least, you learned editing strategies, publishing options, and effective ways of promoting your book.

Now you know more than just how to write an autobiography. You know how to craft a legacy worth reading!

  • Last Updated: March 22, 2024

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  • Autobiographies

How to Write an Autobiography

Last Updated: May 7, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Gerald Posner . Gerald Posner is an Author & Journalist based in Miami, Florida. With over 35 years of experience, he specializes in investigative journalism, nonfiction books, and editorials. He holds a law degree from UC College of the Law, San Francisco, and a BA in Political Science from the University of California-Berkeley. He’s the author of thirteen books, including several New York Times bestsellers, the winner of the Florida Book Award for General Nonfiction, and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. He was also shortlisted for the Best Business Book of 2020 by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 2,287,193 times.

What's your story? Anyone who has lived a full life has something fascinating to share with the world. The trick to writing an autobiography is to treat it like any good story: it should have a protagonist (you), a central conflict, and a cast of fascinating characters to keep people engaged. You may want to think about a certain theme or idea that has been present in your daily life to revolve your story around. Read on to learn how to craft the story of your life and polish your writing to make it sing.

Mapping Out Your Life

Step 1 Write out your...

  • Your autobiography doesn't have to begin with your birth. You may want to include some family history as well. Write down information about your ancestry, your grandparents' lives, your parents' lives, and so on. Having information about your family history will help readers get a sense of how you became the person you are.
  • What happened when you were a teenager? What led you to make the decisions you made?
  • Did you go to college? Write about those transitory years, too.
  • Write about your career, your relationships, your children, and any big life-altering events that occurred.

Step 2 Identify the main characters.

  • Teachers, coaches, mentors, and bosses are extremely influential in people's lives. Decide whether someone who has been a role model (or the opposite) for you will figure into your story.
  • Ex-boyfriends and girlfriends might co-star in some interesting stories.
  • What enemies have you had in life? Your story will be boring if you don't include some conflicts.
  • Offbeat characters such as animals, celebrities you've never met, and even cities are often points of interest in an autobiography.

Step 3 Pull out the best stories.

  • The childhood story. Whether your childhood was happy or traumatic, you should include a few anecdotes that give a picture of who you were and what you experienced at the time. You can tell the story of your childhood by breaking it down into smaller anecdotes that illustrate your personality - your parents' reaction when you brought home a stray dog, the time you climbed out of the window at school and ran away for 3 days, your friendly relationship with a homeless person living in the woods… get creative.
  • The coming of age story. This heady and often sensual period in a human's life is always of interest to readers. Remember that it's not about writing something unique; everyone comes of age. It's about writing something that resonates with readers.
  • The falling in love story. You could also write the opposite of this, the never-finding-love story.
  • The identity crisis story. This usually occurs in the 30s or 40s and is sometimes referred to as a mid-life crisis.
  • The story of facing down some force of evil. Whether it's your battle with addiction, a controlling lover, or a madman who tried to kill your family, you've got to write about conflict you've experienced.

Step 4 Write in your own voice.

  • Write as though you're opening your heart to a trusted friend, in prose that's clear, strong and not too cluttered with vocabulary words you rarely use.
  • Write so that your personality is revealed. Are you funny? Intense? Spiritual? Dramatic? Don't hold back; your personality should come through in the way you tell your story.

Step 5 Be revealing.

  • Don't always cast yourself in a positive light. You can have foibles and still be the protagonist. Reveal mistakes you've made and times when you've failed yourself and other people.
  • Reveal your inner thoughts. Share your opinions and ideas, including those that may spark controversy. Be true to yourself through your autobiography.

Step 6 Capture the spirit of the times.

Crafting a Narrative

Step 1 Create an overarching...

  • What's your central conflict? What's the biggest obstacle life presented that took years to overcome or come to terms with? Maybe it's an illness you were diagnosed with at an early age, a relationship wrought with turmoil, a series of career setbacks, a goal you worked for decades to achieve, or any other number of things. Look to your favorite books and movies for more examples of conflicts.
  • Build tension and suspense. Structure the narrative so that you have a series of stories leading up to the climax of the conflict. If your central conflict is trying to reach the goal of competing in the Olympics for skiing, lead up to it with stories of small successes and plenty of failures. You want your readers to ask, will she make it? Can he do it? What's going to happen next?
  • Have a climax. You'll get to the point in your story when it's time for the conflict to come to a head. The day of the big competition has arrived, a showdown happens with your worst enemy, your gambling habit gets the better of you and you lose all your money - you get the picture.
  • End with a resolution. Most autobiographies have happy endings because the person writing the story lived to tell the tale - and hopefully get it published. Even if your ending isn't cheerful, it should be deeply satisfying. You somehow accomplished your goal or won the day. Even if you lost, you came to terms with it and gained wisdom.

Step 2 Decide where the story is going to start.

  • You could frame the entire autobiography with reflections from the present, telling your story through a series of flashbacks.
  • You could begin the story with a poignant moment from your childhood, go backward to tell the story of your heritage, move forward to your college years, and launch into the story of your career, with anecdotes from your childhood sprinkled in for comic relief.

Step 3 Weave in themes.

  • Consider ending chapters on a poignant or suspenseful note, so people can't wait to start the next one.
  • The beginnings of chapters are a good place to take a bird's eye view of your past, describe the setting of a place, and set the tone for what's to come.

Editing the Book

Step 1 Make sure you get the facts right.

  • You can stretch the truth about your own goals and intentions, but don't include fabricated conversations with real people, or altered versions of events that really happened. Of course, you won't remember everything perfectly, but you should reflect reality as best you can.
  • Get permission to use people's names or quote them if you're including content on what other people said or did. Some people don't appreciate appearing as a character in someone else's autobiography, and you should respect that by altering the way you describe them or changing their names if necessary. [6] X Research source

Step 2 Edit your draft

  • If several people recommend cutting a certain section, strongly consider making the cut.
  • Try to get opinions from people outside your circle of family and friends. People who know you might try to spare your feelings, or they might be biased - especially if they appear in the story.

Step 4 Hire a copyeditor.

  • Bossy Pants , by Tina Fey.
  • My Confession , by Leo Tolstoy.
  • A Long Walk to Freedom , by Nelson Mandela.
  • The Sound of Laughter , by Peter Kay. [7] X Research source

Publishing Your Story

Step 1 Take steps to...

  • If you don't want to pay for a publishing service, you can still create a nice copy of your book by taking it to a copy store and having it printed and bound.

Step 2 Consider finding a literary agent.

  • Start the query letter with an airtight blurb succinctly describing the highlights of the book. Situate your book in the correct genre, and describe what will make it stand out from the rest. Tell the agent why you think he or she is the right person to shop your book around to publishers.
  • Send sample chapters to agents who show interest.
  • Sign a contract with an agent you trust. Make sure to read the contract carefully and check into the agent's history before signing anything.

Nicholas Sparks

Agents open doors and help propel your work forward. "I'll admit that it's not easy to get an agent, but becoming successful in anything requires perseverance."

Step 3 Submit a query...

  • Many publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts or queries. Make sure you only send letters to publishers that accept them.
  • If a publisher decides to move forward with a book deal with you, you'll need to sign a contract and set up a schedule for editing, designing, proofreading, and finally publishing the book.

Step 4 Look into publishing your book online.

Writing Help

my autobiography

Expert Q&A

Gerald Posner

  • Your biography can also include a dedication, foreword, vital statistics, chronology sheets, family tree, and epilogue. Thanks Helpful 7 Not Helpful 0
  • If the purpose of your autobiography is to pass on your story to your heirs, consider including memorabilia (e.g. pictures, heirlooms, medals, mementos, letters, etc.) and putting your story in a scrapbook format. Of course, you may not be able to copy the memorabilia that accompanies your autobiography, so you still have to think about what you intend to do with your original work and other items, such as medals or bulky heirlooms. Thanks Helpful 6 Not Helpful 0
  • Make your story vivid but don't get bogged down in unimportant details. While you want your autobiography to be memorable, you don't want it to be boring. Too many details—listing everyone that was at a party or trying to include all the events of each day—will bog the story down. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 1

my autobiography

  • Be aware of what constitutes libel. If you write something defamatory or maliciously untrue about another person in an autobiography that you intend to publish, consider changing his or her name (if still living). Otherwise, you might find yourself facing a lawsuit. If you're unsure about what to change, consult a lawyer who specializes in libel. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 0

You Might Also Like

Self Publish a Book

Expert Interview

my autobiography

Thanks for reading our article! If you'd like to learn more about writing as a career, check out our in-depth interview with Gerald Posner .

  • ↑ https://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir
  • ↑ https://self-publishingschool.com/how-to-write-an-autobiography/
  • ↑ https://blog.reedsy.com/narrative-arc/
  • ↑ https://cdn5-ss8.sharpschool.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_222705/File/Parents%20and%20Students/Star%20Works/How%20to%20write%20an%20Autobiography.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/04/how-to-write-a-memoir-jeanette-winterson-and-helen-macdonald
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/defamation-and-invasion
  • ↑ https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/feb/07/biographies-autobiography-nielsen-2001
  • ↑ https://www.pw.org/literary_agents

About This Article

Gerald Posner

To write an autobiography, start by making a timeline of your most important life events that you feel you could write about. Then, identify the main characters in your life story, including family members, ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, friends, and enemies. Once you have your cast of characters, pull life events from your timeline, such as a story from your childhood, a coming of age story, a love story, or a triumphant story. Write about these events and then connect them with a cohesive plot by writing in your own voice and being honest with the reader. To learn more about how to edit and publish your autobiography once it's finished, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write an Autobiography (Fully Explained)

By: Author Paul Jenkins

Posted on Published: November 20, 2021  - Last updated: July 31, 2023

Categories Writing , Storytelling

Sooner or later, many of us think we’d like to write an autobiography. Maybe we should even write our memoirs, but we’ll talk more about that in a minute.

The point is this: We’ve all these memories and associations, relationships, sometimes sharp, sometimes soft, but we have them in our mind, and we feel like we want to put them on paper.

We want to tell someone the story we experienced, and sometimes we don’t even understand why we want to tell that particular story, but we have a strong feeling that we want to do so. In this article, we’ll look at exactly how you can approach your autobiography writing.

Autobiography or Memoir

An autobiography is a whole thing – a life, usually told chronologically as a series of significant events. Sometimes with the help of a ghostwriter. You should only ever have to write one autobiography!

But to qualify for it, you must have either :

a) lived a life worth living

b) been infamous or famous

Maybe both!

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write a story about your life. Quite the contrary.

But the memoir form may be better suited for you.

Memoirs as a Slice of Life

A memoir is a much more artistic endeavor than an autobiography or biography. They’re less limited to dry facts and more concerned with the meaning of life – whether by examining a specific period or looking at a period of life through a thematic lens.

It’s about a story within one’s life, not the whole life story. A slice-of-life experience. An excellent memoir is much closer to creative nonfiction than an autobiography.

The great thing about memoirs is that you can use them for almost any purpose and make them whatever you want.

A memoir usually isn’t as long as an autobiography and is written from a different perspective.

Writing an autobiography is about your life from your perspective. That’s not always the case with memoirs. Here, the author focuses on

a) a particular period of life,

b) a particular kind of life, or

c) a particular event.

You can tell about a day in your life that was particularly memorable, which is another type of memoir.

You don’t have to tell the story chronologically, but if it helps put things in order, you can do that too.

Memoirs can also be more subjective than an autobiography. A memoir is usually the story of your life as you see it.

Themes in a Memoir or Autobiography

You can focus on crucial moments and look at a period or a topic you want to write about.

Topics can be anything from your relationship with your parents to overcoming fear. Family, religion, work, relationships, health, hobbies – whatever you prefer – are fair game for the memoirist’s pen.

Themes give meaning to life. That’s why they’re so important in an autobiography or memoir.

There are other forms you should keep in mind:

  • In a biography , someone else writes about someone.
  • An autobiographical essay is required of prospective college or college applicants, in which they focus on experiences and accomplishments that add weight to their application. It’s an opportunity for a student to demonstrate relevant qualifications and qualities for entry and the ability to construct a well-argued piece of writing that is looser in style than straight academic writing. You can think of it as a personal essay.

The Moving Parts

If you’re thinking about writing your autobiography, you should first be aware of the key elements that will ensure your autobiography stands out and engages readers.

Many factors play a role in this, and we’ll discuss them one by one.

Universal Message

At its core, autobiographical writing is a search for meaning and identity.

A good autobiography isn’t just about you and your experiences. Somewhere in your autobiography, there’s always a universal message that manifests itself in the story you tell.

In this sense, an autobiography isn’t simply a list of experiences you string together, although you can use a chronological structure. But that’s far from the whole story.

A great autobiography has all the elements of a fantastic novel or movie. In other words, it’s to engage the reader emotionally and keep them enthralled.

Otherwise, there’s no motivation to keep reading.

In filmmaking, a central theme is sometimes called a “controlling idea” – akin to a thesis statement, it’s the fulcrum around which the narrative revolves.

No one is interested in a string of events. The events must have meaning, and the music and rhythm of life should permeate your autobiography for it to jump off the page and truly engage the reader.

There’s nothing like a universal message told in the form of a story.

A Strong Story

An excellent autobiography is a story told with strength and nuance. That’s why it matters to be clear about the story you want to tell and the key events that the story embraces.

Granted, this story may not be apparent when writing your autobiography begins. The story may not be clear to you until late in the writing and editing.

You may not even understand the story you’re telling until you revise. That’s why it’s so important to be flexible in outlining, structuring, writing, and revising. In other words, in the overall organization of your autobiography, which we’ll discuss in more detail in this article.

We’ll look at specific methods to help you structure your autobiography and assemble the necessary pieces.

And we’ll show you how to combine those pieces to create an excellent autobiography.

But before we go any further, let’s look at key elements that make a good autobiography.

When discussing a particular moment in your life story, you should be concerned with the spirit of the times – the so-called Zeitgeist.

For example, if you’re talking about the 1960s, you want the flavor and feel of that time to be reflected on the page.

It can be allusions to the music of the time. It can be allusions to the cars or the way of shopping that existed back then. The things that were happening on the street.

They can have to do with the attitudes of the people around you that were important at the time and how they acted and thought.

This creates a picture in the reader’s eye of what was happening around you then. That essential things were happening to you, or you were doing important things.

There’s something mysterious about a good autobiography.

Not everything in life is unambiguous! Life is often very ambiguous, and readers appreciate honesty and humility. By its nature, personal experience is subjective.

Readers don’t want to read someone arrogant and know everything. The fact is that not everything in your own life is clear to yourself, let alone to others around you!

Therefore, it can be excellent to acknowledge this and either mention it directly in your writing or have moments in the story where you allow the mystery to exist because it does.

This sense of mystery lets the reader’s imagination run wild. It allows the reader to understand that life comprises a series of veils. In most cases, the reader will find himself relating parts of your story to his life story. He’ll feel addressed, and that’s what draws him in.

Life isn’t just about clear challenges and overcoming them. As compelling as such “hero stories” may be. There are profound mysteries in life that we all ponder occasionally and keep popping up.

That’s why I think this sense of mystery is very important.

Revelations and Story Beats

In addition to secrets, you should also have moments of revelation in your autobiography.

Moments when something suddenly becomes clear, or someone realizes something. Life lessons that change the trajectory of your life. Or the nature and meaning of a relationship become apparent, which drives you to a decision or action.

In that sense, the events in your autobiography are less about the external events and more about the internal events where you decide what to do at certain stages. Or you come to a judgment or conclusion about something that you’ll probably change later in your life.

The point is that these moments of change, the so-called swing points in your life – the “beats” in movie language – are very important because they mark turning points in the story of your life.

The Plot of Your Life

It’s constructive to think of your life as a movie plot. We’ll discuss this technique later in this article.

So your autobiography isn’t just a collection of the best and worst moments of your life, even if you desperately want the polarity of good and bad to make your story stand out.

Juxtaposition is a very important element. You want things to contrast because that helps build emotion. It helps build tension and drama in the story.

Tension is essential for reader engagement. You can think of it like a rubber band that you slowly twist. It gets tighter and tighter. The trick is to keep stretching it open, building it up more and more, and then relaxing it again. Tighten it up and then relax it again. Over and over again.

In other words, play with the tension in your life story, your autobiography.

Context Shifts

Another critical element in your autobiography is context shifts.

Sometimes these are changes of place. So you move, go to a different place, or arrive at a different place.

Sometimes they’re contextual shifts in terms of relationships with other people.

Sometimes it’s contextual shifts regarding your life purpose and how you define what’s important to you and what you want to accomplish.

But it’s helpful to be aware of these contextual shifts in your life and think about these seams as you write your autobiography.

Now let’s look at the key steps to writing your autobiography.

A Very Personal Journey

Run away if anyone tells you that there’s some standard template for writing an autobiography or memoir! Quick.

Writing and stories aren’t about squeezing experiences and memories into some template.

The author’s connection to the material is the most crucial thing in writing a good, meaningful work.

Writing is about how you see the world, understand your experiences, and want to share them with readers.

Writing is a personal journey that can be very different for everyone.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a memoir about how you worked your way up in your profession and discovered leadership and management skills or if you’re writing a memoir about your relationship with your mother.

Either is perfectly fine.

Tell the stories that burn inside you. Write about what it means to be alive, awake, aware, and a wonderful person. Make up a story that’s as personal as you see fit.

Memoirs help you do that. How you choose what to include and what not to include, what to focus on, and what to ignore is up to you.

A Thought for the Reader

Picture the scene. You have a few minutes in the bookstore, browsing the titles scattered on the table of featured books – or the digital equivalent online.

A cover catches your eye. Something intrigues you so much that you pick up the book.

What do you do?

You probably read the blurb on the back cover and then the first page or two. Often that’s enough to make you buy the book or quickly put it back on the pile.

Something in the blurb and the first few pages must appeal to you. Otherwise, you won’t get involved, and the book has left your universe forever!

So when thinking about, constructing, and writing your memoir or autobiography, be clear about your story’s appeal to other people, your future readers!

This doesn’t mean you should be cocky about your writing. On the contrary, an honest path through your story is almost always better. But it means you develop a sense of your reader’s attention!

Otherwise, you’re just writing for yourself. That’s fine, by the way – it can be an excellent way to soothe the soul.

But if you want other people to read your stuff, you need to think carefully about what in your story will grab attention and what is worth paying attention to in each scene!

The Two Treasure Chests

We all have two treasure chests regarding memories, stories, and, thus, memoir writing.

The first is the treasure chest of memories and reflections. These are in the treasure chest of your mind, and your job is to capture them on paper or the screen and eventually work them into a story.

The second treasure chest is physical and digital mementos. Photos, CDs, letters, diaries, old notebooks, clothes, souvenirs, and more. They serve as a tremendous stimulus for remembering and writing. Although you could collect them in one place before writing, that’s probably impractical. Therefore, a good solution is to have a photo mood board with everything you’ve accumulated over the years.

An easy way to do this is to use the built-in photo app on your computer. I use a Mac, so this is Photos for me. It’s easy to collect pictures in an album and resize them to see more or less of them as needed.

