How to Write an Autobiography: The Secret Tips to Finally Get Started

The secret tips to finally start writing an autobiography for those who think it's too hard or will take too long.

 

Something unusual just might happen to you when you start working with your family’s photo collection:

You may suddenly get this urge to start writing about what’s happened to you in your life and why it meant so much to you.

And what’s even more surprising, you may also have an overwhelming desire to ask your loved ones to start writing the same about their lives!

Why Write Your Autobiography

As you organize and label your photos, especially older ones, what happens is you will start to put together pieces of the larger “story” of family members’ lives. Each of their lives becomes like one giant puzzle that you’re assembling back together.

At this point, I’ve found their “Life Stories” now either become more clear to you, or sometimes … much less. You may have thought you knew someone really well until you discover photos that show a whole other part of their life you never knew.

 

For example, I showed my Mom some photos that she hadn’t seen in a long time when we were together over the December holidays. And immediately, all of these stories just came gushing out of her. She would point to a picture, and then another, and tell me all about it and why this moment in her life was so important to her.

Fantastic, right!?

Well, all I kept thinking at the time was, “What happens when I look at this photo 25 years from now. I probably won’t remember any of those fascinating things you just told me about. Can’t you just write all of what you just said down for me?”

 

I greatly fear the time when members of my small family pass. In addition to the obvious emotional reasons, I am worried photos will not be enough to help me remember all of these important details. And it’s all of these great details that really hold together their complete “Life’s Stories.”

 

Is it unrealistic of me to wish we spent time in our lives now recording our stories to pass on to others we will leave behind later?

 

The problem with this wish is many of us have never written anything that seems to be this monumental. I mean, since possibly school papers, belated “catch-up” emails to distant relatives are probably the longest things many of us have written in many, many years!

And some people hire biographers to write it for them because it’s often perceived as being so much work. We’re possibly talking about an entire book here.

For someone who’s not an experienced writer, they might think writing down everything that’s happened to them so far could take a second lifetime!

The secret tips to finally start writing an autobiography for those who think it's too hard or will take too long.
Mark Twain obviously led a short uninteresting life. wink  His autobiography finishes up at only 736 pages!

How to Realistically Start Writing Your Autobiography When It Seems Too Hard

Not too long ago, I was having an email discussion back and forth with my Canadian friend Art Taylor. I was asking him what’s making him happy right now and he happened to bring up that he and his wife Alison had recently signed up for a weekly writing-group on the art of writing memoirs.

This of course piqued my curiosity.

Not only did I not really understand exactly what a memoir really is, but it occurred to me that something they were learning might help my family and me figure out that secret “instruction manual” to make this whole autobiography thing a lot easier.

The secret to this problem might just surprise you.

 

I’ve put together the highlights of our conversation below in an easier to follow article format. Art’s answers are in quotes.

What is an Autobiography

So a biography is an account of someone’s life written by someone else. We’ve all seen those massively thick books on someone influential in our history that an author has written about.

But when it comes to writing about our own lives, I’ve really only heard of two different types of books: an autobiography and a memoir. And between the two, I never really understood if there was even a difference.

Isn’t a memoir just a fancy emotional version of an autobiography that only famous people write?

You don’t need to be famous to write a valuable autobiography, family history, or memoir. Everybody has many stories to share with family and friends.

Remember, history may be recorded about only rich or famous people, but everybody contributes to the history of the human race in his or her own way.

YOU are important to yourself, your family, and your friends. Why not share your stories with the present and future generations, just you probably wish your family members had shared their stories with their future generations?

 

There can be differences between a memoir and autobiography, but the line between them can be hazy.

 

At least in my opinion, an autobiography is about the life of the writer (unless it’s ghost-written for somebody) and deals with as many aspects of that person’s life as he/she chooses to reveal.

 

Other people and events are incidental to the main body of writing. Particular attention is usually given to birth, marriage, and death information, along with highlights of many aspects of the subject’s life.

What Is a Memoir

At this point, I thought Art was going to tell me a memoir is just a condensed version of an autobiography. Instead of your whole life being written down in 500 pages, your whole life in a memoir would be reduced down into like 200 pages but cover the same information.

A memoir, while it can be highly autobiographical, is not necessarily so.

 

It might concentrate primarily on the writer’s memories of one or more aspects of the writer’s life, such as his/her travels; hobbies; career; nuclear family; a particular parent, sibling, or other relative or a close friend.

