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  • Writer's pictureDarren M. Palmer

8 Tips for Writing an Autobiography

Have you considered sharing your life story? Perhaps you have been

waiting for the perfect time! I wanted to share some tips for anyone who

wants to write an autobiography for those that may have gotten started but haven’t finished yet!

Writing your autobiography can be a great way to tell your life story and

provide a keepsake for friends and family. And you don’t need to be a

famous person or a professional writer to do it. Read on to find out how to compose an autobiography that’s both informative and interesting…

Some people create a memoir simply because they enjoy writing, while

others want to preserve their life stories for future generations. They may not

intend it to be read by anyone other than their own family. However, most

people don’t realize how fascinating their lies are until they start writing it!

Unfortunately, many of those who want to document their life shy away

from the project, fearing that composing an autobiography is too difficult for

the average person. In reality, anyone can write a memoir. Yes, that means

you too!

If you’re afraid your life hasn’t been “big enough” to merit an autobiography,

don’t worry. Your family will want to know about your personal history and

relationships with others. They’ll also be interested in how you felt about

events you’ve lived through, and the lessons you learned along the way.

Whatever your motivation for writing your autobiography – and whatever

kind you want to write – these tips can help get you started.

1. Get a feel for the work.

One of the best ways to learn how to write your life story is to read some of

the great autobiographies that have been committed to print. For example,

Benjamin Franklin, Katharine Hepburn, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela

and Billy Graham all wrote excellent autobiographies that are still read


You can find examples of how to write an autobiography in the stories of

sports figures, great religious leaders, government officials, doctors,

railroad workers, singers, and actors, along with ordinary people who found

meaning in their lives. Choose a category or person that inspires you, and

read several examples of how great life stories are shared with the public.

Reading different styles of writing can also help you get a better feel for

how to write an autobiography that will best suit your own story.

2. Understand your intended audience.

The next step in the writing process is to determine who your readers will

be. If you’re writing your life story to give to your grandchildren as a

keepsake, your word choices and tone will be drastically different than if

you’re writing for the general public.

Include interesting facts and anecdotes that family members may not

already know and make sure you weave the lessons you learned

throughout the book.

Those outside your group of friends and family will need a more complex

word picture to grasp the settings and characters in your story. Think of

how you would describe these people and events to a stranger: What

would someone need to know in order to understand them?

3. Develop a core concept.

Many great autobiographies have a central idea that unifies the entire life

story throughout the book. Ask yourself: What will readers take away from

my story? Persevering love, faith in the face of hardship, overcoming tough

odds, going from rags to riches, or lessons learned over time are all

inspiring themes. You could also include: accepting change, dealing with

loss, overcoming addiction, surviving abuse, impressions from an era,

valuing friendships, and relationships.

What is important to the story of your life? Determining one main

reoccurring theme will help weave continuity and interest throughout your


4. Jump-start your memories.

Think about all the different periods in your life. You may recall long-

forgotten events and people you haven’t seen in years, or discover new

meaning in your memories as you string them together.

Looking through family photos and talking with parents, grandparents, your

spouse, and old friends can help you remember significant events that are

rich with details and entertaining stories. Diaries, letters, and even emails

can help spur your recall.

Ask each family member to bring one favorite story from your life to the

next family reunion. The person with the best story wins a prize, and all of

the entries can be used as possible material for your autobiography.

Include all five senses in your writing whenever possible. Rich, detailed

writing can bring your story alive for your readers. Think of how you will

answer the following questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?

5. Organize your story.

Determine where your journey with the reader will begin. Will you start with

your birth, or skip your childhood and begin with your first true love? Some

writers choose to list their story chronologically from their childhood to the

present-day, while others opt to arrange their book according to themes or

major events.

Create a timeline, followed by an outline! Whichever format you choose—

the written outline will help keep you organized.

Some writers benefit from making notes on index cards and organizing

them in a recipe box. Others prefer compiling notes and ideas on a

computer – they’re easy to search, and quite a few programs and apps are

available to help you keep everything organized.

As with any kind of writing, it’s important to set a firm start date, as well as

a weekly goal to help keep you on track. Set a specified daily word count,

or decide to write one chapter per week. Determine a date when you’d like

to have a first draft completed.

You do not have to live a life of constant excitement to be able to write a

compelling autobiography. There is also no reason for you to add details

that did not have an impact on your life. Leave the unimportant events out

of it. Some people just want a thick book to represent their lives. Rather

write a shorter version including only what truly made an impact.

6. Keep your focus.

Find a quiet time to write every day – a time when you can get lost in your

memories and let your thoughts flow from your fingertips. Some writers

prefer early-morning hours, while others write better late at night. Find a

time that fits your schedule and set a regular appointment to write your


It may be helpful to surround your work area with inspiring items such as

family photos, inspirational quotes, and your favorite music.

Staying focused on why you’re writing your autobiography may be difficult

as time progresses. Write out a mission statement that describes the

inspiration for writing your life story, and refer to it when you feel a drop in

your motivation.

7. Keep it interesting.

After you have written out a particular scene or event, go back and read

what you wrote aloud. Check for any awkward phrasing or sentences that

are bogged down with too many details. Your story should move the reader

smoothly from one scene to the next.

Cutting out unnecessary words and overly long sentences can help your

writing flow without being interrupted.

Your writing should be descriptive. The best way to do this is to “paint a

mental picture” with your words. For example, simply stating that Uncle Joe

smelled bad after being sprayed by a skunk is not as interesting as

describing everyone’s reaction to Uncle Joe when he walked into the room.

8. Use writing tools.

If you find that you’re struggling, autobiography templates can help you get

started. Available in books and online (including on some genealogy

websites), these tools present you with a series of questions about your

life. You simply answer them, and the templates arrange your answers into

story form.

A good dictionary, thesaurus, and word processing program are also

indispensable tools when writing an autobiography. But don’t use big or

complicated words in an attempt to impress your readers – instead, choose

a language that best helps you tell your story.

Bonus Tip

Before you consider the work finished, you may want to set it aside for a

few weeks, then read it with fresh eyes. Does it say everything you want to

say? Is it missing important events, or are there stories you still want to


At the same time, don’t fall under the spell of perfectionism. Your

autobiography doesn’t have to be the greatest book ever written for your

friends and family to enjoy reading it. They want to know what really

happened in your life!

Writing your autobiography can be an enlightening and enjoyable process.

By following a structured plan and working to keep your focus and

motivation, your life story may soon be a reality that will be treasured by

your loved ones for generations to come.

This is your autobiography — not to be confused with a biography of the

people who were in your life. You may need to ask permission to include

stories about other people. Do not use your book as a platform to insult

anyone else. You might not even mean for it to be embarrassing, but you

still need to ask permission of those you want to include, especially if it is a

touchy subject. Just because it shaped your life, does not mean they want

it mentioned in your autobiography.

If you are simply writing to settle old scores, you will not succeed. Even if

terrible things happened, you need to present this as part of the story and

let readers come to their own conclusions.

Personal grudges are transparent on the page. If you want readers to

empathize with you, you need to show them what happened to you, not

bash or ridicule another person.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they want to write an

autobiography is prolonging it with the misconception that they have to

have accomplished X, Y & Z before they are at a place to share! If you feel

compelled to write a memoir or autobiography, you don’t have to wait until

you feel you have arrived. You never know the lessons others will glean

from what you have experienced thus far.

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