Then and Now Time

One of the questions people ask when writing a memoir is how to handle tenses.

I think it’s worth considering two different time frames: the “then time” and the “now time.” This means you put yourself in the moment of the remembered events but see them as you experienced them then. This way, you can vividly represent them and discover them in your text.

It’s not so much a matter of tense as it’s of perspective and setting.

The “now time” is the time of reflection: you look back on past events with the wisdom of hindsight.

As a rule, it’s a good idea to write the main narrative in the “then time” because otherwise, you risk your memoir becoming a boring flashback instead of a compelling journey for the reader.

Connect with Your Inner Child

One particular technique worth mentioning when writing about childhood experiences is the “connect with your inner child” meditation. I first learned about it at the beautiful Plum Village retreat in France.

A guided meditation takes you back to your childhood and creates a connection you can access. Incredibly powerful in life and writing.

Imagine seeing your younger self in a scene and later adding how your older, wiser self understood what you were experiencing, even if you didn’t know it then.

This technique of shifting perspective is highly effective in both memoirs and novels.

It’s worth trying the Plum Village app for IOS. It’s completely free and offers many great meditations.

Break Out of the Prison of Linear Narrative

Where should you start with your memoir?

And how do you start writing them?

Unless you’re dealing with a tight time frame and a compelling ongoing narrative, telling your story in a non-linear way will probably help a lot.

Remember, you’re selecting events, not trying to tell everything that happened.

Therefore, not only can you select periods – which don’t have to be worked through in strict order, especially if you’re writing out your memoir thematically – but you can powerfully use nonlinear writing for your entire process.

We don’t think linearly, so why write that way?

When I sit down to write, I focus on the task: the sentences, paragraphs, and pages in front of me. I don’t worry excessively about everything having to be perfect and fit at the time of writing. Everything is in its own time! During the editing and the second draft, I start moving the blocks around so they tell a story.

Using Scrivener to Structure Nonlinear Writing

The app that best helps this nonlinear writing process is Scrivener.

I’ve used it for many years, and how it handles index cards on its “corkboard” has saved me more time than I care to remember in finding structure in writing and filmmaking.

Another excellent app I can recommend is Aeon Timeline. The latest version, 3, has a narrative mode and several other perspectives that let you get a handle on chronology, eras, intersections of characters, and more.

The Truth in Autobiography

When you write your memoir, you write a piece of truth. Your truth. There’s no such thing as objective truth, certainly not in writing. Nor, for that matter, in filmmaking.

There’s only a subjective truth – the truth as you see it. The exciting thing is that your truth becomes someone else’s truth through a magical transformation process.

Your mother’s truth becomes your truth, your neighbor’s truth becomes your truth, and your lover’s truth becomes your truth.

That’s magic.

One of the reasons I recommend writing your memoir instead of an autobiography is that you can focus on a particular story, a particular moment in your life. If you do it right, you can present it in a way that speaks to others.

You write your memoir to express your truth in a way that communicates it clearly to your reader without misleading them.

This is because they’re based on facts and what happened (as best you can remember it). This is part of a primary, unwritten contract you make with future readers when writing your memoir or autobiography.

Find a Coherent Narrative

To tell your story clearly and understandably, you must find a coherent narrative that ties together the concepts you want to convey.

The narrative won’t be perfect; it’ll need to be revised because your story isn’t an objective fact; it’s your truth.

It’s the narrative that makes your story interesting to your readers. Readers like narratives!

Hopefully, you’ll write your story so that even if the reader doesn’t know what happened to you, they’ll know what you felt and thought.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s very liberating to understand that the shape and order of your narrative will emerge during the writing process – not something you’ve to decide before you even start putting words on the page.

A Structural Approach to Autobiography and Memoir

You don’t have to pressure yourself to figure out the structure of your narrative from the start. You don’t have to summarize ideas, memories, or themes in predefined chapters.

Chapters are the surest way into the writer’s prison.

As the wonderful writer Terry Pratchett put it:

Life doesn’t happen in chapters at least, not regular ones. Nor do movies. Homer didn’t write in chapters. I can see what their purpose is in children’s books (“I’ll read to the end of the chapter, and then you must go to sleep”) but I’m blessed if I know what function they serve in books for adults. Sir Terry Pratchett

Writing programs like Scrivener allow you to collect and spit the fragments out, knowing you can later group them into a form. That’s tremendously liberating. It’s how I’ve made films, how I write long texts, and how I write articles – including this article.

I’ve no idea how this article will turn out. But it’ll appear; you can bet on that. And I know it’ll be good because it comes from the heart. And it’s immediate. Not overthought.

When you write your memoir, you can do the same thing.

I start with many different ideas and notes, photos, and videos I’ve taken. I make sure I can find them easily. If I’ve everything in one place, it’s easier for me to get it out.

You’ve to let your mind become a sieve, a filter, a funnel into which you pour your experiences so they come out transformed.

You’ll have to go through everything several times. You’ll have to go through your story several times.

First, you write down everything you remember, everything you think is essential, and everything that feels like it belongs to your story.

Second, you shape this mass of material into something coherent.

Third, you edit the material.

Dreams and Meditations

Dreams and meditations are essential in all forms of writing, even in memoirs. The trick is to capture the fragment on paper or screen as quickly as possible before it flies away.

Let me give you an example:

I remember first hearing Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band .

I was walking down the hallway at school when I was about nine years old. Suddenly I heard this incredible sound from a record player (yes, I’m that old) turned up full blast in an adjoining room. There was no one in the room, just the music. Coming from a conservative family where pop music just wasn’t played at home, I think this was the first time I got a taste of a larger culture. Out there.

I was amazed.

Use Dictation to Write Your Memoir

Sometimes when I write, I think of a scene, close my eyes, and start dictating. It’s all the more convenient when I know that one of the many transcription apps will do the hard work for me afterward.

Recently, I recalled that my brother and I were up against the local giant nettle patch when I was about twelve years old. To us, they weren’t nettles – they were an army. Hours later, we were called up for tea – and I suffered from hay fever for years afterward !

This memory also reminded me of another day when, together with local boys, we found a barn with huge black garbage cans in it. The game was to hide in the garbage cans while others threw stones and tried to hit us. Inevitably, a rock hit me right between the eyes. I’d have lost an eye if it had been just an inch further away.

Rather than lose these memories to the chaff of the day, I immediately documented them with a voice recording on my iPhone. Safe in the knowledge that I could quickly transcribe and include them in my memoir later.

Allow yourself to dream, to remember, to record, to document. Don’t be guided by the thought that these recordings must have a particular form before they must.

One way to think about your memoir is to think of it as a series of vignettes – short, impressionistic scenes that focus on a moment or give a particular insight into a character, idea, or environment.

The word’s origin is worth knowing: it comes from Old French and means “little vine.” If you think about it, it’s a very nice analogy for what excellent memoir writing can do: a series of independent yet interconnected vines that together form a whole.

I don’t see a linear path when I think about my life this way. Things have happened randomly; I’ve been in one place and then another. Or in the same place in different periods.

I don’t see my life as a coherent, meaningful narrative. It’s more like a series of vignettes between which I can see connections, but not a continuous line.

Your vignette can be part fantasy, part dream; you can change the period, time of day, weather, season, lighting, or anything else you want.

If you include dialog, make sure it’s believable; if you include your (or other) participants’ thoughts, make sure they ring true.

If you’re worried about authenticity, pick a moment you can remember clearly.

For example,

As a child, I’m sitting on the floor in the kitchen of my house. I’m nine years old. The kitchen is very bright. I’m eating a sugared roll – one of my favorite foods. I’m thinking about my friend’s birthday party tomorrow, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m also thinking about getting my housework done today. It’s light in the kitchen.

The truth, of course, is that I’m thinking about all of this at the same time.

Later, I listen to the sound of rain falling on the roof of the conservatory. It’s a sound I’ve long loved. I watch the different shades of light coming in through the window. The light casts shadows. The light is bright. I think about the things I need to do today. I’ve some homework to do. I need to do the dishes. I need to clean up.

What might hold together seemingly random moments like the above is the growing quality of reflection and the pressure that life puts on the mind.

Use Prompts

When writing memoirs and autobiographies, many prompts can be handy.

We’ve already discussed the two treasure chests above.

But many beneficial questions can get your mind going and make deep memory connections.

Here are just a few examples:

  • What was my most treasured toy? Why was it important to me?
  • What do I remember about the kitchen growing up? What smells can I still remember today? What could I glimpse out the window?
  • What did I do that I regretted? What can’t I tell another soul about?
  • Driving with the family in the car. What’s happening right now? Where are we going?
  • When was the first time I was furious? What had happened?
  • When did I feel most betrayed in my life?
  • When did I fall in love for the first time? Out of love?

As you can imagine, there are many, many more.

The point isn’t to go on an endless memory hunt but to lift the veil of the unconscious to find the topic necessary for your memoir. And more often than not, a more resounding theme emerges. A deeper meaning to your life story that you want to put on paper.

That, after all, is the real art of memoir: distilling a lifetime’s experiences into a coherent, readable, and meaningful whole.

The prompts don’t have to be about the past – they can be about the present.

They can be about your life today – your current life and your relationship to it and the people around you. Then you can discover how profound forces and influences have shaped your reality.

Your Motivations

Ultimately, you’re the only person who knows your motivations for writing your memoir. There’s no need for you to explain to the public!

What do you hope to gain by writing your memoir?

A sense of closure? A sense of accomplishment? Redemption?

A chance to share the themes of your life story with others so they can learn from your journey?

An opportunity to see your story told so you can look back and reflect on the meaning of your life and the direction your life might take in the future.

Whatever the reason, the result should be more significant than a simple retelling of your life.

Perhaps it’s about creating a legacy, leaving something that will stay with you beyond your time, years, and life into the future.

When you write your memoir, you’re also writing your legacy. Or at least part of it.

That’s why it’s worth pausing for a moment.

Beware of the natural human instinct to right the wrongs done to us in the past. Seeking revenge will lead you down a dark path. Once it’s published, it’s published. And it’s hard to crawl back.

My advice would be to make your memoir a positive impulse.

We all make mistakes; why not reflect on them with awareness, acceptance, and understanding?

Awareness will lead us to change our pattern of behavior, acceptance will lead us to forgiveness, and understanding will show us how to forgive others.

Remember, forgive the person, but not the crime.

Writing your memoir can be a part of the healing process if you let it.

Scenes That Resonate

Actors know there are “scene objectives” in scenes – things the character wants and is trying to achieve.

This isn’t always true, but it’s often the case that the character either achieves their goal or doesn’t. There will be a clear resolution to the scene.

You can also look at your memoir in this way.

The goal of a particular scene is to get the character from one point in the story to the next in a way that makes sense to the reader.

How do you do that? Through the concept of scenes that “get there.” In a way, it’s similar to a joke that “lands” with its punchline.

These “landings” are ways to get from one scene to the next.

They’re places of transition where action and reflection mix, and you can move from one scene to the next. This is where you place the dissonance leading to your character’s next destination.

Remember that these transitions will become more apparent and more evident as you write and move into revision. You don’t have to have a set structure for your memoir. However, you need a series of vivid scenes, fast or slow sections, that deepen your narrative.

The Movie of Your Life

There’s a classic and well-understood dramatic arc that underlies almost all movies. I’m not suggesting that you apply it to how you write your autobiography or memoir, but it can benefit you as you reflect on the ebb and flow of your life.

We go through a series of “walls” in our lives. Ones that we break through after we find our way or ones that we somehow get around.

Overcoming the significant obstacles of life usually requires inner change and realization. When we overcome life’s walls, we learn an important lesson that we take into the next phase.

I found it very helpful to plot these walls on a timeline of my life. On the X-axis was my age, and on the Y-axis was the amount of hardship endured. That corresponds to the level of drama. This was a precious exercise because it helped me step back from the story of my life and look at it from the outside.

The way a reader might.

It helped me recognize the moments that involved real struggle, emotion, and conflict. In this way, it served as a map for my memoir.

So I took the significant events in my life – death, illness, divorce, early trouble spots, etc. – and drew them on the line where they took place, what age I was, and what was happening in my life at the time.

An interesting thing happened.

I thought I’d written about significant events before but never went into enough detail to immerse the reader in the pain, emotion, and drama.

Also, I hadn’t allowed myself to take ownership and responsibility for these events.

Subconsciously, I’d distanced myself from my own life. This isn’t to say that it was all my fault. But I was guilty of being too easy on myself.

As you can probably guess, this was an essential moment in my writing process.

What’re your walls? When did you overcome them? How did you overcome them?

Maybe you’ve decided you’re going to overcome them. Or maybe you’re still waiting to overcome them.

In any case, these moments of significant change are essential to the success of your autobiography.

Commit to Yourself

Writing memoirs or autobiographies is difficult. Even if no one but you may ever get to see them!

It requires deep inner work – a journey into the soul.

And it requires a serious commitment to writing continuously over a long period.

The former means accessing your unconscious, as I described earlier in this article.

The latter is a challenge that all writers face. The simple yet not-so-simple task of sitting down in your chair and writing every day. Your writing journey.

So before you start, make some commitments to yourself.

  • Commit to writing every day.
  • Commit to writing as many words as you estimate you’ll need to finish your book.
  • Commit not to cheat on your word count.
  • Do your best because you know your best is good enough.
  • Show up to your desk and your soul.

This is the hallmark of a professional writer. Which you may not be. But why not adopt the mindset and practices of one?

One thing: don’t rush.

A memoir or autobiography shouldn’t be written under time pressure. Give your writing time to breathe and your reflections time to go deep. You’re laying the groundwork for something great.

One of the hardest things to write about is your relationship with your parents.

I lost both of my parents, one of them recently. Even as time passes, it’s hard to look deep (as a writer must) in a way that inevitably evokes pain and grief in me.

But that pain must be endured if you’re to have access to what’s probably one of the most important influences on your psyche, whether you want to admit it or not.

As a writer, artist, and human being, you must deal with them honestly. And do so with as much compassion as possible.

In other words, you must go through the same process of soul-searching and profound inner discovery as you’d with any other complicated subject.

You must apply your understanding of life and its meaning to the subject. And you must write from a position of humility and compassion.

Brainstorming for Your Autobiography

I always think of “brainstorming” more as “thought development” – a quieter and more meditative approach to writing.

You call up ideas and play with them. Try them out. To see what develops. These ideas transform as you write, re-read, and sleep on them.

Then when you come back to your writing, you’ve new things to work with. Ideas that have been developing in the background.

This is a good way to gather ideas for your memoir. It’s a way to write without writing.

  • In one sentence, invent a sentence that says something about your life.
  • In a paragraph, invent a paragraph that says something about your life.
  • In a scene, invent a scene that says something about your life.
  • Write a memory that says something about your life.

Then ask yourself: What do you’ve to say?

  • What’s the most important thing you’ve to say?
  • What’s the most dramatic thing you’ve to say?
  • What’s the most impactful moment you can convey?

I use mind mapping extensively to “develop thoughts” – the best apps I’ve found for this are iThoughts and TheBrain. The beauty of TheBrain is that it allows for contextual thinking around a subtopic – something difficult to achieve with traditional radial mind maps.

You can also use free online tools like XMind, Coggle, or paper and a pen.

You’ll find that this way of thinking brings ideas to life in ways you mightn’t be able to if you only thought linearly.

Why not just write an essay about your life, drawing from the stream of consciousness? And then see what sticks.

Related: How to Focus on Writing an Essay

Write a Letter to Yourself

Another way to write your autobiography or memoir is to imagine you’re writing a letter to yourself.

A great letter is to tell yourself the story you want to write about yourself.

Or you can take on the role of mentor to yourself:

The “you,” in this case, is your current self.

  • Write a letter to your former self.
  • What advice would you give to your former self?
  • What guidance would you give?
  • What would you do differently?
  • How would your former self respond?
  • How would your current self respond?
  • How would your future self react?
  • How would your friends and family react?
  • How would your children react?

How to Outline Your Autobiography or Memoir

The most important thing you need to know about outlining as a writer is that it’s not a process that happens before you settle down to write, and it’s written down in a kind of gospel.

Quite the opposite.

The “how” (the outline) and the “what” (the writing) are intricately intertwined and bounce off each other.

Outlining Is a Dynamic Process

If you have a good idea of what you want to write about, you can put that idea into an outline.

There are many different ways to do this. Most involve writing a few key words, phrases, sentences, or even just a few key phrases that describe the main content of your book.

A book is usually a collection of chapters (but be sure to read my comments about the chapters above).

You can outline a chapter by writing a few key words, phrases, sentences, or even just a few key sentences to describe the main content of your chapter.

You can also outline a scene. Again, you write a few key words, phrases, sentences, or even just a few key phrases to describe the main content of your scene.

An outline aims to give you a “basic structure” to work with.

The more details you’ve, the better.

How to Approach Research in Your Autobiography or Memoir

Aside from the treasure troves described above, which are more for stimulation or inspiration than research, you’ll need to track down specific facts and connections at some point in your writing.

You can do most of this research on the Internet.

There are now so many excellent online resources for writers. These include accessible radio archives, video archives, music archives, image archives, document archives, government archives, etc.

The list is endless.

Of course, you can also use your local library.

If you’re using a Mac, DevonAgent, and DevonThink can help you organize your searches and cross-referencing. DevonAgent prevents you from having to open hundreds of browser tabs, and DevonThink uses a very clever “fuzzy logic” search to find relevant things in your document collection. Although academics love both apps, they’re invaluable to me as a writer.

Another great option for research and clippings is Roam Research (or its free competitor Obsidian). Think of them as digital scrapbooks where you can drop everything useful and find valuable and relevant parts later.

Or go with a paper notebook.

Most importantly, document your research, and don’t throw anything away.

Remember that you’ll be researching at all stages of the writing process, including during editing and fact-checking. Therefore, it can be constructive to work with multiple monitors so that you can do the research queries on one while you continue writing on the other.

It’s often helpful to write a chapter or scene first and do your research later. This helps you focus your research on what you need and not disappear down a rabbit hole from which little productive writing comes out!

It’s also important to realize that researching and writing your book are closely related. They’re all part of the same journey.

When you write, you generate new ideas and write down the book that will become the finished memoir or autobiography.

This is an interactive process.

The structure of your finished book will also influence how you write it and, therefore, how you research it.

Remember that oral research also plays an important role: If people, family members, eyewitnesses, etc., are still alive and willing, their memories and perspectives can be beneficial.

Writing First Drafts

The most important thing to say about first drafts is that you do them!

That means you sit down and start writing. Even if you don’t feel like it. When you start writing, your resistance is quickly overcome, and you get into a good state of mind.

The second thing I say about first drafts is that you shouldn’t edit them as you write. That’s why I recommend not thinking too much about chapters in the first draft stage – there will be plenty of opportunities later to organize your text and divide it into chapters.

Everything that hinders your writing your first draft must be gently pushed aside. That’s why sometimes it’s better to research after you’ve written a scene.

The third thing to say about first drafts is that they should be about anything and everything.

As a writer, you need to get out of your way and not be too critical with your word choice, sentence structure, or anything else.