 

By definition, it basically deals with ‘memories’, regardless of what the memories are about. Birth, marriage, and death information might easily be excluded, unless the writer is deliberately aiming for an autobiographical story.

Well Art has certainly been more enlightening than Chevy Chase. That “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” was an entertaining film but obviously taught me nothing about memoir-ing!

So a memoir is more like what we think of as an autobiography, but really without any rules:

I could, in theory, write an entire memoir exclusively about the vacations and travels I’ve taken.

A different memoir could be written about my memories of family Christmas and other holiday traditions or about my accomplishments and honors achieved.

Yet another version could deal only with family stories I remember from growing up.

Still another version could be about my friendships with Paul and Dave, two of my best friends for well over 40 years. In fact, they could be the major characters in the story, with my memories of our activities together providing the continuity.

The “Secret”

By this point of the conversation, I was starting to feel very encouraged!

The missing secret for many of us who haven’t even been able to write a paragraph or two could just be in the idea that writing our autobiography or “Life Story” needs to start off as — A story, not The story.

 

If you are having problems writing even that first sentence, the problem is probably based on this ingrained understanding that you have to write about everything, or there’s no point in writing anything.

 

Instead, you could start small. Consider writing about just one topic or occurrence from your life.

Or, if you are still determined to be thorough, start out just focusing on one topic but take it through completion before moving on to others.

Topic Ideas to Write About

Art provided a nice list of possible categories or even “chapters” that would be an excellent starting point for almost anyone.

 

  • Birth to start of Kindergarten
  • Elementary School Years
  • High School Years
  • College / University / Other Post-Secondary Education Years
  • School Days
  • Turning Points
  • Special Occasions
  • Romance(s) / Courtship / Marriage / Children
  • Career / Work Years
  • Retirement Years
  • Family – Immediate (Parents, Siblings, Children); Extended (Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, etc.)
  • Family Tree Personal / Family Medical History
  • Friends and Acquaintances (school, college, work, social activities, etc.)
  • Hobbies / Vocational Activities
  • Sports / Recreation Activities
  • Travel / Vacations
  • Places Lived
  • Home(s) Lived In
  • Favourite Foods and Recipes
  • Holiday Traditions
  • Other Traditions / Customs
  • Accomplishments
  • Awards / Honours Received
  • Spiritual Journey
  • Personal Historical Timeline
  • Clubs / Associations / Organizations
  • Military Service / Volunteer Activities
  • Historical Event Witnessed or Lived Through
  • How I met ….. What’s important to me about …..
  • Why ….. is important to me. How and why I feel the way I do about …..
  • Why ….. is my favourite hobby / sport / activity
  • Favourite Photograph(s)

 

All of these topics I suggested will not necessarily be included in any single memoir. Some of the topics in the list could hold no appeal for you. They are just topics that many people want to include and the list is meant just as a suggestion of topics to write about.

How to Choose Your Topics

So how can someone decide which of these possible topics to include in your memoir? There are just so many that could easily be enticing.

I wondered, if someone isn’t careful to be selective, they may end up including so many topics, they might as well just write a complete autobiography — from birth up until the current time.

One way to help decide what to include and what to exclude is to decide who you are writing a memoir for and why it’s important to you to write it.

 

You might well choose one set of topics if you’re writing for yourself, as catharthsis or therapy but a different set if you’re writing to document your life for future generations.

 

Of course, the answers to these questions will vary from person to person, and possibly for the same person at different times of life.

Organizing Your Topics

So if you choose multiple topics, my next thought is how one would organize them.

How are you going to personally choose to structure the topics you have chosen. Will any kind of order be important to you?

The chosen topics might or might not be in chronologic order. However, the topics I do include I’ve decided will likely be pretty much in chronologic order, at least within each general topic area.

The general topics will also likely be in chronologic order where possible. If different topics happen concurrently, such as career and vacation travel, I’ll need to decide at some point which comes first in the overall story, unless I decide to write the entire thing in something like HTML for random access to any chosen topic.

This is one benefit of writing for a web site or blog, both definitely publishing possibilities to consider. The reader can choose to jump from topic to topic at will, rather than being stuck with the writer’s choice of sequence.

Why Memoirs Are So Exciting

This is obviously just the starting point in the process of writing your “Life Story.” But, I hope it at least fills you with optimism that any of us can write about our own life.

