Writing an Autobiography – 5 Tips to Help You Tell Your Fascinating Life Story
Have you ever considered writing an autobiography? If so, perhaps now is the perfect time to tell your own fascinating life story – even if only for your own enjoyment.
In a previous article we wrote about the value of women over 60 making the decision to reflect on their life experiences. We discussed how writing down your life story and memories can be one of the best ways to understand yourself and put the places and people who shaped your life in perspective.
Why Writing an Autobiography is a Good Idea for Everyone
In their 60s, many women feel this urge to put their lives in order, and to look at the themes that emerged in their lives. We start to assess what has been of value and unique about our contribution to the world. By organizing the stages of our lives, thinking about the people who shaped us and the events that influenced us, we learn to appreciate a lot about ourselves and about our larger place in the lives of the people we love.
It is amazing how childhood experiences shaped us and how they impacted the way we later made decisions as adults. The fears and hesitations that we sometimes express as older women are often motivated by memories of childhood or family experiences. The significance of the way we think about money, relationships and places we choose to live can also be revealed when reviewing the story of our complex lives.
So how do you write a book about your life? There is an art and a science to the process. Here are the 5 steps to help you achieve both once you’ve decided to write your autobiography:
The Art and Science of Writing an Autobiography
It is important to start writing your own autobiography with the understanding that successful writing is a combination of both art and science.
It is important that your autobiography have a structure and a framework and a consistent, disciplined approach. Start by creating a foundation for the “house” that you are building before you start thinking about chapter headings and more specific details of the ideas that you are going to develop. Being creative is very important when telling your story and free flow writing has its place. However, try to apply the writing basics and follow style guidelines.
At a high level, the framework of a good memoir is basically to write an introduction, followed by a thesis statement that expresses your reason for writing, followed by the body or actual story where you develop your themes, followed by a conclusion. Having a good framework will give you the confidence to express your creativity, knowing that you will be understood by your audience.
Apply the Rules of “Fascinate”
You may not think that your life has been all that fascinating, but if you really stop to think about it, there have probably been a lot of surprisingly unique things that have happened to you, or unique events you’ve witnessed, or unique people who have crossed your path.
These are the stories that only you can tell. They are unique and interesting and do tell a fascinating life story. In fact, the definition of “fascination” developed by the author Sally Hogshead, includes elements of lust, mystique, alarm, prestige, power, vice, and trust.
So think about these evocative words and apply them to what you remember about your life. Try to make your autobiography fun and entertaining by looking for the quirky and unusual things that have happened in your life.
Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and create a little drama!
For example, here are some writing prompts to use in exploring “fascinating” stories from your own life, using Sally Hogshead’s 7 Triggers of Fascination:
Lust: What is the greatest love story of your life, or a lost love that “got away?”
Mystique: Have you ever helped to solve a mystery – or discovered that someone was not who they claimed to be?
Alarm: What is the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you in your life? How did you survive the experience?
Prestige: What is the proudest accomplishment of your life?
Power: Have you ever been in a position of significant power – or worked with someone who was? What was it like? What did the experience of power or proximity to power teach you?
Vice: Have you ever been “bad?” Have you ever overindulged? Have you recovered from addiction? Have you taken a walk on the “wild side” at some point in your life, and lived to tell the tale?
Trust: Who do you trust most in all the world? Who inspires feelings of trust, credibility and loyalty in you? How can you tell stories about this feeling and this person in a way that conveys your own feeling of trust and belonging?
Practice the Discipline of Writing
Writer Neil Gaiman agrees with most authors that writing is very hard and requires a tremendous amount of patience and discipline. He encourages us to not even worry about the first draft because no one except you is going to ever read it. He reminds us that you will edit your writing over and over – so when you are first getting started with your memoirs, just let the words come out one at a time.
In fact, most writers simply suggest that if you are serious about writing you have to be disciplined and just write – every day. Even you only finish only 100 words each day, it is important to give yourself a goal, and take small steps every day to achieve it.
Some Inspiration for Themes
So, you are looking at a blank piece of paper and have no idea where to start. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to extract some themes from the 60 years of your life.
First look at your family and write about where you were born. Describe your parents, siblings and ask yourself what made that place unique. Think of any odd historical facts that might give the time and place significance.
Then think about your childhood. Close your eyes and pay attention to the memories that emerge. Where did you live as a child? Did you move a lot? Can you remember any milestones or important dates that make your childhood fascinating or challenging?
Think about the cultures and customs you experienced throughout your life. What countries did you visit, what languages and family traditions do you remember?
Another approach is to take a day in your life and tell that story from the time you woke up until the time you went to sleep. Tell your story in as much detail as you want but don’t dwell on the sad times. Try to see the positive in every memory.
Ready to Publish and Market Your Book?
If you find that writing your own autobiography is a little too challenging, you can always hire a ghostwriter though a site like Elance.com or go to various online self-help sites like Create Your Life Story.
If you want to approach your writing with more structure or actually publish your work, one of the best options is to use the templates provided by Create Space on Amazon. Create Space is a toolkit that guides you through the writing process from beginning to end including content, framework, marketing and publishing. You can even earn royalties from your publication.
Have you already been inspired to write your autobiography? Did you find that it helped you to get a better understanding of yourself? Please join the conversation.
Looking for more tips on writing an autobiography? Check out my interview with professional writer, Ben Gran.