This is because you can only find your voice if you write your way to it. That means you’re writing many things that aren’t the finished book.

The more you write, the more you learn about yourself and your writing voice.

You may not understand the subject of your memoir or autobiography until your first draft is finished. That’s perfectly fine. It’s desirable.

Remember that your first draft should probably be just for you. Beware of letting critics in too early, even if they’re constructive.

If someone else reads your writing or sees your first drafts, that person or those people will likely impact the creative writing process, which you don’t want at this stage.

So, if you have a writing group or writing partner, wait until you’ve completed at least two first drafts before sharing the text.

Related: Why Creative Process Matters

The Path From First to Second Draft

First, put some distance between you and your first draft. If you don’t give yourself a break, you’ll have difficulty identifying the “plot holes” where you need to get your narrative going.

It’s about giving shape to the story – a story that you may not understand until after your first draft.

Your second draft isn’t about tinkering with or polishing your first draft. It’s about completely rewriting the story and moving the pieces around in the overall structure to make it work.

This is where I find Scrivener very useful. Especially the index card mode in Corkboard. It allows me to move writing blocks around, sometimes almost intuitively (since cold logic rarely works well in creative endeavors), to find the flow of a piece.

When you move the blocks, having a clear timeline is helpful – either on paper or (my choice) in a program like Aeon Timeline. This timeline helps you anchor the chronological flow of events, so you’re freer to make thematic connections knowing that you can always insert a reference to where we’re in space and time.

There’s going to be some missing. That’s fine. Write it.

Do you notice anything unclear in your narrative? Clarify it. Explain it so that someone reading the story for the first time will understand.

Sometimes it’s a matter of contextualization: a “framing scene” before the action scene. It’s incredible how sometimes putting a later scene at the beginning of the work can help make everything clear and functional.

Wield a Scalpel

The last advice I want to give you is to approach your second draft with a scalpel in hand. Cut it down, and remove any fat you discover.

Creative work often (not always) benefits from being shorter. A more compact narrative moves essential points in the story closer together and effectively tightens the connective tissue between scenes.

Cut out scenes you don’t need, scenes that are too long, and scenes that are in the background and don’t move the story forward. The goal is to create a lean, mean storytelling machine that continuously moves the story forward.

This also means cutting limp sentences, unnecessary adjectives, and anything else that makes your text wordier than it needs to be.

Examples of Great Autobiographical Writing

Maya Angelou – a series of seven autobiographies, including the work that brought her international acclaim I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Vladimir Nabokov – covering his life until he arrived in America in 1940, Speak Memory is known for how it blends fiction with fact.

Helen Keller – written with the aid of a braille typewriter The Story of My Life was dedicated to Alexander Graham Bell, a lifelong friend and avid supporter of deaf and blind research.

Mark Twain – keen to tell stories to other human beings, rather than pen a dry account of his life, Twain arranged that most of his Autobiography remain unpublished for 100 years after he died in 1910. No doubt the amount of vitriol and sharp observation, even of friends in the work, was a significant factor in this decision! Interestingly, most of his autobiography was dictated to a secretary rather than written directly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an autobiography.

An autobiography is a self-written account of an individual’s life, often detailing personal experiences, emotions, and reflections.

What should be included in an autobiography?

An autobiography should include significant events, relationships, challenges, achievements, and personal growth experiences. It should also offer insights into the author’s personality, values, and motivations.

How should I begin my autobiography?

Begin your autobiography with an engaging introduction that captures the reader’s attention. You can start with a memorable moment, an important event, or a unique aspect of your life.

What is the appropriate writing style for an autobiography?

A: The writing style for an autobiography should be honest, engaging, and descriptive. It should capture your voice and personality, connecting readers with your experiences and emotions.

How do I organize my autobiography?

Organize your autobiography in chronological order or around specific themes. You can divide it into chapters, focusing on different stages of your life or significant aspects of your personality.

How do I maintain reader interest throughout my autobiography?

To maintain reader interest, use vivid descriptions, create engaging anecdotes, and vary the pace and tone of your writing. Share unique perspectives and include moments of self-reflection to keep the reader engaged.

How do I approach sensitive or controversial topics in my autobiography?

Approach sensitive or controversial topics with honesty and sensitivity. Be aware of the potential impact on others, and consider using discretion or pseudonyms to protect privacy.

What should I focus on when writing about my childhood?

Focus on significant moments, relationships, and experiences that shaped your personality, values, and beliefs. Describe the environment, culture, and people that influenced your early years.

How do I conclude my autobiography?

Conclude your autobiography by summarizing your experiences, reflecting on the lessons learned, and sharing your hopes for the future. Consider leaving the reader with a final thought or message that encapsulates the essence of your life story.

What should I consider before publishing my autobiography?

Before publishing your autobiography, edit and revise the manuscript, fact-check for accuracy, and seek feedback from trusted readers. Consider legal and ethical implications, and explore various publishing options, including traditional publishers, self-publishing, or digital platforms.

What Is an Autobiography?

What to Consider Before You Start to Write

  • Writing Research Papers
  • Writing Essays
  • English Grammar
  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
  • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

Your life story, or autobiography , should contain the basic framework that any essay should have, with four basic elements. Begin with an introduction that includes a thesis statement , followed by a body containing at least several paragraphs , if not several chapters. To complete the autobiography, you'll need a strong conclusion , all the while crafting an interesting narrative with a theme.

Did You Know?

The word autobiography  literally means SELF (auto), LIFE (bio), WRITING (graph). Or, in other words, an autobiography is the story of someone's life written or otherwise told by that person.

When writing your autobiography, find out what makes your family or your experience unique and build a narrative around that. Doing some research and taking detailed notes can help you discover the essence of what your narrative should be and craft a story that others will want to read.

Research Your Background

Just like the biography of a famous person, your autobiography should include things like the time and place of your birth, an overview of your personality, your likes and dislikes, and the special events that shaped your life. Your first step is to gather background detail. Some things to consider:

  • What is interesting about the region where you were born?
  • How does your family history relate to the history of that region?
  • Did your family come to that region for a reason?

It might be tempting to start your story with "I was born in Dayton, Ohio...," but that is not really where your story begins. It's better to start with an experience. You may wish to start with something like why you were born where you were and how your family's experience led to your birth. If your narrative centers more around a pivotal moment in your life, give the reader a glimpse into that moment. Think about how your favorite movie or novel begins, and look for inspiration from other stories when thinking about how to start your own.

Think About Your Childhood

You may not have had the most interesting childhood in the world, but everyone has had a few memorable experiences. Highlight the best parts when you can. If you live in a big city, for instance, you should realize that many people who grew up in the country have never ridden a subway, walked to school, ridden in a taxi, or walked to a store a few blocks away.

On the other hand, if you grew up in the country you should consider that many people who grew up in the suburbs or inner city have never eaten food straight from a garden, camped in their backyards, fed chickens on a working farm, watched their parents canning food, or been to a county fair or a small-town festival.

Something about your childhood will always seem unique to others. You just have to step outside your life for a moment and address the readers as if they knew nothing about your region and culture. Pick moments that will best illustrate the goal of your narrative, and symbolism within your life.

Consider Your Culture

Your culture is your overall way of life , including the customs that come from your family's values and beliefs. Culture includes the holidays you observe, the customs you practice, the foods you eat, the clothes you wear, the games you play, the special phrases you use, the language you speak, and the rituals you practice.

As you write your autobiography, think about the ways that your family celebrated or observed certain days, events, and months, and tell your audience about special moments. Consider these questions:

  • What was the most special gift you ever received? What was the event or occasion surrounding that gift?
  • Is there a certain food that you identify with a certain day of the year?
  • Is there an outfit that you wear only during a special event?

Think honestly about your experiences, too. Don't just focus on the best parts of your memories; think about the details within those times. While Christmas morning may be a magical memory, you might also consider the scene around you. Include details like your mother making breakfast, your father spilling his coffee, someone upset over relatives coming into town, and other small details like that. Understanding the full experience of positives and negatives helps you paint a better picture for the reader and lead to a stronger and more interesting narrative. Learn to tie together all the interesting elements of your life story and craft them into an engaging essay.

Establish the Theme

Once you have taken a look at your own life from an outsider’s point of view, you will be able to select the most interesting elements from your notes to establish a theme. What was the most interesting thing you came up with in your research? Was it the history of your family and your region? Here is an example of how you can turn that into a theme:

"Today, the plains and low hills of southeastern Ohio make the perfect setting for large cracker box-shaped farmhouses surrounded by miles of corn rows. Many of the farming families in this region descended from the Irish settlers who came rolling in on covered wagons in the 1830s to find work building canals and railways. My ancestors were among those settlers."

A little bit of research can make your own personal story come to life as a part of history, and historical details can help a reader better understand your unique situation. In the body of your narrative, you can explain how your family’s favorite meals, holiday celebrations, and work habits relate to Ohio history.

One Day as a Theme

You also can take an ordinary day in your life and turn it into a theme. Think about the routines you followed as a child and as an adult. Even a mundane activity like household chores can be a source of inspiration.

For example, if you grew up on a farm, you know the difference between the smell of hay and wheat, and certainly that of pig manure and cow manure—because you had to shovel one or all of these at some point. City people probably don’t even know there is a difference. Describing the subtle differences of each and comparing the scents to other scents can help the reader imagine the situation more clearly.

If you grew up in the city, you how the personality of the city changes from day to night because you probably had to walk to most places. You know the electricity-charged atmosphere of the daylight hours when the streets bustle with people and the mystery of the night when the shops are closed and the streets are quiet.

Think about the smells and sounds you experienced as you went through an ordinary day and explain how that day relates to your life experience in your county or your city:

"Most people don’t think of spiders when they bite into a tomato, but I do. Growing up in southern Ohio, I spent many summer afternoons picking baskets of tomatoes that would be canned or frozen and preserved for cold winter’s dinners. I loved the results of my labors, but I’ll never forget the sight of the enormous, black and white, scary-looking spiders that lived in the plants and created zigzag designs on their webs. In fact, those spiders, with their artistic web creations, inspired my interest in bugs and shaped my career in science."

One Event as a Theme

Perhaps one event or one day of your life made such a big impact that it could be used as a theme. The end or beginning of the life of another can affect our thoughts and actions for a long time:

"I was 12 years old when my mother passed away. By the time I was 15, I had become an expert in dodging bill collectors, recycling hand-me-down jeans, and stretching a single meal’s worth of ground beef into two family dinners. Although I was a child when I lost my mother, I was never able to mourn or to let myself become too absorbed in thoughts of personal loss. The fortitude I developed at a young age was the driving force that would see me through many other challenges."

Writing the Essay

Whether you determine that your life story is best summed up by a single event, a single characteristic, or a single day, you can use that one element as a theme . You will define this theme in your  introductory paragraph .

Create an outline with several events or activities that relate back to your central theme and turn those into subtopics (body paragraphs) of your story. Finally, tie up all your experiences in a summary that restates and explains the overriding theme of your life. 

  • How to Write a Personal Narrative
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my autobiography

How to Write an Autobiography

my autobiography

Writing your autobiography is like exploring a treasure trove of memories that make up your life. But starting can feel overwhelming. Where do you begin? How do you turn your experiences into a compelling story? Don't worry – this guide is here to help. Whether you're a seasoned writer or a total beginner, we'll break down the process of how to write your autobiography into easy-to-follow steps. Together, we'll uncover the magic of storytelling and turn your life into a captivating reflective essay that's uniquely yours. Get ready to start this adventure of self-discovery and creativity!

What Is an Autobiography

The autobiography definition explains it is a written account of a person's life penned by the individual who has lived those experiences. It is a personal narrative that chronicles significant events, reflections, and emotions throughout various stages of the author's life. Unlike a biography, which is typically written by someone else, an autobiography provides a firsthand perspective, allowing the author to share their thoughts, memories, and insights. It is a cogent medium for self-expression, enabling students to convey the essence of their unique journey, impart lessons learned, and leave a lasting record of their lives for themselves and others to explore.

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Autobiography vs. Biography: What’s the Difference

The key distinction between an autobiography and a biography lies in the authorship and perspective. An autobiography is a personal account of one's own life written by the subject themselves. It offers an intimate insight into the author's experiences, emotions, and reflections. For instance, in "The Diary of a Young Girl," Anne Frank provides a poignant autobiographical account of her life hiding from the Nazis during World War II. On the other hand, a biography is a narrative of someone's life written by another person. It often involves extensive research and interviews to present a comprehensive and objective view. A notable example is "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, a biography offering an in-depth portrayal of the Apple co-founder, drawing on interviews with Jobs himself and those who knew him. While both genres illuminate lives, the crucial difference lies in the source of the narrative – whether it emanates directly from the subject or is crafted by an external observer.

A biography vs autobiography offers distinct perspectives on individuals' lives, shaping narratives through either personal reflections or external observations. Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is a powerful autobiography chronicling her tumultuous childhood and journey toward self-discovery. In contrast, a notable biography like "Leonardo da Vinci" by Walter Isaacson delves into the life of the Renaissance polymath, painting a vivid picture through meticulous research and analysis. Autobiographies often provide a deeply personal lens, as seen in "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls, where Walls recounts her unconventional upbringing. In contrast, biographies such as "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand meticulously document the extraordinary life of Louis Zamperini, offering a comprehensive view shaped by the author's investigative work. These examples underscore the unique storytelling approaches each genre employs, either from the firsthand perspective of the subject or the external perspective of an author.

Autobiography Example

Ready to explore autobiography examples? We've got a cool section coming up where we'll check out two awesome examples. Autobiographies are like personal tours into someone's life, and we'll be looking at the stories of Alex Sterling and Trevor Noah. They've poured their experiences onto the pages, and we're going to see what we can learn from their journeys. Get ready to be inspired and maybe even think about telling your own story down the line. Let's dive in!

autobiography

Example 1: “Wanderer's Odyssey: The Uncharted Life of Alex Sterling”

This autobiography recounts the life of a character born in a bustling city who, driven by a thirst for adventure, leaves behind urban life to explore the open road. The narrative explores the protagonist's experiences of hitchhiking, forming connections, and finding self-discovery in the midst of the unpredictable journey. The story emphasizes the lessons learned from the road, the challenges faced, and the ultimate embrace of authenticity. The epilogue reflects on the character's life as a well-lived odyssey, highlighting themes of resilience, connection, and the pursuit of one's true identity.

Example 2: “Echoes of Eternity: The Memoirs of Amelia Reed”

This autobiography follows a character from a countryside village who harbors expansive dreams of adventure. The narrative unfolds as the protagonist sets out to pursue these dreams, facing trials and triumphs that shape their character and lead to self-discovery. The story emphasizes the transformative power of embracing the unknown, with the epilogue reflecting on a life well-lived, highlighting the legacy of fulfilled dreams and the enduring impact on future generations. In addition to examples, we have samples of narrative essay topics that might be useful for you as well.

Tell your story with EssayPro . Our skilled writers can help you craft an autobiography that truly reflects your journey. Share your unique experiences and life lessons in a way that resonates with readers.

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Autobiography Elements Explained

Writing an autobiography provides a personal account of one's experiences, achievements, challenges, and personal growth. While each autobiography is unique, certain common elements are often found in this genre:

Introduction

  • Autobiographies typically begin with an introduction where the author sets the stage for their life story.
  • It may include background information such as birthplace, family, and early experiences.

Birth and Early Years

  • Authors often include details about their birth, childhood, and family background.
  • Early influences, relationships, and experiences that shaped the individual may be highlighted.

Significant Life Events

  • Autobiographies focus on key events and milestones that have had a significant impact on the author's life.
  • This could include achievements, failures, relationships, and other impactful experiences.

Challenges and Obstacles

  • Autobiographies explore the challenges and obstacles the author faced throughout their life.
  • This can include personal struggles, professional setbacks, or other difficulties.

Personal Growth and Development

  • Authors reflect on their personal growth and development over the years.
  • This may involve self-discovery, learning from experiences, and evolving perspectives.

Achievements and Milestones

  • Autobiographies highlight the author's achievements, whether personal, professional, or both.
  • Major milestones and successes are often detailed to showcase the individual's journey.

Influential Relationships

  • Autobiographies frequently discuss relationships with family, friends, mentors, and significant others.
  • The impact of these relationships on the author's life is explored.

Reflection and Insight

  • Authors often reflect on their lives, offering insights into their beliefs, values, and lessons learned.
  • This section may also include the author's perspective on the world and society.

Themes and Motifs

  • Autobiographies may explore recurring themes or motifs that run throughout the individual's life.
  • Common themes include resilience, determination, love, loss, and personal identity.
  • Autobiographies typically conclude with a summary or reflection on the author's life.
  • The author may share their current perspective and future aspirations.

Writing Style

  • The writing style can vary, ranging from a formal tone to a more conversational and reflective approach.
  • Authors may use literary devices and storytelling techniques to engage readers.

Remember that autobiographies are highly personal, and the structure and emphasis on different elements can vary widely depending on the author's preferences and purpose for writing.

Autobiographical Essay Structure

Autobiographies typically follow a chronological order, beginning with the author's early life and progressing towards the present or a significant moment. The introduction sets the stage, introducing the author and offering insight into the main themes. As you can see in an autobiography example, the narrative then unfolds, exploring the author's significant life events, challenges faced, and personal growth. Achievements and milestones are highlighted, and the impact of influential relationships is examined. Throughout, recurring themes and motifs add depth to the narrative. In the reflection and insight section, the author shares personal lessons learned and beliefs. The conclusion summarizes the autobiography, reflecting on the author's life and future aspirations.

Autobiographical Essay Structure

Learning how to start an autobiography involves captivating the reader's attention while providing context. Authors often employ engaging anecdotes, vivid descriptions, or thought-provoking statements related to the overarching theme of their lives. The goal is to draw readers in from the beginning and establish a connection between the author and the audience. In the introduction, authors can introduce themselves to the reader. This can be done by sharing a captivating snapshot of their life or posing a question that intrigues the audience. The autobiography introduction sets the tone for the entire narrative, providing a glimpse into the themes and events that will be explored in the autobiography.

The autobiography conclusion offers the culmination of the author's life story. Here, authors often summarize the key points and experiences shared throughout the narrative. It is a moment of reflection, where the author can offer insights into the significance of their journey and the lessons learned along the way. The conclusion may also touch on the author's current perspective, providing a sense of closure to the narrative while leaving room for future aspirations and growth.

Literary Forms of Autobiography

Autobiographies, while generally a non-fiction genre, can take on various literary forms and styles. Here are some literary forms commonly found in autobiographical works:

Traditional Autobiography

  • The straightforward narrative of an individual's life, which is usually written by the person themselves. It follows a chronological order, covering significant events and experiences.
  • Similar to an autobiography but often focusing on specific themes, periods, or aspects of the author's life rather than a comprehensive account. Memoirs often delve into personal reflections and emotions.

Diary or Journal Form

  • Some autobiographies adopt the form of a diary or journal, presenting the author's life through dated entries. This format provides a more immediate and personal perspective.