Not only do you not have to be someone famous to be worthy of your own book, but with the option of a memoir, you don’t even need to write about your entire life like most cover in autobiographies.

 

I love this now well-known saying from 2009 that was inspired by the portability and camera quality of Apple’s iPhone:

The best camera is the one you have with you.

Chase Jarvis (Photographer)

It makes me wonder if the best moments that have ever happened in your entire life, will someday be the stories you took the time to write down.

 

Have you ever wanted to write about your “Life Story”?  If so, tell me about what you would like to write about and what you’ve accomplish so far comments below.

 

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100 Comments on "How to Write an Autobiography: The Secret Tips to Finally Get Started"

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Trevor
Guest

Great post Curtis. I have been brainstorming how to write my life story. My thoughts right now are to do a year by year summary. I would like to include pictures that I am scanning and categorizing.

Art Taylor
Guest

Thanks, Curtis, for the inclusion of my comments.

Some suggestions for you, Trevor. Your thoughts of including your photos in a year by year summary are good. Once you’ve grouped your photos by year, and in chronological order from January to December, just pick one or two photos that have really important memories for you. Take each photo in turn, carefully study it, ideally magnified on your monitor so you can really see the small details, and then write down who you see, what their relationships are to you and to one another, what they are doing, where they are (in a kitchen, living room, on a porch, etc.), why the photo might have been taken, what the photographer wanted to express in the photo, when (morning, afternoon, evening, at a special event or on a particular vacation, time of year), how the shot was made (wide-angle lens, long telephoto lens, flash or daylight, from a plane or helicopter, etc.) and what the photo’s particular significance and meaning the photo holds for you. Then do this process for the next photo. By starting with only a few photos, that have special significance for you, you’ll build your confidence that you CAN write the story of a photo. If you continue to tackle the entire batch in small groups like this, the project will be unlikely to seem so overwhelming as it might if you try to do your entire collection in one session.

Some reference books you might want to look at are: The Photo Scribe, Denis LeDoux; Turning Memories into Memoir, Denis LeDoux; The Life Writer’s Memories Binder, Denis LeDoux. You can find a little more information about these books and get additional tips on his web site: http://thememoirnetwork.com Other books I’ve found interesting and helpful are: How to Write Your Life Story, Ralph Fletcher; Teach Yourself How to Write Your Life Story, Ann Gawthorpe; Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach; Memoir Writing for Dummies, Ryan G. Van Cleave, PhD; and The Oral History Workshop, Cynthia Hart with Lisa Samson.

I hope you find much satisfaction and enjoyment with your writing to go with your scanned photos. It is a challenging project but can and likely will be, a very rewarding one.

Art

Bryher Scudamore
Guest

I hope it is OK to post here but I have created a foolproof way of helping everyone tell their life story for their family. I founded autodotbiography because when my mother died unexpectedly I was left with so many unanswered questions. I didn’t know how my parents met, I didn’t know anything about her education. She and I were incredibly close but because we lived in the present we didn’t talk about her past – I deeply regret this now.

I thought of becoming a ghost writer but I would have had to charge thousands and so I used all my skills as a professional writer/journalist/tv producer and Editor-in-Chief of BBC Online, to create this virtual ghost writer online system so that anyone, no matter how good or bad at writing, is guaranteed to create a beautifully written, lavishly illustrated book of their life story for their family. http://www.autodotbiography.com – check it out. I offer a free month’s trial, no credit card required.

GREEDY. $BOY
Guest

Iam, trying. To. Start. A. Book about my. Life, how to. Let. People no. Some. One. Is. Going. Threw. The. Same thing they. Are and iam. Trying to. Relate to the boy. Stuck in the. Hood and feels, it’s. Tolate

Prophet13
Guest

Hello Greedy. $Boy, I wanted to let you know that it is never too late to began anything. I would suggest you reading some books and maybe finding someone who can help you with writing. Don’t give up hope you can still achieve the unthinkable. I know people who have had challenges and didn’t have all the answers at first but, one day the right person came into their life. Be encouraged and keep your head up, stay in school if you are in school and if not get into a school. Success begins with you!

Denis Ledoux
Guest

Art Taylor, thanks for your endorsements of my books. I’ve put a lot of energy into them and I appreciate knowing they have helped others.

Curtis, thanks for being part of the memoir conversation. Your site is helpful. I’d like to through in a thought about what I consider an essential tool for memoir writing: the Memory List.

