Tips for Writing Your Autobiography

An autobiography is a narrative of a person’s entire life to date. Unlike a memoir, which deals with usually only one part of a person’s life, the autobiography details your entire life. Writing an autobiography may seem like a daunting task, but if you break it down into certain steps, you will find the process immensely rewarding.

Make a timeline of your life. Create a chart that begins with the day of your birth and continues in increments to the present day. You can begin this chart with decade increments and then break it down into yearly increments later. Don’t agonize over the timeline. Make a rough draft and hang it next to your computer or place it in your notebook to use as a handy reference tool while you are writing your autobiography.

Consider the core events in your life. Look at your timeline and choose two or three core events–these are the important moments in your life that changed you in some way. The core events are those events that defined you as a person. Begin writing your autobiography with these core events. Later you will go back and add more detail to fill in gaps.

Add details. Once you have a few core events written down, it is time to go back and add some details of the events that lead up to and followed the core event. This includes details that might have seemed minor before but now because you have written your core events, you can see that these details changed your life.

Jog your memory by making lists of all the “first” things that happened to you. You can also use old photos and journal entries to kickstart your reluctant memory into remembering details of your life.

Ask questions. Find family members and friends that can fill in the blanks for you. It is also helpful to hear about your life from other people, because it may give you a fresh take on events that happened. Don’t forget to interview older members of your family for details of life when you were a child. Ask them what the world was like when you were born.

Include maps of childhood homes, illustrations of favorite places, and charts of favorite things. Throw in copies of awards and certificates. Add pictures of yourself and loved ones that span your life. These additions to your autobiography will bring your story to life for future generations.

Write in your voice. Don’t try to use another writer’s style or diction. This is your story; tell it in your own voice.

Remember to add feelings to the events of your life. Don’t just write down what happened; include how you felt about what happened. Tell the truth. Memory is very subjective and how you remember something may not be how someone else remembers it.

Try to be as honest as you possibly can. Never use real names if your writing will hurt those people in any way. Simply change the names in your autobiography and provide a disclaimer in the beginning.

Publish your finished autobiography with a publisher or self-publish it. Seeing a bound copy of your life is the greatest gift you give yourself–not to mention future generations.

About Karen Y. Hamilton

Walt Whitman says about his autobiography, Specimen Days “…At any rate I obey my happy hour’s command, which seems curiously imperative. May-be, if don’t do anything else, I shall send out the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed.” This is what I feel at this juncture of my life, the need to gather together memories of my ancestors as well as my own memories into some semblance of order. Because all of those fragments, all of the fragments that make up any life, become stories. I am the mother of three sons, who affectionately (I hope!) call me 'gypsy mom' because I tend to wander around a bit soaking in the universe's wonders. I am currently working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at Florida Atlantic University. I have published essays with Heritage Press, Florida Living, and the St. Pauls Review. I am currently working on a book of poems about the Florida Everglades pioneers and a memoir about grief and the bonds of friendship. I live in my hometown, Jupiter, Florida and work as a freelance writer and curriculum specialist.
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One Response to Tips for Writing Your Autobiography

  1. inspirenow says:

    Again an excellent piece.
    Really helpful. I think I will use some of your tips to get me started.
    Thanks for sharing this.

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