Epistolary Autobiography

  • Written in the form of letters, an epistolary autobiography may consist of the author addressing themselves or others. This style adds an intimate and conversational tone to the narrative.

Graphic Novel or Comic Memoir

  • Autobiographical stories are presented in a graphic novel or comic format. Visual elements complement the written narrative, providing a unique and engaging way to convey personal experiences.

Experimental or Nonlinear Autobiography

  • Some authors choose to play with the chronological order, presenting their life story non-linearly. This experimental approach can create a more artistic and challenging reading experience.

Biographical Fiction

  • While not entirely autobiographical, some authors write fictionalized versions of their own lives. It allows for creative exploration and artistic liberties while drawing inspiration from real experiences.

Travelogue Autobiography

  • Autobiographies that take on the form of a travelogue often focus on the author's journeys, both physical and metaphorical. The narrative is shaped by the places visited and the impact of these experiences on personal growth.

Essayistic Autobiography

  • Autobiographies that incorporate elements of essays, exploring themes, ideas, and reflections on the author's life. This form allows for a more contemplative and philosophical approach.

Collaborative Autobiography

  • Co-written autobiographies involve collaboration between the autobiographical subject and a professional writer. It is common when the subject may not be a writer but has a compelling story to share.

These literary forms highlight the versatility of autobiographical writing, showcasing how authors can creatively shape their life stories to engage readers in various ways. Are you working on other academic assignments? Use our term paper writing services to put your finger on any pending task at hand quickly and for a reasonable price.

How to Write an Autobiography in 5 Steps

Writing an autobiography can be a rewarding and reflective process. Here's a simplified guide in 5 steps to help you get started:

Step 1: Reflection and Brainstorming

Begin by reflecting on your life, considering important events, challenges, and moments of growth. Make a mental inventory of key experiences and people who have influenced you.

Step 2: Establish a Focus

Choose a central theme or focus for your autobiography. This could be a specific period of your life, a significant achievement, or a recurring theme that ties your experiences together. Having a clear focus will guide your writing.

Step 3: Create a Chronological Outline

Develop a rough chronological outline of your life story, starting from your early years and progressing through significant events to the present or another crucial point. Identify key moments and experiences to include in each section.

Step 4: Write with Detail and Emotion

An important aspect of writing an autobiography for college is appealing to emotion. As you delve into each body paragraph, share your story with vivid details. Use descriptive language to bring your experiences to life for the reader. Infuse your writing with emotion, allowing readers to connect with the depth of your personal journey.

Step 5: Conclude Reflectively

In the concluding section, summarize the key aspects of your life story. Reflect on the significance of your journey, the lessons you've learned, and how you've grown. Provide insights into your current perspective and aspirations for the future, bringing your autobiography to a thoughtful conclusion.

Writing Techniques to Use in an Autobiography

When you write an autobiography, the process involves employing various techniques to make the narrative engaging, evocative, and compelling. Here are some tips for writing autobiography commonly used in autobiographies:

Descriptive Language

  • Use vivid and descriptive language to paint a detailed picture of events, people, and settings. Engage the reader's senses to create a more immersive experience.
  • Incorporate dialogue to bring conversations to life. Direct quotes can provide authenticity and convey the personalities of the people involved.

Show, Don't Tell

  • Instead of merely stating facts, show the emotions and experiences through actions, reactions, and sensory details. 

Flashbacks and Foreshadowing

  • Employ flashbacks to delve into past events and foreshadowing to create anticipation about future developments. 

Metaphors and Similes

  • Use metaphors and similes to enhance descriptions and convey complex emotions. Comparisons can make abstract concepts more relatable.
  • Integrate symbols and motifs that hold personal significance. This adds depth to the narrative and can be a thematic thread throughout the autobiography.

Humor and Wit

  • Infuse your writing with humor and wit when appropriate. 
  • Introduce suspense by strategically withholding information or revealing key details at crucial moments. 

First-Person Perspective

  • Utilize the first-person point of view to offer a direct and personal connection between the author and the reader. 

Dramatic Irony

  • Introduce dramatic irony by revealing information to the reader that the author may not have known at the time.

Parallelism

  • Create parallel structures within the narrative, drawing connections between different periods, events, or themes in your life. 

Experimenting with different styles can make your story more engaging and memorable for readers. If you haven’t used these techniques in your paper, simply say, ‘ edit my essay ,’ and our experts will imbue stylistic and creative devices in your document to increase its scholarly value.

Benefits of Writing an Autobiography

Working on an autobiography can be incredibly beneficial on a personal level. When you take the time to reflect on your life and put it into words, you gain a deeper understanding of yourself. It's like a journey of self-discovery where you uncover patterns, values, and beliefs that have shaped who you are. This process not only promotes self-awareness but can also help you grow and bounce back from tough times. Writing about challenging moments can be a therapeutic release, allowing you to confront and make sense of your experiences, leading to emotional healing.

On a broader scale, sharing your life story through an autobiography has its impact. It becomes a piece of history, offering insights into the times you've lived through, the culture around you, and societal changes. Your personal narrative connects you with others, creating empathy and understanding. Autobiographies often inspire people by showing that it's possible to overcome challenges, find purpose, and navigate the ups and downs of life. By sharing your story, you become a part of the larger human experience, contributing to a rich tapestry of diverse stories that help us better understand the shared journey of being human. Order an essay or any other type of task to streamline your educational progress is only a few clicks.

Best Piece of Advice for Making Your Autobiography Spot-on

The most valuable advice is to infuse authenticity into every word. Be genuine, raw, and honest about your experiences, emotions, and growth. Readers connect deeply with authenticity, and it's what makes your story uniquely yours. Don't shy away from expressing vulnerability, as it adds a human touch and makes your narrative relatable. Share the highs and lows, the triumphs and struggles, with sincerity, and let your true self shine through. This honesty not only enhances the impact of your autobiography but also contributes to a more profound connection between you and your readers, creating an authentic and memorable narrative. Here are additional tips for bringing your autobiography assignment up to par:

  • Essential Details. Focus on key moments that significantly contribute to your story, avoiding unnecessary details.
  • Thematic Cohesion. Introduce and explore recurring themes to add depth and coherence to your narrative.
  • Authentic Expression. Embrace your unique voice, personality, and storytelling style to create an authentic connection with readers.
  • Dialogue and Monologue. Use genuine dialogue and inner monologue to provide insights into your thoughts and emotions during pivotal moments.
  • Symbolic Elements. Incorporate symbolic imagery or metaphors to convey deeper meanings and emotions.
  • Strategic Foreshadowing. Use foreshadowing purposefully, providing subtle hints that contribute meaningfully to the overall narrative.
  • Reflective Closure. Conclude your autobiography with a reflective summary that offers insights into the broader significance of your journey.

Our essay writers know many more tips regarding all possible types of academic tasks. If you ever find yourself in writer’s block, not knowing how to tackle any particular assignment, let us know!

Final Words

If you want to understand how to write a good autobiography, think of it as painting a vivid picture of your life for others to see. It's about being real, digging deep into your memories, and choosing the moments that really matter. Let your personality shine through in your writing – be yourself because that's what makes your story unique. Weave in themes that tie everything together, and use storytelling techniques like dialogue and symbolism to make your narrative come alive. And as you reach the end, leave your readers with some food for thought – a reflection on the bigger lessons learned from your journey. If you ever need assistance with this or any other college assignment, use our research paper services without hesitation.

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How to Write an Autobiography?

How to start an autobiography essay, what is the difference between autobiography and biography.

Adam Jason

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

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Home » Blog » How to Write an Autobiography in 31 Steps

How to Write an Autobiography in 31 Steps

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

If you’re thinking about writing an autobiography, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will be telling you all about how to write an autobiography – breaking it down and helping you along with the process.

1. What is an Autobiography?

So you want to know how to write an autobiography? First off, let’s start with what an autobiography is. Put simply, a biography is a book written about someone’s life. It includes all elements of their life, particularly featuring any significant events that took place.

The word ‘autobiography’ is made up of the two Greek words ‘autos’ and ‘bios’, meaning self and life. Put them together and you get a book that is a mix of who you are, and the life you have lived.

2. Memoir vs. Autobiography

Before you start any kind of writing process, it is important to know what kind of a book it is you are wanting to write. There is no way to know how to write an autobiography if you can’t distinguish the two. Memoir and autobiography are often plumped into the same genre, because they are both about someone’s life.

But they are two genres of their own. So here’s the difference:

It’s pretty simple – if the book is about the person’s entire life – it’s an autobiography; if it’s about one or two events, themes or memories within their life, it’s a memoir .

Knowing the difference will save you time and energy. It will also help you to shape and plan your book (if that’s your style).

You can always change your mind and switch genres, but at least you will know what you are doing and how both of them work. Whichever you choose will change a lot about your book – particularly the content you choose to include and the structure of the entire piece.

Memoir is the perfect platform to share your personal life experience, and you don’t have to share every other significant moment of your life. (A wise decision if only one really interesting thing has happened to you during your lifetime.)

Writing an autobiography is much different. While they are both to do with the author’s life, biography is more to do with what happened throughout your life.

That means all significant events from birth ’till now.

If you set out to write a biography and it turns into a memoir, this is not a problem. The problem is when you don’t know what you’re doing at all. This leads to confusion in the writing process. And a lack of professionalism outside of it.

A great way to learn how to write an autobiography is to read. A lot. Reading other autobiographies will give you an idea of which direction to go in and how this genre is structured. It can also help you to develop your style and tone of voice, and to pinpoint which writing techniques you find most effective. All good tools to have in your writing toolbox.

Here are a few examples of autobiographies you might want to read:

  • My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin (1964)
  • The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin
  • Long walk to freedom, Nelson Mandela
  • The story of my experiments with truth, Mahatma Gandhi
  • The story of my life, Helen Keller
  • The autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley, Malcolm X
  • An Autobiography, Agatha Christie (1965))
  • The confessions of St. Augustine, Augustine of Hippo
  • Scar tissue, Anthony Kiedis, Larry Sloman
  • Open: An Autobiography, Andre Agassi
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • Autobiography of a yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda

4. When to Write an Autobiography

my autobiography

Cellini (1500-1571) wrote one of the finest autobiographies of the renaissance. He stated:

“No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty.” Cellini

Knowing how to write an autobiography can have a lot to do with your life experiences. This fact brings into question the age of the reader.

Many biographies are written later on in life, when experience has been gathered and there are many exciting moments to draw from. But this isn’t always the case.

If you are a younger writer and feel that your life has been sufficiently fantastic, or you feel a growing desire to get down all of the details of your childhood days, there is no rule that says you can’t. So don’t let others’ perceptions stop you.

Twenty-one-year-old Edouard Louis, for example, published a hugely successful fictional autobiography (aka an autofiction), The end of Eddy about his childhood and adolescence. So it is possible. Sorry Cellini.

That said, an older, more experienced writer may have an easier time writing an autobiography, simply because they have more material to draw from.

Like memoir, autobiographies tend to center around a theme, even though you are including many life events. That is because people tend to also be themed, in a way. Want to know how to start an autobiography? Thinking about theme can be a useful way in.

If you are a professional dancer, and that is the passion of your life, it makes sense that your book would also center around the theme of dancing and how you reached that success.

If you are ghostwriting for a celebrity, naturally they will be famous for something in particular.

The main theme, of course, is the person’s life. But that is not enough to sustain interest across time. So bear in mind a secondary theme that ties it all together.

If your theme or themes are relatable, then that will stand you in good stead. If you are not writing a glitzy celeb autobiography, then having a very relatable and original theme is more likely to find a readership than any other. Be careful not to choose and manufacture your theme, however. If you are meant to write an autobiography, you will likely already feel compelled to write about your life. So try not to put too much thought into it. Just keep it in mind, as it will keep you on track.

6. How to Pick a Theme

How to start an autobiography? One way is to pick a theme. And stick to it.

One way of picking a theme is to choose an aspect of your personality that you feel is awesome and make that your sole focus. Maybe you’re great at maths, for example. Perhaps you made it to the world championships on mathematics or something. That would be a story worth telling.

Another is to look at your philosophy in life and make that the focal point of your book. Showing your values throughout the book can inspire and uplift the reader as it can show a good example of a life well-lived. It also reveals quite clearly who you are as a person, without you having to explicitly spell it out.

A third would be to consider the things that are most important to you in your life and to make a reference to these as you work your way through each significant event mentioned in your book. (This works especially well if you are writing an autobiography for those who know you.)

7. Exceptions

You might also be wanting to know how to write an autobiography, because you want to share your story with your family. This is an admirable reason to write a story. It means that your family will always have a special connection to you through story, no matter what. It also means that generations to come will have that link to their own past and history.

From that sense, everybody should write one!

This kind of story can even be compiled as an oral history of your families’ history and lives, which makes for an extremely personal keepsake.

Autobiographies are sometimes written in short form, as essays for college assignments. This is a similar exercise to writing a full book , but in a condensed format.

Another form of autobiography is as an autofiction. This book is based mostly upon autobiographical content, but is also a work of fiction. This is an easy way of avoiding any concerns you might have about privacy. If you are wanting to distance yourself a little and take more control over the content, then this may be the way to go.

You can also consider other formats, such as writing an autobiographical graphic novel, which has the essence of cool written all over it. If you are an artist or have a passion for strong visuals, this is something to consider.

8. How to Plan

“Look for the times when your life changed the most, and when you changed the most, those are the times of peak drama in your life.” Janice Erlbaum, The Autobiographer’s Handbook

An excellent practice when learning how to start an autobiography, is to begin by writing out all of the significant events in your life. These could be anything; from graduating college, to losing your virginity, to being born. Whatever you think is most important and noteworthy, write it down.

You can later play with the order of events if you like, to shake things up a little bit,  but for now, just get anything and everything you can think of written down.

When considering how to write an autobiography, it seems to be the most natural of all genres to plan. This is because within it’s very construction there is a presumption of what it will be about: events in your life. From this sense, it is already set up for you. In some ways, this makes writing a lot easier. On the other hand, the risk that easy planning poses, is boredom. For the reader or yourself. The challenge then becomes, how to make these life events interesting and stand out. But we’ll get to that a bit later on…

Nb If you are a pantser (someone who likes to write by the seat of your pants) then you might want to skip this step. In all likelihood you have something in mind to write about, so just start there.

9. Writing Schedule

A schedule helps you to get things done. You will know what works best for you after trying a few things out. You could try planning out how much you are going to write by the hour (i.e. I will write for an hour a day, every weekday) or by word count (I will write 500 words a day). Be realistic and don’t overwhelm yourself. If you are too overambitious, you may find you end up not writing at all.

Otherwise, you could aim to write a certain section of the book per week or month if that works better for you. Because autobiography is so clearly and easily arranged into story beats (was born, had first pimple, dyed hair red etc.) organizing your writing by these events works for almost all writers, even if you are not a fan of planning.

Ask yourself the question, what’s the minimum I could manage on a regular basis? And be honest.

Everyone has their own writing style, including the way they schedule (or don’t schedule) their writing habits. So don’t ever let anyone tell you how you should be writing. It’s up to you.

10. How to Start an Autobiography

my autobiography

Well, now you have a list of important events in your life, starting to write should be pretty straight forward. If you don’t like planning, it’s even simpler, just pinpoint a significant moment in time and get to work! If you have a plan, all you need to do is start writing out a first draft of each event.

Next up we have a few tips and tricks to get you started.

11. Go Digging

While figuring out how to write an autobiography, you will want to have everything you are writing as fresh and vivid in your mind as possible. This clarity will translate onto the page and give your readers a strong impression of each moment.

To do this, you will be wanting to dig out any old photos of you and whomever you might be writing about, and begin filing things away for each chapter or section of the book.

You also might find it beneficial to interview anyone who remembers what happened. This can bring a new light on old events. Try using a recorder or dictaphone and typing up the best bits once you’re done.

12. Fill Up Your Senses

A good way to get into the moment before a writing session is to surround yourself with the materials relating to that particular event. Look at photos or listen to recordings from around that time, and jot down any thoughts you might have about them.

You may also want to listen to some music from the time. If you have any old clothes or keepsakes from the person, you will also want them to be around or near as you write. Listen to any interviews about the time or the characters before writing.

13. Write a letter

If you’re struggling to start writing, you can try writing a letter to yourself or to other members of the family from the time. This is a very personal way of connecting with the past. Remembering your connection to your characters will help your writing to flow more easily and mean you have material to draw from before you even start writing.

14. Emotions

Writing about certain life events is likely to be emotional. Say you had a car crash when you were younger, or had to deal with some maltreatment of some kind, this will impact your writing, and how you feel about it.

It can be a difficult balance. You need to care enough about your subject matter to write it. But you don’t want your emotions to take over to the point where style and the content of your book suffers.

While feeling impassioned by your writing, it is also important to be able to step back and take a second look at your viewpoint. This may take several rewrites to get right.

If you are finding it difficult, then consider writing out as many different viewpoints of the event as you possibly can. This will open up how you see it and may even lead to an inspiring revelation for both you and your book.

15. New Insights

One of the benefits of learning how to write an autobiography, is that, as you develop as a writer, new insights will likely occur.

So while emotions can run high, it is good to know that writing about anything difficult that has happened in your life can help you psychologically.

Dr. James Pennebaker, a professor at Austin Texas university discovered that students who wrote for just fifteen minutes a day over three days about difficult or emotional experiences had a better level of wellbeing. He found that going through the process was upsetting for them, but it was the new insights the students discovered through the process of writing, that led to their improved levels of psychological health.

16. Take Care

As with memoir, if you feel that it is too much to write any subject matter, always take a break and come back to it (or not). Your mental health and general wellbeing are always more important than a book.

17. Know Your Why

Make sure that you don’t add in topics or incidents simply to vent about them. Instead, get all your feelings out about it during your first draft, and then start with a fresh perspective. If your writing is only about venting, it will not interest the reader. You may come across as petty or whiny.

Instead, you will want to make sure you can see the benefit of sharing your experiences with people. When you truly know how to write an autobiography, it should empower and enlighten people and help them connect to your story, rather than reading like an unfinished diary entry. It is perfectly acceptable for it to start out that way. But by the end of your writing process, you should be confident in the purpose of why you are writing your book, and what kind of impact it will have on its readers.

Knowing why you are writing will keep you on the right track, and help you like a compass in the storm, when you are lost.

18. Tone of Voice

An important aspect of telling your story will be your narrative style and tone of voice. This completely depends upon who you are writing for and the purpose of your book.

If you are writing for your grandchildren, for example, you may use more simplistic language. If you are writing for a broader audience, then you may use a more neutral tone. Writing for friends? You might want to use more familial or colloquial terms.

This also depends a lot on what kind of person you are, and you will want your attitude and personality to be reflected in your writing. This should happen naturally, but don’t be afraid to write as if you are talking or to use a recording device and write up your account of each chapter afterwards.

Pro tip: Relax. You won’t find your tone of voice by constantly thinking about how you might come across. Just write as you think and your natural expression will do the rest.

19. First or Third Person?

You can experiment with viewpoint as you go along, but once you have chosen, you will be wanting to stick with it. Third person gives us the feeling it has been written by someone else. So, if you are employing a ghostwriter or are working on a fictional work, then this is a good way to go.

First person is the generally accepted viewpoint for most autobiographies, because it is your story, and you are the one writing it.

20. Conflict

As you recall the people in your life, adding in any conflicts, even if they are comical, will add to the richness of the book. Conflict drives drama, intrigue and interest. And that’s what you want, if you want your book read, that is.

21. Story Arc

my autobiography

One of the most critical components of how to write an autobiography is story arc. Like most genres of story, autobiography is no exception and will need some sort of an all-encompassing story arc. This is one of the main challenges you may face while writing this kind of book.

It simply can’t be a long list of events and then an ending. They have to all meld together cohesively in order to have some sort of an impact on your reader.

A story arc gives writers a structure, in which our main character aims to do something, and then either manages (or doesn’t) to achieve it. There are normally many obstacles in the protagonist’s way, and they must overcome them. Simply put, our main character must get from A to B. And you will need to decide at some point, what your start and end points in the story will be.

This ties into your overall message in the book. The great thing about autobiography is that it basically tells your reader who you are as a person.

You can start by making a note of your core beliefs and who you feel you are as a person before you begin. But don’t be surprised if, as you write, you reveal a value you hold that you had never especially acknowledged. This is a true gift to the reader, to leave them with your wisdom or knowledge.

Your philosophy can play a big role in the book, as it has likely led you to make certain decisions and can be featured and interlaced with certain events when your process of decision making was integral to the direction of your life.

22. Comedy and Funny Anecdotes

While you don’t want to overdo it on the comedy (unless it is a comedic autobiography, in which case, carry on!) a little comic relief can work wonders in this genre. It can lighten the mood and even make sad moments even more poignant. Funny stories specific to your family can add to the color of your characters, so they don’t fall flat .

23. Where to Begin ?

Think about when you might want to start your story. The logical point to start is from birth, but as your writing evolves over time, you may change your mind. You may want to add some perspective about your life from before you were even born. Your heritage may also be a large influence on who you are as a person today.

Once you have written a full first draft, you can consider changing around the order. Editing in this way can make for a more dynamic and varied read. If placed in the right way, you can even add in a plot twist or add to the suspense of your book.

24. Consider Your Reader

Don’t rest on your laurels. This can especially be a risk if you are writing only for friends or family. Just because someone knows you, it doesn’t mean your story will automatically become interesting to them. It will likely make it more interesting than if you were a random passerby, true. But this is not something to take for granted.

This point can be ignored during the first draft, but as you begin to develop your story, it becomes an implicit part of the process.

If you are wanting your book to sell, this becomes even more important as the reader’s interest and word of mouth can mean the difference between a book being put down or another sale.

25. How to Make Events More Colorful

Once you have written the thing, you will want to make sure that it is an interesting read. Even if you are writing just for friends and family, they will want to be excited by your life. And surely, that is why you are writing this in the first place?!

So a few tips to make sure that each story beat pops with color is to:

  • 1. Keep a notebook with you at all times for when you remember particular details about a person or place. Details will always give your story more originality and color.
  • 2. Show don’t tell – this is always relevant to any kind of writing and autobiography is no exception. Try adding in things you saw, smelt, tasted or touched within the scene. Avoid making a statement and describe what happened in the moment, instead.
  • 3. Add metaphor or simile- when describing a character or a vivid memory, don’t just describe how it looked on the surface. Unless this is not at all your writing style, you can enjoy emphasizing how something made you feel through descriptions that include metaphor. (use ext link for how to use metaphor) For example, ‘she was as fit as a fiddle’.
  • 4. Avoid common descriptive words – words such as ‘nice’ and ‘good’ should be considered with great caution once you have reached the third draft of your book.

26. Consider Your Reader

An important part of knowing how to write an autobiography, is having an awareness of the reader throughout the entire manuscript. This is not only a book for you. So don’t rest on your laurels.

This can especially be a risk if you are writing only for friends or family. Just because someone knows you, it doesn’t mean your story will automatically become interesting to them. It will likely make it more interesting than if you were a random passerby, true. But this is not something to take for granted.

Many new writers are tempted to leave in every detail of their life. But longer doesn’t always equal better – often it means that you simply haven’t cut out the parts that aren’t needed. So make sure you have your ego in check – don’t make your book too long just for the sake of it. Just because it’s interesting to you, does not mean every reader will want to know about it – family and friends included.

The average autobiography is around 75,000 words long. Much shorter than 60,000 and you might want to find other sources to write about, and any longer than 100,000, you might want to cut it down a bit.

28. Consider Privacy/Confidentiality

Much like memoir, autobiography includes characters who are real people. This means that some might be negatively affected by your work. So make sure to talk to those involved and to have an attorney at hand, just in case.

If you are unsure about leaving in their real name, it is best to give their character a pseudonym.

29. Editing

Both editing your book and getting it proofread will make or break it.

That means that you will want to find a professional editor to work with, who knows what she or he is doing. Ideally, you will want to find someone who is experienced in editing autobiography or memoir. Check that you have similar values and that you are both clear on what you are going to be working on, before you start.

30. Proofreading

Make sure that all your hard work shows. You can have a strong storyline and everything else in place, but if there’s a typo on the front cover, there is no way you will be taken seriously.

So, ask friends to check over your manuscript, or better yet, employ a few proofreaders to check it over for you. Don’t use the same editor to proofread, as they will find it more challenging to spot minute mistakes by the time they have reread the story more than once. A fresh pair of eyes will likely do a better job.

31. Autobiographies on the Shelf

The autobiographies in our bookshops today, you will notice, are mostly written by celebrities. This is because they often have interesting lives that we want to read about. They include incidents that we could never have access to otherwise, in our day to day lives.

And that’s what makes them so appealing.

Most people are not so interested in other’s lives, unless they have done something extraordinary. So if you’re thinking of writing something purely to try and get it sold, then you might want to rethink the genre you are writing in. We’re not saying it doesn’t happen that unknown authors sell a lot of autobiographies. It does. It’s just a lot less likely.

But don’t dismay, this is only a problem if that is the only reason you are writing your book. If it is because you feel impassioned to do so, then that is all the reason you need.

If it is for your friends and family to read, then you need not worry about big sales or landing a large publisher. It is so easy to self-publish these days on a relatively small budget, that you are pretty much guaranteed to achieve your aim.

If you are looking for a book deal, then you might be hard pushed, if you can’t say your life has an original element to it at all. If this is the case, consider writing a memoir , instead. There are many more memoirs written by ordinary people with extraordinary stories, than autobiographies. Because people love to hear about how ordinary people overcame the odds.

No matter what your reason, if you believe in your book enough to start writing the first page, then don’t let anyone stop you from writing the book inside of you.

So there you have it. Hopefully you will now feel confident about how to write an autobiography and ready to start. All it takes, is putting pen to paper.

Josh Fechter

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How To Write An Autobiography: A Detailed & Comprehensive Guide

  • March 28, 2022

When contemplating how to write an autobiography, many people are led to assume that it’s simple. It’s just your own life story, put through the writing process. However, when writing your own autobiography, you may find that the writing process is a little more complicated than just starting with your birth and telling the story of your own life up to the present moment.

A person’s life is more than just the big events, and it’s seldom ever a solitary story. There are life lessons that need to be included. Family members and their impact on you are a part of autobiography writing as well. If you want to write an autobiography, you have to be conscious of your life story, as a tale that built the person you are, not just a string of events.

This article will help you figure out how to write an autobiography so that it’s not just the story of your own life but a personal story that others can relate to, find inspiration in, and learn from.

What is an Autobiography?

An autobiography is more than just the life story of someone. The person’s life being described is your own; therefore, it is far more personal than a novel or work of fiction. It is essential to stay truthful when recalling your own memories. The slightest deviation in honesty is a slippery slope and can quickly take you from autobiography writing to fiction writing.

How An Autobiography is Different from a Biography

A biography is the telling of someone else’s life. You choose someone, such as a family member, a friend, or a famous person, and you tell the story of his or her own life while leaving your own story out of it. A biography takes a large amount of research and expertise regarding the subject’s life story and events that they lived through. An autobiography works in the same fashion, but it’s the story of you. You are the ultimate expert in your own life. Therefore, there’s not much research to be done.

Another significant difference between autobiographical writing and biographical writing is the voice that is used. When you write an autobiography, you want to use first-person writing. You are telling the story of you. Therefore you should tell it from your own point of view.

On the other hand, biographies should always be written from a third-person point of view. Third-person is using “he, she, they, them.” You were not there, you did not witness the events you are writing about, and therefore, you should be telling the story from an outsider’s viewpoint.

How an Autobiography is Different from a Memoir

A memoir tells your own story, but not your entire life story. Often written to convey a specific message, a memoir includes snippets and anecdotes that occur throughout your entire life. Still, it’s not the detailed story of a life in its entirety. Both of these types of writing are done in the first-person point of view. First-person uses pronouns such as “I, we, and us.”

For example, if you were to write a memoir about how 9/11 affected you personally, you might write about your life the year that the attack occurred. You may even give some bits of information about your childhood, your career, or your family life from before the event. Then you would provide details and focus on 9/11 itself and what you did and were doing that day. Later, you might skip ahead and give stories from your life about how it changed you, but you wouldn’t tell the story of your entire life.

How to Write An Autobiography

Future Tense in an Autobiography

The future tense is tricky when it comes to writing. Most autobiographies recall events that have already occurred in a step-by-step process. This process takes the reader from the beginning to another point in the not-so-distant past or right up to the present.

The end is often written in the present tense, but most of the time, the story stops there. Basic principles of tense apply if you decide to speculate or include your hopes, dreams, or fears for the future.

Tips on How to Write an Autobiography

Your own autobiography should include details that encompass your life from birth to the present. When the writing process begins, you should write in the past tense to let the readers know that the events you are writing about have already occurred.

When you get to the present day, remember to switch your tense to the present tense so that the readers understand that you are discussing where you are in your life now. Mistakes in tense usage can be fixed in the first draft revision, but it’s best to try to get yourself in the habit of switching tenses as you go from the past events to the present day when you write an autobiography.

The following are other important tips about what content to include that will help you learn how to write an engaging and well-executed autobiography.

Autobiography Questions

Below are some autobiography questions that can guide you when writing about your life story:

  • What has motivated you to write an autobiography?
  • Who made a significant impact or influence in your life?
  • Who are the people who surround you?
  • What are the remarkable memories you have? 
  • Did anyone not support you on your journey and you proved them wrong?
  • What inspires you?
  • What demotivates you?
  • What do you consider the best time in your life?
  • What quote best depicts and summarizes your life?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What kind of family relationships do you have?
  • What moments in life do you feel like you could be truly proud of yourself?
  • What do you think are some of your flaws?
  • What do you desire to have in the future/where would you like to be?
  • What do you do to upskill, and in which field would you like to focus your energy?
  • What are your set of principles and personal values?
  • How have your values defined who you are today?
  • What is your dream career path?
  • Have you advocated for something?
  • If there was one thing you wanted everyone to know about you, what would it be?

Your Background

It’s essential to start by telling your readers where you’re from, when you were born, and who your family members are when you write an autobiography. 

This does not mean that you need to include how long your mother was in labor (unless the story of your birth is a particularly interesting one), what the hospital room number was, how much you weighed, how long you were, and what you scored on the Apgar test. Those are details that are nice to include in your baby book, but almost no one is interested in those details but you and your mom.

What you should include is where you were born (city, state, country), a story or two about a family member who meant a lot to you when you were a child or teenager, what your educational background was like, what kind of kid you were, and what your family life was like.

Keeping it general and sticking to just a few personal stories and anecdotes is enough. If you want to know how to write an autobiography that doesn’t bore the reader to tears or sleep within the first few pages, keep the details specific to significant events in your childhood, and keep the more drab and general stories to yourself.

Write About Hardship or Failure

While it may not be the most glamorous of life events you have experienced, writing about hard times, failure, and times of struggle help the reader relate to you, feel empathy and care about the story of your life. 

Making your life seem perfect simply because writing about something that didn’t work out, hurt you, or made you unpopular because you see it as embarrassing will only hurt you in the long run because the reader will not be engaged.

When you go back and read your first draft, ask yourself if what you have written will touch anyone who has struggled similarly to you. If not, go back and rewrite it to include at least a few stories of hard times.

Come Up with a Catchy and Compelling Title

Autobiographical writing doesn’t have to be boring, and neither should your title. Steer clear of titles such as; Jane Doe: An Autobiography. Unless you’re famous, you’re not compelling anyone to pick it up and read it. Equally boring is; Jane Doe: The Story of my Life.

How To How to write An Autobiography

Try to come up with something catchy and engaging when you come up with the title. Readers are more likely to read an autobiography written by someone with a witty or smart title than someone who didn’t have the writing skills or creativity to create something more original.

Instead, try for something like; A Beautiful Disaster: The Story of Jane Doe. This title denotes that you don’t take yourself too seriously, but you respect and love yourself while admitting that your life can sometimes be a mess.

You don’t even need to have your name in your title if you have a catchy title. Take this example into consideration; Hot Mess Express: The Story of One Tired Mom. This sort of title is fun, funny, and will catch the attention of mothers, especially those with young children.

Significant Events

When considering how to write an autobiography, keep in mind that significant events in your life should always be included. When you write an autobiography, you are looking for points in your personal story that impacted you and helped to shape you into the person that you are now.

Maybe that was a move across the country, the death of someone close to you, finding love, or your first kiss. Perhaps it was being the first person in your family to go to college, starting your own business, or the birth of your first child.

Be sure to include the less wonderful but still significant events in your life, as well. Things like your first heartbreak, divorce, the loss of a job, poverty you experienced, or trauma that compelled you to rise above your station and seek help to gain self-improvement or lessons learned from these experiences.

Have a Central Idea

What is the most important thing you want to say to the reader with this story? Is it that you started out with nothing and rose up to success? Is it that you had success and lost it all? Maybe it’s that love and dedication to family are more important than success in a career or climbing a social ladder.

Whatever your central idea, identify it and then figure out how you can put it in autobiography format.

The Steps Involved to Write an Autobiography

When thinking of how to write an autobiography, consider that the writing process begins in much the same way that it does with any sort of writing. You should consider following the following steps if you want to learn how to write an autobiography effectively.

Create an Autobiographical Outline

Just like any literary work, you should have an outline. After you have taken some time to reflect on what you want to include, get it written down in autobiography outline form. Include all of the parts of your life that you think you might want to incorporate, and then separate them into categories, focusing on what you think will be of medium to high interest to a reader.

What is meant by “medium to high interest” is that the events are significant enough to garner enough interest for the reader. That they will feel compelled to continue reading to see what happened to you next or how you got through an event or part of your life that you describe.

Do Your Homework

Just because you know what happened to you, and you have the general information and experiences from things like your childhood, it doesn’t mean that you have the knowledge to write it well.

If you don’t know how to describe the setting, society in the era you’re writing about, and the culture, it will seem that you don’t know how to write an autobiography, and readers will start to lose interest.

Look into things like the area you grew up in and what life was like in that area when you were a child. Get a family history from members of your family, such as where your family originated from, what your parents and grandparents did for a living, and any other significant information you may need that you don’t know about the people from whence you came.

Complete the First Draft

Your first draft may not be very clean, and it will most likely have things in it that need to be cut out. You may get too wordy talking about specific periods of your life and may not supply enough story to others. You won’t know until you get that first draft under your belt.

Once you complete this draft, take some time off and let the work sit. Taking a break before revisiting puts distance between yourself and your story, and you’re far more likely to be able to come at the revision process in an open-minded matter once you have that distance.

How To Write An Autobiography

Revise and Rewrite

As with any writing that you do, whether it’s an autobiography, novel, personal essay, research paper, or news article, you have to revise your work. Proofread, fix simple and obvious mistakes, and add to the things that need more description while cutting out the unnecessary parts.

Once you have fixed grammar mistakes and taken the story from what looks like a personal diary to a narrative account of your life experiences, you can start writing the next draft. Make sure to determine your desired writing style before you rewrite, and make sure that the content matches that style.

How to Properly Structure an Autobiography

Whether you’re writing a full-length book or an autobiographical essay, you still have to have structure to your writing. While an autobiographical essay is shorter, the structure is much the same. The following are some tips that will help you figure out how to write an autobiography format that works well.

Write in Chronological Order

While it’s perfectly fine for a novel to have a timeline that skips and jumps around, the best way to tell a good story of your own experiences and personal memories is to do so in chronological order or the order in which things happened.

The very beginning of your autobiography should cover your birth, then childhood, then education, then young adulthood, on up to the present moment. This creates a timeline of each significant personal experience that is easy to follow and doesn’t confuse the reader.

Don’t Fictionalize Names or Places

Professional writers of fiction often create characters based on people they know or even themselves. They give these characters fake names and personas and rename towns and businesses so as not to make the writing too personal. All the details of the real people may be present, but when you write fiction, you have the freedom to change things.

An autobiography covers actual events, so the writing needs to be honest. If you grew up in Toledo, Ohio, say that. Don’t make up the name of a town. If you grew up with a mother named Tess, say that. Don’t give her a fake name. Being truthful about your family and your life is essential. You’re not the only character in this story, and it’s unfair and not suitable to misrepresent a setting or person in your life.

Add Family Photos or Other Personal Touches

The most compelling television episodes are the ones in which there is a strong story and a strong visual to accompany it. You can create an effect very close to this by including photos, artwork, letters shared by people close to you, and more. Just be sure that you ask for and are granted permission before you do this, especially if the photos are used to identify weak moments in your life for any reason.

Be Thorough in Describing Pivotal Moments

Significant moments in life that occur, such as academic achievements, turning points, and the things that build up to a story arc for you, need to be built up in a way that creates both interest and intrigue for your reader. Include details like how negative experiences shaped your understanding or outlook on things or how you learned to be completely free of stress because of how stressful and frantic your life used to be.

These things make up the critical elements in what amounts to a full life. And being completely transparent and thorough in the telling of it gives the reader the freshest possible perspective, especially if you acknowledge as the writer that you are reflecting upon the story you’re telling, as you tell it.

The Final Draft When Writing an Autobiography

So you’ve completed all of the steps mentioned above, and you’ve worked out your outline, title, and other details that seem small but are incredibly important. Now it’s time to write the final draft so that your favorite story, the story of you, can become someone else’s favorite story.

The Last Revision

Once you have completed that final draft , you still need to go back and ensure that everything you wanted and needed to include is present and accounted for. Clarity is sometimes an issue when a person is trying to figure out how to write an autobiography. Try reading your story aloud, and if it makes sense to someone else or even to you as you read it with your own voice, then it’s probably thorough enough.

Make Sure the Title Agrees with the Content

The last thing you want is a misleading title. Make sure that the title goes along with your autobiography’s overall tone and message.

For example, if you wrote a sad story about heartache and loss of hope, don’t title your story: Little Miss Sunshine: The Story of One Woman from the Midwest. Be sure that the mood, message, and tone align with the title you have decided on. If they don’t fit, it’s much easier to change the title than the mood and tone of the story.

Autobiography Format

Below we have outlined the format that you can utilize when writing an autobiography:

  • Title – It should reflect what your life story conveys or what it is like to be you.
  • Dedication – This section states whom you would like to dedicate your autobiography.
  • Table of Contents – It helps your readers to locate specific parts of your autobiography.
  • Acknowledgments – This is where you express your gratitude to the people who have helped you on your journey.
  • Foreword – It highlights the purpose of the autobiography.
  • Introduction – This provides a glimpse of who you are as the author, and if this is effective, the reader will continue reading your book.
  • Body Section – This is where the events in your life are chronologically narrated, along with all the necessary details. It can contain many headings and subheadings.
  • Conclusion – This is where you share all your revelations and successes, while also referencing your own personal experiences.
  • Memorabilia – You may include significant pictures or any other objects that have impacted your life.
  • Index – It helps the reader browse through your autobiography by using main keywords or concept words.

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Home / Book Writing / How to Write an Autobiography and Publish it in 7 Easy Steps

How to Write an Autobiography and Publish it in 7 Easy Steps

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a famous figure to write an autobiography. In fact, if you want to write a novel or some other nonfiction book but just don't know where to start, an autobiography could be an ideal project to tackle. 

There are many different kinds of autobiographies from which to choose, so you don't have to keep a narrow focus or use a cookie-cutter mold for your book or autobiography essay. Read on as we tackle how to write an autobiography. 

  • Different kinds of autobiographies.
  • Steps to help you write your autobiography.
  • Tips to strengthen your storytelling skills while writing.

Table of contents

  • Autobiography vs Memoir
  • The Benefits of Writing an Autobiography
  • Before You Write, Read
  • Step 1: Decide on a Type and Scope
  • Step 2: Research and Outline
  • Step 3: Craft Your Story to Entertain
  • Step 4: Write Your First Draft
  • Step 5: Pause—Then Edit and Rewrite
  • Step 6: Get a Professional Editor
  • Step 7: Publish!
  • How to Write an Autobiography: Conclusion

The Many Types of Autobiographies

An autobiography in its broadest terms is a book about a person's entire life (or at least the interesting parts), written by that person . If you wanted to write a book about someone else's life, you'd be writing a biography . 

But within the autobiography genre, there are many other subgenres to choose from. These include:

  • Intellectual
  • Religious/Spiritual

An intellectual autobiography focuses on the author's life in terms of intellectual evolution and fulfillment. Often (but not always) written by people who have had a lot of schooling, the intellectual autobiography aims to analyze how certain experiences affected the author's life in terms of education, intelligence, and thought patterns. 

A religious or spiritual autobiography is one concerning the author's spiritual enlightenment. If you've found God (in any form) or have gravitated to a more spiritual life as you've aged, then this could be a good genre for you.  

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Thematic autobiographies are those that look upon a person's life story through the lens of a certain theme. This could be love, loss, perseverance, family, or even something like mental health, addiction, or mental illness. If you've noticed a theme in your life that has influenced your choices repeatedly, a thematic autobiography could be a good choice for you. 

A fictional autobiography is one that uses events from the author's real life while changing certain other elements freely. There are no hard-and-fast rules about what can and can't be real—or what percentage of each you must include. It could be that you use mostly real events but embellish them, change characters around, or make up certain exchanges. The most important part is that you don't claim it's a true autobiography when it's really a fictional one.  

It can be easy to confuse an autobiography and a memoir—which is in fact a type of autobiographical writing . The big difference is that autobiographies cover the author's whole life. Memoirs, on the other hand, focus on certain aspects of the author's life, usually in service of a theme.  

If you want to focus on your career or your childhood instead of covering your whole life, then a memoir could be a better fit for you. If so, you can check out our memoir writing prompts article . 

There are a ton of benefits to writing an autobiography. There's an old adage that goes “write what you know.” And there's no better genre to do just that! By diving into your personal story and examining life lessons and experiences, you don't have to worry about getting writer's block. You know the plot and the characters, which can help you get into a rhythm. 

This can not only give you confidence as a writer, but it can also make you a better writer as you go. A good autobiography is a lot like a novel in a lot of ways, so you use the same skills you would in a novel by painting a picture for your reader. 

But the benefits don't end with developing as a writer. It can also help you deal with traumatic events and process significant moments in your life. The goal, after all, isn't to dwell on any perceived wrongs or get back at anyone. The goal is to make sense of your personal experience by turning it into a story that readers will enjoy. 

Now that we've covered that introductory ground, let's get into how to write an autobiography, step by step. 

I would be remiss if I didn't say that you must first familiarize yourself with autobiography examples before you can write one. As such, here are some famous autobiographies to read so you can see how it's done. 

  • Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
  • I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  • Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Complete Guide to Autobiography Writing

Writing an autobiography can be a rewarding endeavor, but it’s not easy. Even though it’s about your own life, it still requires research, time, effort, and some writing skill to get done. The steps below take you through the writing process, from choosing your focus to choosing your publishing avenue. 

While an autobiography covers the author's whole life, that doesn't mean that every single detail needs to go in. Even if you could remember what you had for breakfast on April 7th when you were ten years old, there would be no reason to include it unless some significant event happened at that time. 

So the first step in the writing process is deciding what type of autobiography it will be . This, in turn, will help you decide on the scope. If it will be an intellectual autobiography, you may want to spend time focusing on your early schooling and how that impacted your ability to learn or your love of knowledge. 

On the other hand, if you're writing an autobiography themed on marriage or romantic love, you probably won't have a lot of ground to cover during your childhood years. 

Pro Tip: Write a short personal statement about why you want to write an autobiography. There's no wrong answer, but putting your “why” into words can help you keep focused through the process. 

Once you have your scope in mind, you can start doing research and outlining in broad strokes the exact events you want to cover. This is when your idea starts to take shape in your mind and on the page. 

Researching will mean delving into your family history, busting out the yearbooks, and opening up the (physical or digital) photo albums. It will mean talking to parents, friends, siblings, and other family members. To get things right, it's important not to rely just on your fallible memory. Get multiple perspectives and sources on any important event you plan to cover.  

This is also a great time to get permission to use people's names in your book. Everyone you include in the story by name should give their permission. While this isn’t legally required, it’s a courtesy. However, it’s unlikely you will be sued for anything you say in a book unless it is blatantly slanderous.

Research is a time-consuming step in the process. But it's essential for forming your autobiography in your mind. You may even learn things about your family that you never knew before!

Just write everything down (or record it) so you can reference what people have said later. Using all your research, start crafting an autobiography outline in a Word document or on paper. 

Pro Tip: If you're not sure you have enough to say to fill a book, you can write an autobiographical essay first. If you still feel like you have a lot to say after writing an essay of a few thousand words, then you may have a book's worth inside your head!

Since you don't have to include every single detail in your memoir, you get to prioritize certain things over others. And while most autobiographies move in chronological order, it doesn't preclude you from using a hook to engage your readers. 

Perhaps you want to open your autobiography with a single event that changed your life . If this means jumping forward in time in your autobiography introduction to hook the reader before jumping back to your childhood, then that's perfectly fine. 

The point is, your autobiography needs to entertain the reader. And to do this, you can craft it like a novel. The one thing your book shouldn't be is full of dry, academic writing.

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You're the protagonist of the autobiography. And being a human, you're flawed. Make this clear to the reader while also giving them a reason to like you and root for you early in the book. Unless you're writing a fictional autobiography, this needs to be a true anecdote. But it shouldn't be hard to find. 

Think about all the other people in your story as characters . Each family member is there as a supporting role to you, the protagonist. Like you, they need to be interesting, if not always likable. It also helps to include conflict early on. Most people experience plenty of conflict in their lives, so this isn't usually hard.

When you think about your autobiography in this way, you can then refine your outline – or write a whole new one—with this in mind.

And once you're confident that you have the structure you want, it's time to start writing!

Since you're writing about your own experiences, you'll probably want to stick to the first person point of view . This is the most common autobiography format—even for those written with the help of a ghostwriter. For many authors, this comes naturally because it's how we tell stories to each other. 

That said, writing “I” over and over again can get a little old. This is normal. Just take it as an opportunity to vary your sentences instead of starting every one of them with “I.”

The writing process is different for every author, but it's important that you commit to a certain word goal per day or week . Make this goal attainable and stick to it. If you go weeks or months without getting words down, you'll just have to work harder to get back into the rhythm of autobiography writing. 

That said, give yourself room to make mistakes during the first draft. When you accept that your first draft won’t be perfect and only focus on getting the words down, things get a lot easier. You can always go back and edit later. But you won’t have anything to edit if you don't write!

When you're done with your first draft, let it sit for a couple of weeks or a month. This will allow you to get some distance from the words, which can help you look at them with a critical eye when it comes time to work on your subsequent drafts. 

Some authors even do this after each consecutive draft. But many find that it's most beneficial after the first one. 

Whether you wait a week or a month or more is up to you. But you can certainly find a sweet spot that works best for your writing schedule. 

Recording your life story is no easy task. And you will, by definition, be close to it. So this distance is imperative to achieve a dispassionate look at it. From there, you can make changes and re-work it until you think it's ready for another pair of eyes. 

Once you've made your autobiography as good as you can make it, it's time to seek help. While you can certainly give a copy of the book to some friends and family to see what they think, keep in mind they're likely biased. Chances are they're also not professional editors, either. 

This is why it's always a good idea to hire an editor —preferably one who's familiar with autobiographies. Of course, there are many different kinds of editors. And taking a critical look at your book in step 5 is important for choosing the right kind. 

If you think there are some structural issues with the book, you may want to hire a developmental editor. If you want someone to find typos and grammar issues, then a line editor may be best. 

For more information, check out our article on different kinds of editing . 

No matter what kind you go with, getting the feedback of an unbiased professional can do wonders for your autobiography . 

Even if you're not looking to make millions with your autobiography, publishing can still be a lot of fun. While it's hard to get a book deal for an autobiography unless you're already a celebrity, self-publishing is always an option. 

With a formatted manuscript and a professional cover, you can have your book up on Amazon and other online retailers in short order. You can even order author copies of your paperback to give to friends and family. 

To learn more about this process, check out our self-publishing hub .  

Whether you want to sell your autobiography to a wide audience or simply have it around for future generations of your family to read, writing about your life experience is a worthwhile endeavor. It can help you become a better writer while reflecting on your life and the lessons learned. 

To cover your life story in a compelling manner means leaving some things out and focusing more on others. Pivotal moments in your life should be the “plot points” of your autobiography. Striving to meet some goal should create a through-line for the reader. And the setbacks on your way to that goal can create the conflict needed to keep things interesting. 

Of course, all this should be true—unless you're writing a fictional autobiography!

Dave Chesson

When I’m not sipping tea with princesses or lightsaber dueling with little Jedi, I’m a book marketing nut. Having consulted multiple publishing companies and NYT best-selling authors, I created Kindlepreneur to help authors sell more books. I’ve even been called “The Kindlepreneur” by Amazon publicly, and I’m here to help you with your author journey.

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my autobiography

How to write an autobiography: 7 key steps

Many people who’ve lived interesting lives want to learn how to write an autobiography. Whether you want to write a memoir or a fictional autobiography, these 7 steps will help you start:

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 4 Comments on How to write an autobiography: 7 key steps

my autobiography

What is autobiography?

Autobiography means to write about yourself, typically the account of significant events in your life. The word stems from the Greek, αὐτός (autos) meaning self , plus βίος (bios) meaning life and γράφειν ( graphein ) – to write.

Autobiography vs memoir: What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between autobiography and memoir? Are there specific kinds of autobiography? These may be questions you ask as you set out to write your life story.

As Ian Jack writes in The Guardian , there are differences between autobiography vs memoir although the terms are often used interchangeably:

An autobiography is usually a record of accomplishment. All kinds of people, more or less famous, can write them or be helped to write them: footballers, politicians, newsreaders. Deeds, fame and an interesting life are not necessary ingredients of the memoir. The memoir’s ambition is to be interesting in itself, as a novel might be, about intimate, personal experience. It often aspires to be thought of as “literary”, and for that reason borrows many of literature’s tricks – the tricks of the novel, of fiction – because it wants to do more than record the past; it wants to re-create it. If a memoir is to succeed on those terms, on the grounds that all lives are interesting if well-enough realised, the writing has to be good. Ian Jack, in The Guardian , February 2003.

7 steps to write your own life story:

  • Brainstorm your autobiography’s focus and scope
  • Skim autobiographies for inspiration
  • Choose between autobiography and memoir
  • Outline key and illustrative life events
  • Draft key scenes from your life
  • Find strong transitions
  • Check details and get beta readers

1. Brainstorm your autobiography’s focus and scope

Deciding what period and events you’ll cover in your life story is a helpful first step in choosing how to write an autobiography.

Squishing the intrigues, heartbreaks, surprises and secrets of your life into narrative form may seem an impossible task. Life of course does not unfold in neat paragraphs, scenes and chapters.

Make it easier and brainstorm your autobiography’s focus and scope. Ask:

  • What period of my life do I want to tell readers about?
  • Where should the timeline start? (Infancy? Childhood? Adolescence?)
  • What are key events of my life readers may find intriguing?

This will help you refine your autobiography’s focus [you can also pinpoint your story’s focus in the Central Idea brainstorming tool in the Now Novel dashboard].

For deciding your story’s scope, ask:

  • What essential scenes and events should I include?
  • What themes or subjects need mention (for example, if you have experienced a trauma or illness that has greatly impacted your life, exploring personal events and insights that resulted from them would make sense)

Autobiography Exercise: Scenes to show

Write a brief bullet list of events to include in your autobiography or memoir.

Focus on events that show strong emotion, key turning points or changes, or vivid life lessons , because these connect with readers.

For example:

  • A first encounter with someone who turned out to be an amazing mentor
  • A positive or challenging move to another school, city or country in childhood
  • The first time you met a major love interest in your life
  • The moment you walked away from a job or other commitment to pursue a new dream

How to write an autobiography - infographic | Now Novel

2. Skim autobiographies for inspiration

One of the best ways to learn how to write an autobiography is, of course, to read published examples.

Get hold of copies of autobiographies that interest you . Skim parts such as the beginning and end, chapter beginnings and endings. Read for details that leap out at you, grab your attention.

Take notes on how the author approaches telling their life story. Do they:

  • Proceed chronologically from childhood to adulthood or play with time and memories?
  • Start with a dramatic, life-changing incident or lead in slowly?
  • Tell the reader what they’re going to cover or leave the reader to gradually discover the narrative structure or shape of the story?

Reading autobiography and note-taking in this way helps you see the options for how to structure your narrative.

3. Choose between autobiography and memoir

Reading autobiography examples will help you see how authors use common narrative elements.

For example, the acclaimed author Vladimir Nabokov begins Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited :

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. […] I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. Vladimir Nabokov, Speak Memory : An Autobiography Revisted (1967), 17.

Nabokov, in typically ornate fashion, breaks the ‘rules’ of autobiography. He uses third person to describe a ‘ young chronophobiac’ – one who is afraid of time. We can guess this ‘young chronophobiac’ is Nabokov himself, and that he is using a tone of ironic detachment to imply that the act of dredging through memories – or even the idea of time itself – fills him with ‘something like panic’.

The above seems more like a literary play with form (an attribute Ian Jack ascribes memoir) than a straightforward, chronological autobiography.

Readers might indeed wonder why Nabokov calls Speak, Memory an autobiography.

Nabokov does, however, proceed more or less chronologically, from before his birth, to Chapter 2 which begins:

It was the primordial cave (and not what Freudian mystics might suppose) that lay behind the games I played when I was four. Nabokov, Speak, Memory , p. 20.

Thus Nabokov blends elements of memoir. He blends illustrative snapshots of life (the part illuminating the whole) with key events (birth, childhood) typical of autobiographical narration.

Thinking about how you’ll structure your life story , however, will make it more purposeful and consistent.

Jump to Top

4. Outline key and illustrative life events

In deciding how to write an autobiography, there are two types of events to include:

  • Key events – Crucial, formative experiences, for example an early childhood triumph or loss that shaped your view of the world.
  • Illustrative events – Individual encounters, lessons, romances, teachers and mentors that provide texture, background, humour, drama or the other vital elements of storytelling .

Examples of key events and illustrative events in autobiography

As an example, Nabokov uses the games he would play as a child at the start of chapter two to illustrate how he came to value imagination and beauty . He describes making a couch tent:

I then had the fantastic pleasure of creeping through that pitch-dark tunnel, where I lingered a little to listen to the singing in my ears – that lonesome vibration so familiar to small boys in dusty hiding places – and then, in a burst of delicious panic, on rapidly thudding hands and knees I would reach the tunnel’s far end…’ Nabokov, Speak, Memory , p. 20.

This is an example of illustrative event: a scene in autobiography that reveals something about the author.

In this case, we see Nabokov’s love of games of imagination and sensory stimulation (something one finds abundant in his fiction).

An example of a key event would be a major relocation, a historical conflict (such as war), or another key turning point. For example, Nabokov describes the effects of the Russo-Japanese War (a key event) in 1905 on the family unit:

The close of Russia’s disastrous campaign in the Far East was accompanied by furious internal disorders. Undaunted by them, my mother, with her three children, returned to St. Petersburg after almost a year of foreign resorts. Nabokov, Speak, Memory , p. 24.

Autobiography exercise: Finding key and illustrative events

Write a bullet list each of key and illustrative events – a sentence describing each. Examples:

  • The year my family moved from Country A to Country B
  • The first time I held a violin in my hands
  • The first close friendship I ever made at school

Illustrative Events

  • The experience and emotion of boarding a plane for the first time
  • A specific funny or insightful violin lesson or teacher
  • A day with a close school friend that left an indelible impression

Autobiography and art - Fellini quote | Now Novel

5. Draft key scenes from your life

Now that you have ideas for key and illustrative events in your life, expand on an example.

Use the techniques of fiction to enrich the scene.

For example, Nabokov describes his sensory impressions behind the family couch.

  • Impressions of sound, smell, touch, taste or specific visual details
  • Emotions (Nabokov conveys a palpable sense of the child’s simultaneous delight in secrecy and panic in the dark when he describes crawling through the tunnel he made using the family couch)

As you draft, keep this in mind: What do I want to tell, show, teach? How will this help, entertain, surprise, amuse my reader?

6. Find strong transitions

Learning how to write an autobiography is not that different from learning how to write fiction.

For one, autobiographical writing and fiction writing both need engaging introductions, transitions, exposition and development.

An advantage of memoir and autobiography is that transition is a shared, relatable part of life.

For example, most children in countries where school attendance is required by law will leave the family unit and go out into the world at a similar age.

These key life changes are useful places in a memoir or autobiography for chapter breaks or scene transitions . Nabokov, for example, uses the family move to St Petersburg at the start of Chapter 4 to transition into describing his first teacher, a natural early childhood memory to include:

With a sharp and merry blast from the whistle that was part of my first sailor suit, my childhood calls me back into that distant past to have me shake hands again with my delightful teacher. Vasiliy Martinovich Zhernosekov had a fuzzy brown beard, a balding head, and china-blue eyes, one of which bore a fascinating excrescence on the upper lid. Nabokob, Speak, Memory , p. 24.

Note how Nabokov signals the narrative transition – by describing a sound he associates with that period of his life. It’s a vivid, descriptive way to end one section of story and begin another.

7. Check details and get beta readers

As you write an autobiography or memoir, it’s often helpful to speak to family or old friends. Because you never know who may remember a funny, interesting or surprising detail about a time you are remembering and trying to capture.

The people who know you best may be your best beta readers when you write about yourself. It’s also good etiquette, if writing about a family member or friend who is still living, to run sections concerning them past them.

Need someone to read over your autobiography so far? Get help from a skilled editor. Jump to Top

Related Posts:

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  • How to write a flashback scene: 7 key steps
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my autobiography

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

4 replies on “How to write an autobiography: 7 key steps”

Just starting to write a family history beginning with what I know about my immigrant grandparents, then with a follow-up through moves and my childhood.

Hi Peter, that sounds a wonderful use of family history. I hope it is going well.

Very helpful.

Glad you found it helpful, Sally. Thanks for writing in.

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How to Write an Autobiography: 11 Simple Steps

  • February 18, 2024

Table of Contents:

What is an autobiography, how to write an autobiography.

  • 1- Outline Your Life's Timeline

2- Identify the Theme

3- gather memories, 4- be honest and reflective, 5- include influential people, 6- describe settings vividly, 7- express emotions, 8- edit and revise, 9- seek feedback, 10- incorporate visuals, 11- finalize your manuscript, 6 essential elements of autobiography, 4 examples of autobiography.

  • Example 1: "Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela
  • Example 2: "The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank
  • Example 3: "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
  • Example 4: "Dreams from My Father" by Barack Obama

Conclusion:

Autobiography.

Autobiography writing is when someone pens down their life story. It’s like creating a personal diary, but for everyone to read. In autobiography writing, the autobiography writers share their unique experiences and intimate memories. This type of writing allows the reader to see the author’s life and mind directly. It’s different from a biography, where another person tells your story. In an autobiography, it’s the person sharing their journey. It offers a special chance to step into their shoes and see the world from their eyes.

Find Your Focus: Beginning to write an autobiography starts with finding what to focus on. Reflect on the parts of your life that mean the most to you. Maybe it’s about your childhood days, the peaks of your career, or how you’ve grown personally. This focus acts like a compass for your writing. It makes sure your autobiography centers on the stories you find most vital. Think of it as choosing the key chapters of your life’s book you want everyone to read.

1- Outline Your Life’s Timeline

Creating a timeline is essential in writing an autobiography, akin to mapping your life’s journey. Begin from the outset, noting significant events in sequence, from birth to school days, influential people, career milestones, and more. This structured timeline serves as a guide, streamlining your narrative for clarity and coherence. It facilitates readers’ understanding, allowing them to accompany you through your life’s story. Whether documenting personal memories or delving into presidential biographies , a well-crafted timeline illuminates the path from your past to present.

Figuring out the theme is a crucial part of writing an autobiography. It’s like finding the heart of your story. What’s the big message or the most important lesson from your life? Maybe it’s about how you overcame tough times, the value of your family, or chasing your dreams. This theme adds more depth to your autobiography. It ties your various experiences together into a story that makes sense. A well-chosen theme can transform a simple list of life events into a powerful narrative that truly speaks to others.

As you embark on the journey of writing your autobiography, gathering memories is crucial. Start by collecting old photos, letters, and keepsakes reminiscent of different times. These items, akin to keys, unlock memories, aiding in recalling forgotten details and emotions. They weave together to narrate your life’s story, infusing authenticity and depth into your writing. Incorporating such pieces from your past can serve as a profound source of inspiration, alongside exploring memorable memoir examples .

Being honest and reflective is crucial when you write an autobiography. It’s not just about listing what happened in your life. You also need to think deeply about what these experiences mean to you. Being honest makes your story believable and trustworthy. At the same time, looking back thoughtfully lets you share the important lessons and understanding you’ve gained. This mix of honesty and reflection turns your autobiography into more than just a timeline of events. It becomes a deep dive into the essence of your life’s journey.

In every life story, including when you write an autobiography, key figures leave a lasting impact. It’s important to acknowledge these individuals in your writing. They could be family members, friends, mentors, or even challengers who have shaped who you are. Discuss how these people have influenced your choices, beliefs, and personal growth. Including them in your autobiography adds depth, showing how our lives are often interwoven with others, shaping us thoughtfully.

Bringing the places of your life to life is a crucial aspect when you write an autobiography. Vividly describe the settings where significant events of your life unfolded. It could be the house where you grew up, a school that was a big part of your life, or a city that left an indelible impression on you. Use your words to paint these places so that readers can see them in their minds. This level of detail makes your story more engaging and helps readers feel more connected to your journey.

As you get on the journey to write an autobiography, being open about your emotions is key. Share your feelings during the big moments of your life, whether they were filled with joyous challenges or were transformational in some way. Your emotional honesty brings another dimension to your story, making it more gripping and easier for readers to relate to. Let your readers experience your happiness, struggles, excitement, or fears. Emotions are a universal language, and sharing yours adds richness and depth to your story.

Once you’ve written your story, the next vital step in your journey to write an autobiography is editing and revising. Take a critical look at your work, focusing on clarity and impact. Simplify complex sentences, making your language easy to grasp. Ensure your storytelling is consistent and flows smoothly. Editing isn’t just about fixing grammar; it’s about fine-tuning your narrative and capturing the essence of your experiences in the most compelling way possible.

As you walk the path of writing an autobiography, seeking feedback is incredibly beneficial. Share your drafts with people you trust, those who grasp the essence of your story. This could be family members, close friends, or a writing group. Pay attention to their constructive criticism. Their insights may provide fresh perspectives or reveal areas needing improvement. Remember that feedback is invaluable for refining your story, making it more engaging and authentic.

An excellent way to enrich your autobiography is by adding visuals. Include photographs, documents, or any relevant imagery that can add a personal touch to your narrative. These visuals serve as tangible evidence of your experiences, helping to illustrate your story. They allow readers to visually connect with the people and places you describe, making your account more relatable and vivid. When you write an autobiography, remember that pictures can convey volumes.

The final step in your journey to write an autobiography is to finalize your manuscript. Review your entire story, ensuring it flows well from start to finish. Pay special attention to your conclusion – it should be strong and reflective, leaving a lasting impression on your readers. It’s your chance to summarize your life’s lessons and experiences, offering wisdom or insights from your journey. A well-crafted conclusion ties your story together beautifully.

By following these steps, one can effectively make an autobiography that is both engaging and meaningful. Along with these tips, you can also look towards biography writing services if you need help throughout your writing journey.

Honesty: When you set out to write an autobiography, being honest is key. Share your true story, the good and the bad. This honesty helps readers believe and connect with your journey, making it more real and relatable.

Detail is vital when you write an autobiography. Describe your experiences and events vividly. This brings your story to life, making it colorful and engaging for those who read it.

A clear order of events is important when you write an autobiography. It helps readers follow your story easily, understanding how your past shaped who you are today. A logical flow makes your story clearer and easy to follow.

Your autobiography should have a central theme. This is the main message or lesson from your life. A strong theme ties your experiences together, making your story more meaningful and impactful for your readers.

Sharing your feelings is essential when you write an autobiography. It lets readers connect with you on a deeper level. Your emotions make your story more powerful and touching, drawing readers into your world.

Reflecting on your experiences is a key part of an autobiography. It shows how you’ve grown and what you’ve learned. This reflection adds depth to your story, offering valuable insights and lessons to your readers.

“The Story of My Experiments with Truth” by Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhi’s autobiography isn’t just a history. It’s a journey into his beliefs and actions. Gandhi shares insights into his life’s pivotal moments, starting with his childhood. He talks about his philosophy of nonviolence and truth. This book gives us a unique look into how Gandhi thought and lived.

Example 1: “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela

This is the story of Nelson Mandela, a man who changed the world. Mandela grew up in a small village. He later became a symbol of peace, spending 27 years in prison. His fight against apartheid in South Africa shows us the power of resilience and hope.

Example 2: “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank

Anne Frank’s diary is a heart-rending account of World War II. She wrote it while hiding from the Nazis. Her words bring to life her fears and dreams. This diary is more than history. It’s a powerful reminder of courage in the face of danger.

Example 3: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s story is about overcoming. She faced racism and personal hardships in her early years. Her book tells how she found her voice against all odds. Angelou’s rich and expressive writing makes her experiences come alive. It’s an inspiring tale of empowerment.

Example 4: “Dreams from My Father” by Barack Obama

Before becoming president, Barack Obama wrote about his life. He talks about his diverse background and finding his identity. The book covers his early work and initial steps into politics. It offers a glimpse into the experiences that shaped his leadership. Obama’s story is about growth and understanding.

The journey to write an autobiography is not just about recording events; it’s about sharing the essence of your life story with the world. It’s a process of self-examination, discovery, and creation. Remember, your story is unique; only you can tell it with the depth and authenticity it deserves. Whether you write a biography or an autobiography, the key is to stay true to your experiences and the lessons they have taught you.

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my autobiography

How to write an autobiography (and actually finish it)

If you’ve ever tried writing your autobiography, chances are you haven’t finished. This article gives you one simple strategy on how to write an autobiography, and actually finish it!

There are lots of reasons why this is the case, but it comes down to a few main things:

  • You’ve set the bar high:  You want your autobiography to be something you’re proud of — something to share with your family. But something that makes you proud isn’t easy to create. It takes time. It’s hard work.
  • You’ve lost steam:  Writing is typically a solo activity. Without colleagues or friends to keep you on track, it’s easy to lose motivation.
  • You’ve followed the wrong advice:  Here’s a 10-second challenge. Google “How to write my autobiography” and see what pops up. Chances are, one of the top results is a WikiHow article with 1.84 million views. Its popularity would make you think the article is helpful — but try and apply this advice: “The trick to writing an autobiography is to treat it like any good story: it should have a protagonist (you), a central conflict, and a cast of fascinating characters to keep people engaged.” True? Maybe. Helpful or practical? Absolutely not.

The one question you need to ask yourself

The most important question that you need to ask yourself is this: WHY do you want to write your autobiography?

Do you want to:

A) Start a passion project that you don’t mind sinking years into with no end in sight? B) Write your life story for someone to actually read it, like your children or grandchildren?

Here’s what we predict. A handful of you are in group A. And If so, just keep writing, have fun and don’t worry about ever finishing it (because you probably won’t — and that’s OK). But if you’re in group B and actually want to finish and publish your life story for someone to read, then you need a strategy.

How to write an autobiography

In a nutshell: Answer questions about your life and write down your answers.

A bit of background, when my daughter was born my wife and I realised how little we knew about our parents and their family histories. We wanted their stories to be recorded so our daughter could one day read them and discover who they were beyond being her grandparents. So we went searching for a way to record their life stories that was fun and would lead to a beautiful book in the end. We wanted something affordable, easy to follow and perfect for a novice writer. We didn’t really find anything that worked.

Our solution? We designed an interview with 101 questions for our parents to answer. Every question was designed to be thought provoking and take no more than five minutes each to answer. We broke the questions up into different “life chapters” like childhood, work, love, family tree, children and more philosophical questions as well. The idea was that although the questions were simple enough to answer easily, they’d also be detailed enough to cover our parents’ lives. Plus, the question and answer format gave them an easy way to track progress as they got closer to finishing their book. It was easy, motivating and most importantly — they finished their books!

my autobiography

 The Q&A format is authentic and enjoyable to read for family and friends

We then printed the books and they were better than we ever imagined. We learned so much about our parents and the interview format made it so compelling to read. Answer this: would you prefer to hear someone narrate your great-grandfather’s entire life story from beginning to end or read an interview with him written in his own words? Which will make you feel like you’re having a conversation with him? Which will bring his story to life? The magic of an interview is it’s fascinating to read — as soon as you hear a question you need to know the answer.

Here are just some of the questions we liked best:

  • If you could share a meal with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
  • What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
  • What’s the most valuable thing your parents taught you?

My wife and I got so excited about how well our parents’ stories turned out that we launched A Life Untold to share this concept with the rest of the world. We tried really hard to get the price as low as possible so there’s virtually no barrier for anyone to ACTUALLY write and print their autobiography into a captivating and professionally designed hardcover book. In fact, we believe in it so much we’d like to challenge you NOT to finish once you’ve gotten started. I hope you give it a try!

Happy writing!

Turn your life story into a hardcover autobiography that your family will treasure forever. Find out more about our process.

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The Only (FREE) Autobiography Template You Need – 4 Simple Steps

POSTED ON Nov 22, 2023

Shannon Clark

Written by Shannon Clark

Are you looking for an autobiography template? 

First things first.

What is your story? Not the shiny, air-brushed one you edit before posting on Instagram or the one you politely share during a writer’s chat on Zoom.

By your story, I mean the one with the cracks in it caused by childhood insecurities or the deep craters forged by unexpected collisions with life—the triumphs and tragedies that are forever etched into your DNA.

Yes, that story.

When you’re truly ready to write an autobiography, you’ll know it because you’ve come to a point in your life where the beauty of sharing your story has nothing to do with perfection. It’s knowing that despite the roller coaster ride that started at birth, you’ve found the courage to stay on it—sometimes holding on for dear life and other times riding with your hands up and screaming at the top of your lungs. 

Get your autobiography template here:

Need A Nonfiction Book Outline?

You’ve lived thoroughly and learned to embrace who you’ve become in the process, scars and all. 

This post will show you the format for writing an autobiography and the best way to package your story so you can provide the best reader experience possible.

This blog gives you a free autobiography template and more…

What is an autobiography.

The basic definition of an autobiography is that it’s a first-person account of your life. It differs from a memoir , which usually focuses on a single event or group of events that lead you to a discovery about yourself, your life, or some other revelation. An autobiography is a look at the total sum of your life from birth (early childhood) to the time of your book’s writing that highlights the key points that shaped who you’ve become.

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Ready to start writing your autobiography? Let's get into it…

What is the format for an autobiography? 

Just like any good story, every autobiography has a beginning, middle, and end. But before you begin filling in the sections, you want to come up with a theme for your book . Most people have too much life content to fit into one book. Selecting the parts that fit under the umbrella of a theme will make the book easier to follow. 

When coming up with a theme, think about what you want the key takeaway to be for the reader. You don’t want to give them some boring slog through your life history. If you want them to feel something, your book needs direction. That’s where your theme takes the lead. By keeping it in the back of your mind while writing, you’ll give your readers a track to stay on. Otherwise, they may lose interest and stop reading.

Once you have your theme, right down the events in your life that are related to your book’s focus. You’ll plug these into the outline as you develop it. 

Some examples of autobiography book themes are:

  • Overcoming challenges
  • Creating your own destiny
  • The unbreakable bonds of family
  • A faith journey
  • Perseverance

Your theme can be whatever you want it to be, but keep your audience in mind when selecting one. Below you’ll find an autobiography template. It includes an outline with writing prompts in each section. 

Whether you are an “outliner” (someone who outlines) or a “pantser” (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), the outline has enough structure and flexibility to make both writer types happy. 

Autobiography Template: An Outline

I've laid out what a traditional autobiography might look like below. But to really help you get the most out of the blog post, I recommend downloading our nonfiction book outline to use alongside this guide.

1.  Introduction 

Before you share your life story, prepare your readers for what is to follow by introducing yourself and telling them what they can expect. You can cover some or all of the following:

  • Why you are writing your autobiography?
  • What do you hope the reader will take away from the experience?
  • Any pertinent information that’s not covered in your book but that is needed for context.

2. The beginning – the early years

Since autobiographies are a condensed view of your life, you want to focus on the significant events that will move your story forward.

  • Where do you want to begin your story? 
  • Where does your book’s theme first show up when you look back over your life? You want the opening of your book to have an impact, so choose something that will hook your readers and bring them into your world.
  • How did your formative years influence how you viewed yourself? What we experience during our childhood can affect us for a lifetime. Consider how the early events of your life developed your character.
  • Who influenced you the most during your childhood?
  • What defining moments do you remember?

Where (on your timeline) and how you start your story is up to you. You want it to be something strong and significant to have the most impact on your reader. Here are the first few sentences of some autobiographies for inspiration .

Autobiography Template - &Quot;Not That Fancy&Quot; By Reba Mcentire

“Some would say the McEntires are a very set-in-their-ways, stubborn, hardheaded bunch of people. But I think that hardheadedness is what got Daddy to where he was, Grandpap to where he was, and his father, Pap, to where he was. Some might say it wasn't all that far- but it was much further than where they started!” 

– Not That Fancy: Simple Lessons on Living, Loving, Eating, and Dusting Off Your Boots by Reba McEntire

(Nostalgia / Specific Event)

Autobiography Template - &Quot;This Time Together&Quot; By Carol Burnett

“My grandmother Nanny and I were at the picture show. I hadn't reached two digits yet in age because I distinctly remember my feet couldn't touch the floor of the movie house. Nanny and I were still living in San Antonio, Texas. My mama and daddy had gone ahead to California, where Nanny and I would later wind up.” – This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett

(From Birth)

Autobiography Template - &Quot;God, Family, Country&Quot; By Craig Morgan

“ If you know my music, you almost certainly know me as Craig Morgan. But I was actually born Craig Morgan Greer. Craig Morgan came along many years later.” – God, Family, Country: A Memoir by Craig Morgan

  • 31 Best Autobiographies
  • 30 Celebrity Autobiographies

3. The middle- halfway between the early years and where you are today.

If you are using a timeline to divide your story, the period that you cover during the “middle” of your autobiography depends on how old you are at the writing of your book. If you are in your golden years, your midpoint might be in your 30s or 40s. For someone like Malala Yousafzai , who wrote her autobiography at age 15, her “middle” looked very different. 

Whichever “middle” you choose consider the following:

  • What are the defining moments during this time of your life? 
  • Did they change how you viewed yourself?
  • Did they change the trajectory of what you initially thought you’d do with your life?
  • Who had the most influence on your life during this time?
  • What are some of the challenges you faced? How did you overcome them?
  • Did your worldview change during this time? If so, in what ways?

If your “middle” doesn’t fit neatly into a timeline, consider grouping your autobiography into themed sections.

The autobiography Cash by Johnny Cash groups his story into sections based on places that had special meaning to him: Cinnamon Hill, The Road, Port Rickey, Bon Aqua, and The Road Again.

4. The end—wrap-up

The end of your autobiography is the climax. It’s what you’ve been leading your reader to since the first sentence of your book. 

  • Where are you in your life now? What have you learned? How has your journey impacted who you’ve become? 
  • How do you want the reader to feel when they read the last sentence of your book? Inspired? Hopeful? Full? Enlightened? Satisfied? All of the above? 
  • Is there any part of your life that feels unfinished or incomplete? 
  • Looking back over your life, what is the greatest lesson you learned?
  • Don’t forget your audience, especially at the beginning of your book. You want to hook your readers early and bring them along for the ride.
  • Write an eye-catching autobiography title for your book.
  • Leave out the minutia. If it doesn’t move your story along, drop it. 
  • Tone matters. A good rule of thumb is to write your story like you were talking to a friend. Your story doesn’t have to be a monotone race to the finish line. Spice it up. Add some sparkle. Make sure your personality shines through. 
  • It’s always about the story. Buyers pick up your book to be entertained. Regardless of how serious your story is, it should be presented in a way that makes the reader want to keep turning the page. 
  • Every good story has a resolution. Good or bad, offer a resolution for each life conflict you introduce.
  • As you share the final pieces of your story, use the end of your story to reflect on where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, and where you plan to go from there. Every relationship that ends can benefit from closure, and if the end of your story is not the end of your relationship with your reader, tell them where they can go to continue getting to know you.

Writing your autobiography is a courageous move, but who better to write your life story than you? If you have experiences that others will find interesting, share! You never know how your journey will impact someone else. 

If you’re serious about getting your story published, Selfpublishing.com has a team of publishing experts who can walk you through the book development process.

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Autobiography vs. Memoir - Differences & Similarities

How to Write a Memoir: Everything You Need to Know

Have you ever thought about telling your life story? 

An autobiography is like a special book about you – your experiences, ups, downs, and everything in between. 

But when it comes to autobiography writing , putting it all into words, it can feel a bit tricky, especially for students like you.

In this blog, we're here to help you understand what an autobiography is all about and make it easier for you to write one with the help of examples. 

We'll dive into practical examples and autobiography templates to help you see how it's done. 

So, let's dive in!

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  • 1. Memoir Vs Autobiography Example 
  • 2. Autobiography Outline Examples
  • 3. How to Write an Autobiography - Examples
  • 4. Autobiography Examples for Students
  • 5. Personal Autobiography Examples
  • 6. Famous Autobiography Examples

Memoir Vs Autobiography Example 

Memoirs and autobiographies both delve into personal experiences, but they have their own styles and purposes. 

Let’s jump into example to see what is the actual difference between memoir and autobiography:

Memoir Vs Autobiography Example PDf

Autobiography Outline Examples

Any academic or professional writing needs to follow a proper format to organize the information. And an outline is the best way to follow the proper format. It helps you organize your information and structure your data into a proper format.

Here are some autobiography outline examples to help you learn the basics of the autobiography format .

Autobiography Outline for College - Example

Autobiography Sample Outline

How to Write an Autobiography - Examples

As we have mentioned earlier, there are as many stories as there are people on earth. Each of the stories is different from the others; no two of them could be the same. 

How you present your ideas really matters. That's why using the right strategies and the correct format is essential to make your writing creative.

It is important to know the difference between autobiography and biography . These examples will help you learn how to start an autobiography that leaves a good impression on the reader’s mind.

Autobiography Sample PDF

Writing an Autobiography - Example

Autobiography Examples for Students

An autobiography is your life story. If your teacher tells you to write one, they just want to hear about your life. Even if you think your story isn't super exciting, following the structure can make it work better.

These autobiography examples for students will help you understand how you can properly format the autobiography.

Autobiography Examples for Kids 

School is a time of discovery, and what better way to explore your own journey than through the lens of an autobiography? Here are some great autobiography examples crafted specifically for kids.

Autobiography Examples Ks2

Autobiography Examples For Grade 7

Autobiography Examples For Class 6

Short Autobiography Example for Students

Here is a sample of a short autobiography for you. Give it a good read and learn how to write an excellent short autobiography.

Short Autobiography for Students - Example

High School Autobiography Example

Check out this sample and learn to write an incredible  autobiography for  high school students.

High School Autobiography - Example

Spiritual Autobiography Example for College Students

Spiritual autobiographies give a glimpse into the spiritual person's life. Have a look at the following sample spiritual autobiography and give it a good read to learn more.

Spiritual Autobiography for College Students - Example

Cultural Autobiography Examples 

Here is a sample of a cultural autobiography that contains detailed information on culture. Have a look at the sample to know more about it.

Cultural Autobiography Examples

Funny Autobiography Examples 

Autobiographies are thought to be boring and mundane, but that is not the case. You can make an interesting story, as well as funny. Learn to write a funny autobiography by this example.

Funny Autobiography Examples

Educational Autobiography Example

Here is a sample educational autobiography that will help you formulate an effective and inspiring autobiography.

Paper Due? Why Suffer? That's our Job!

Social Class Autobiography Example

Writing a social class or sociology assignment could be a bit difficult. This sample will help you work on yours easily.

Rambling Autobiography Examples

Rambling autobiographies are like a casual conversation with a friend, where stories unfold in their own unique way. 

Let’s jump into some fascinating examples about this type of autobiography:

Personal Autobiography Examples

Personal autobiography or personal narrative essay provides a complete picture of the author’s life story. The following personal autobiography demonstrates how to write a personal narrative autobiography.

Personal Narrative Autobiography - Example

Autobiography Examples for Students About Yourself

Famous Autobiography Examples

Autobiographical essays are usually about famous people or historical figures. Just as a renowned autobiography of Benjamin Franklin tells us about his life, his unfinished records, his accomplishments, etc.

Below are some examples of famous autobiographies for your better understanding:

Famous Literacy Autobiography Example

Famous Autobiography - Sample

All in all, we have explored different examples, like understanding what makes memoirs different from autobiographies and exploring rambling ones. These examples are like guides to help you tell your own story and maybe inspire others on your writing journey. 

So, go ahead, give it a try, and have fun telling your unique tale.

And if you need assistance you can always reach out to us!

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Barbara P

Dr. Barbara is a highly experienced writer and author who holds a Ph.D. degree in public health from an Ivy League school. She has worked in the medical field for many years, conducting extensive research on various health topics. Her writing has been featured in several top-tier publications.

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How to Write an Autobiography

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Make a beautiful, full color, book of your life to be treasured for generations. as simple as replying to an email., share your story.

You’ve likely heard the term, ‘writer’s block’ and you may have even found yourself staring at a blank page willing ideas onto the paper.

Many of us want to document our life stories for our loved ones, but are daunted with the prospect. Our web-based autobiography creator makes it easy.

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You can share your amazing stories and adventures with your grandchildren’s children. We help you document the details so your contributions are honored and remembered.

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We’ve made it easy. A guided interview provides a conversational atmosphere, and you can reminisce while we build your autobiography.

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We believe in the value of being connected to our roots. Our mission is to preserve memories and strengthen family legacies. By capturing our loved ones’ histories and stories, we share vibrant memories that can serve as cultural threads for future generations to continue weaving.

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Transform your memories into vivid stories

LifeStoryPRO is an easy-to-use computer-based tool that helps create a book of your life.

We help you step-by-step as you bring your memories to life.

Your knowledge and life history are precious gifts that may influence your future great-great-grandchildren.

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You can share memories of hard work and determination, your favorite recipe, or finally get the chance to tell funny stories that may embarrass your favorite relatives!

Guided Interview Process

We strive to make you feel as though you’re chatting with a friend. The questions serve as a starting point for you to jump into your memories.

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If you can use the Internet, you can use LifeStoryPRO. We want you to feel comfortable. Our program is designed for everyone to enjoy.

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If you like, we will email you memory-prompts periodically. Just reply to that email question and we’ll add it to your book!  Fast and easy.

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I received the four books today.  THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!!!!!!

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I have received my books and am very pleased with the way they turned out.  Thanks for helping me in this endeavor.

I LOVE IT!   Thank you

Oh my gosh – this is SO cool!

I got the book and I love it! My dad will be thrilled.

I received it today!!

It’s absolutely beautiful!!

My book arrived this afternoon.  Its beautiful !  Thank you to you and your team for all your work and effort.

Dad really enjoyed the process of both writing and recalling long forgotten memories. Those memories have provided him with hours of conversations with friends and family.

This has been a wonderful exercise for my father. He was recently widowed when he answered his first question and he lacked concentration skills. His writing was rusty and he was frustrated with having to mentally translate all his childhood memories from French to English before writing. It was quite a challenge for him. He now looks forward to the questions and struggles much less with writing cogently. It has helped him in many ways to have this project to work on. Thank you!

Writing one’s autobiography is a very personal yet daunting task. Lifestory pro has demonstrated its ability to exceed this challenge. Their “weekly prompts” allow you to submit your biographical information at your own pace, a time saving feature that is priceless for us everyday people…

I place my manuscript in the personal and competent hands of LifeStory Pro!!

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Thank you so much for this service you provide.  It is life changing.  Your whole staff should be so proud of what you do for people.  Inspiring them to put the life stories and pictures of themselves and members of their family into a book for other members and later generations to read is one of the greatest services there is.  THANK YOU SO VERY, VERY, VERY MUCH FOR WHAT YOU DO.

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The Nobel Prize-winning author specialized in exacting short stories that were novelistic in scope, spanning decades with intimacy and precision.

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This black-and-white photo shows a smiling woman with short, thick dark hair sitting in a chair. The woman is wearing a loose fitting, short-sleeve white blouse, the fingers of her right hand holding the end of a long thing chain necklace that she is wearing around her neck. To the woman’s right, we can see part of a table lamp and the table it stands on, and, behind her, a dark curtain and part of a planter with a scraggly houseplant.

By Gregory Cowles

Gregory Cowles is a senior editor at the Book Review.

The first story in her first book evoked her father’s life. The last story in her last book evoked her mother’s death. In between, across 14 collections and more than 40 years, Alice Munro showed us in one dazzling short story after another that the humble facts of a single person’s experience, subjected to the alchemy of language and imagination and psychological insight, could provide the raw material for great literature.

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And not just any person, but a girl from the sticks. It mattered that Munro, who died on Monday night at the age of 92, hailed from rural southwestern Ontario, since so many of her stories, set in small towns on or around Lake Huron, were marked by the ambitions of a bright girl eager to leave, upon whom nothing is lost. There was the narrator of “Boys and Girls,” who tells herself bedtime stories about a world “that presented opportunities for courage, boldness and self-sacrifice, as mine never did.” There was Rose, from “The Beggar Maid,” who wins a college scholarship and leaves her working-class family behind. And there was Del Jordan, from “Lives of Girls and Women” — Munro’s second book, and the closest thing she ever wrote to a novel — who casts a jaundiced eye on her town’s provincial customs as she takes the first fateful steps toward becoming a writer.

Does it seem reductive or limiting to derive a kind of artist’s statement from the title of that early book? It shouldn’t. Munro was hardly a doctrinaire feminist, but with implacable authority and command she demonstrated throughout her career that the lives of girls and women were as rich, as tumultuous, as dramatic and as important as the lives of men and boys. Her plots were rife with incident: the threatened suicide in the barn, the actual murder at the lake, the ambivalent sexual encounter, the power dynamics of desire. For a writer whose book titles gestured repeatedly at love (“The Progress of Love,” “The Love of a Good Woman,” “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”), her narratives recoiled from sentimentality. Tucked into the stately columns of The New Yorker, where she was a steady presence for decades, they were far likelier to depict the disruptions and snowballing consequences of petty grudges, careless cruelties and base impulses: the gossip that mattered.

Munro’s stories traveled not as the crow flies but as the mind does. You got the feeling that, if the GPS ever offered her a shorter route, she would decline. Capable of dizzying swerves in a line or a line break, her stories often spanned decades with intimacy and sweep; that’s partly what critics meant when they wrote of the novelistic scope she brought to short fiction.

Her sentences rarely strutted or flaunted or declared themselves; but they also never clanked or stumbled — she was an exacting and precise stylist rather than a showy one, who wrote with steely control and applied her ambitions not to language but to theme and structure. (This was a conscious choice on her part: “In my earlier days I was prone to a lot of flowery prose,” she told an interviewer when she won the Nobel Prize in 2013. “I gradually learned to take a lot of that out.”) In the middle of her career her stories started to grow roomier and more contemplative, even essayistic; they could feel aimless until you approached the final pages and recognized with a jolt that they had in fact been constructed all along as intricately and deviously as a Sudoku puzzle, every piece falling neatly into place.

There was a signature Munro tone: skeptical, ruminative, given to a crucial and artful ambiguity that could feel particularly Midwestern. Consider “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” which — thanks in part to Sarah Polley’s Oscar-nominated film adaptation, “ Away From Her ” (2006) — may be Munro’s most famous story; it details a woman’s descent into senility and her philandering husband’s attempt to come to terms with her attachment to a male resident at her nursing home. Here the husband is on a visit, confronting the limits of his knowledge and the need to make peace with uncertainty, in a characteristically Munrovian passage:

She treated him with a distracted, social sort of kindness that was successful in holding him back from the most obvious, the most necessary question. He could not demand of her whether she did or did not remember him as her husband of nearly 50 years. He got the impression that she would be embarrassed by such a question — embarrassed not for herself but for him. She would have laughed in a fluttery way and mortified him with her politeness and bewilderment, and somehow she would have ended up not saying either yes or no. Or she would have said either one in a way that gave not the least satisfaction.

Like her contemporary Philip Roth — another realist who was comfortable blurring lines — Munro devised multilayered plots that were explicitly autobiographical and at the same time determined to deflect or undermine that impulse. This tension dovetailed happily with her frequent themes of the unreliability of memory and the gap between art and life. Her stories tracked the details of her lived experience both faithfully and cannily, cagily, so that any attempt at a dispassionate biography (notably, Robert Thacker’s scholarly and substantial “Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives,” from 2005) felt at once invasive and redundant. She had been in front of us all along.

Until, suddenly, she wasn’t. That she went silent after her book “Dear Life” was published in 2012, a year before she won the Nobel, makes her passing now seem all the more startling — a second death, in a way that calls to mind her habit of circling back to recognizable moments and images in her work. At least three times she revisited the death of her mother in fiction, first in “The Peace of Utrecht,” then in “Friend of My Youth” and again in the title story that concludes “Dear Life”: “The person I would really have liked to talk to then was my mother,” the narrator says near the end of that story, in an understated gut punch of an epitaph that now applies equally well to Munro herself, but she “was no longer available.”

Read by Greg Cowles

Audio produced by Sarah Diamond .

Gregory Cowles is the poetry editor of the Book Review and senior editor of the Books desk. More about Gregory Cowles

Albert Einstein’s Role in the Atomic Bomb Was the “One Great Mistake in My Life”

Einstein and his colleague Leo Szilard played a crucial role in encouraging the United States to create an atomic bomb.

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Although acquainted with physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer , Einstein never worked on the Manhattan Project that led to the development of nuclear weapons, nor was he aware of plans to drop the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But Einstein and his colleague Leo Szilard played a crucial role in encouraging President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pursue the bomb in the first place.

A Startling Visit from a Friend

leo szilard wearing a suit and tie, sitting at a table, and speaking to someone off camera

It all started with a visit by Szilard, a Hungarian-German physicist who previously studied with Einstein in the 1920s. Their research led to the creation of a refrigerator pump that required no moving parts, resulting in what is most commonly called the Einstein refrigerator, according to Genius in the Shadows , a Szilard biography by William Lanouette.

After their collaboration, Szilard conceived the idea of a nuclear “chain reaction” while working in London in 1933. The next year, he convinced the British government to make his chain reaction patent a military secret, according to Lanouette, successfully forestalling a nuclear arms race with Adolf Hitler , who by then was the Chancellor of Germany.

However, after scientists in Germany experimentally split the uranium atom in 1938, Szilard became deeply concerned about idea of Hitler obtaining an atomic bomb first and began raising alarm bells among his personal connections. In Lanouette’s words, he “worked frantically to start the very arms race he had feared.”

In 1939, Szilard visited his old friend Einstein, stunning the fellow physicist by describing the nuclear chain reaction concept. “I haven’t thought of that at all,” Einstein admitted, according to Lanouette. Einstein immediately agreed to warn his friends in the Belgian Royal Family that Nazi Germany might have eyes on the Belgian Congo, which contained the world’s largest uranium supply.

But after that initial meeting, Szilard became convinced that U.S. officials should be warned about Germany’s intentions as well. Szilard and Einstein met for a second time three weeks later, discussing how to get word to President Roosevelt and starting work on one of the most impactful and historic letters in the 20 th century.

The Einstein-Szilard Letter

Through friends, Szilard met with Alexander Sachs, a Wall Street banker with access to the White House. Sachs said he had already spoken with Roosevelt about uranium but that the government decided not to pursue uranium research because Columbia University physicists had told them the prospects of an atomic bomb were minimal, according to The New World 1939/1946: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission .

albert einstein and leo szilard sitting at a table, looking over a letter

Sachs felt Roosevelt might be persuaded by someone of Einstein’s reputation, according to the book. Einstein—who was also encouraged by Hungarian physicists, including refugees Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller— sent a letter dated August 2, 1939, urging Roosevelt about the possibility that Nazi Germany could develop an atomic bomb.

“In the course of the last four months it has been made probable… that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated,” the letter read . “Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.”

Warning that this phenomenon could also lead to the construction of particularly devastating bombs, Einstein encouraged Roosevelt to consider a similar program in the United States and urged him to make contact with physicists working on chain reactions in the United States, according to the letter.

Preoccupied with events in Europe, Roosevelt didn’t respond for nearly two months, making the physicists fear he wasn’t taking the threat of nuclear warfare seriously, according to the U.S. Department of Energy . On the contrary, however, Roosevelt felt Hitler achieving unilateral possession of such powerful bombs would pose a grave risk to the nation.

The Letter Spurs Action

franklin roosevelt wearing a suit and tie, sitting at a table, signing a piece of paper with a pen

Roosevelt wrote back to Einstein on October 19, 1939, informing him about the establishment of a committee of civilian and military representatives to study uranium, according to the Energy Department. Although this was only the first of many such steps and decisions along the way, this committee was ultimately the catalyst for the Manhattan Project.

In 1940, Einstein sent Roosevelt two more letters on March 7 and April 25, recommending additional work on nuclear research, according to An Einstein Encyclopedia by Alice Calaprice and others. He wrote again on March 25, 1945, expressing his growing fears about the possible misuse of uranium, but it wasn’t delivered before Roosevelt’s death a little more than two weeks later.

The more famous 1939 letter, however, came to be known as the Einstein-Szilard letter and is widely considered to be the key stimulus for the United States developing the atomic bomb, according to Lanouette.

Einstein never worked on the Manhattan Project and had no prior knowledge of plans to use the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. A pacifist who despised war, Einstein came to deeply regret his role in the development of the bomb, later saying : “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing.”

Einstein harbored these regrets for this rest of his life. In 1954, one year before his death, Einstein discussed the matter in a letter to his friend, chemist Linus Pauling. Although he cited the fear of Germany developing a bomb as a partial justification, he nevertheless described his letter to Roosevelt as the “one great mistake in my life.”

Einstein Appears in the 2023 Oppenheimer Movie

Oppenheimer , now available for rent or purchase on Prime Video and Apple TV+ , is directed and written by Christopher Nolan . Cillian Murphy stars as J. Robert Oppenheimer , and Tom Conti portrays Albert Einstein . Other cast members include Emily Blunt , Matt Damon , Robert Downey Jr. , Florence Pugh , Rami Malek , Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, and Kenneth Branagh.

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Colin McEvoy joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy . He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.

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