A Memory List is a list of everything you remember about a person, place, action or anything. It can be a big or a small memory. Important or less important. The color of the wallpaper when you were a kid or the death of your mother. How do you create a Memory List? Choose parameters for your Memory List (age 9, my college years, my father). Remember: difference between a memoir and an autobiography. Memoirs call for parameters. The parameter of a Memory List as opposed to the memoir itself can be the scope of your memoir or merely a chapter or scene. Write everything you remember about your topic in the time of your parameter. Do not judge significance. When you change memory, change line. Write 3-5 words–enough to fix the memory so you can recall it in a month’s time. Do not worry about time sequence/order. NO EDITING ALLOWED!

A memory list should be long. Keep plugging away until you have at least 100 items, 200 would be even better. My high school list ended up having 800 items. You don’t have to use them all but all of them will stimulate your recall. many little items, by the way, end up in introductory phrases and the like “Looking at the stage coach wallpaper of my boyhood bedroom, I decided…”

I’ve found the Memory List to be indispensable. I hope it helps our readers.

welfarehellfare
Guest

Thanks – best tip I’ve seen yet since wondering how to begin.

Pauline
Guest

That was a very useful idea thank you. A way to get going rather than sitting with a blank sheet of paper wondering where the heck to start.

I have written two “life stories,” one for my Father’s 80th birthday and also my husbands 60th. Both enjoyed looking back on them immensely. I have now passed my father’s on to my son who has loved reading all about him…and so it will go on and hopefully Dad will never be forgotten.

I have become the keeper of the family archives as I am so interested in history of the family so I do have a great deal to call upon.

Writing for someone else is so much easier than attempting to log your own life but I’m going to have a go. Thank you for the ideas.

Pauline

Sharon Leonard
Guest

Hi there…first time here for me. I have written a 65,000 word memoir that I have formed into an adventure story because I look and looked at my life as an adventure. The core of my story is a summer in the wilds that tested my thinking and challenged my courage and consequently changed the path of my life. I tried to bring to my story the inspiration and knowledge that dreams can be attained from the virtually impossible and from the most dire of circumstances. I had no money, no special talents, and very little support at the start of that summer. But I had a dream. I believe in being your own lottery ticket, being your own dream catcher. I now have another dream. And that is to get my memoir published. Talk about impossibilities..lol.

Art Taylor
Guest

Hi Sharon,

If you’re interested in publishing your adventure story memoir, you might want to visit http://thememoirnetwork.com/services/memoir-book-production/ and http://thememoirnetwork.com/services/memoir-book-production/book-production-costs/. It’s a site operated by Denis Ledoux, whose comment and books are referenced above. His company offers a variety of services, including editing and publishing, which are of value to memoir writers. To be open about things, I have no financial or business connections with Denis or his company. I have read and learned a lot from his books I mentioned earlier but I have no personal experience with any of his editing or publishing services.

You might also want to visit http://outskirtspress.com/customer.php?at=-publish to see more about their publishing services. Again, I have no connection with the company, other than having visited their web site and signed up for their free email newsletter.

Art Taylor

Blaine
Guest

Hello, my name is Blaine and I have been very slowly working on one small part of my life about my time in a tent city for four months. I plan on tying facts together with my own philosophies

Yasin
Guest

Quite interesting that writing about myself had been so taxing before reading this!

Art Taylor
Guest

Hi Blaine,

Have you tried just writing about the contents of each of your pictures of your time in the tent city? Just try answering the traditional journalist’s questions of Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How for each photo as if you were trying to describe them to somebody during a phone conversation where only you could actually see each image. If you do this for one image, you’ll gain confidence in your writing ability and want to go on to do the same for the next image. Before too long, you’ll have some nice information written about each of your photos and it should be relatively easy to arrange them in some kind of logical order, maybe but not necessarily, chronological order. Then a few more sentences to tie them all together and you’ll have a nice, illustrated story. At that point, or maybe during the process of tying them together, you’ll find appropriate places and ways to include your philosophies. It sure sounds like an interesting project you’re working on.

Art

ankit
Guest

Hi friz i am the student of engg. i want to write an memoir for the one whom i loved and miss so much. pls help me how can i write, i think alot but i am unable to write a single para pls help me out. in my life im never express my self. i think tis will me out.so, pls help me.

Mansi kaur
Guest

I am 15 years old giri fell so lonel and no one undesrtands me so I dnt express my feelng and with my friends or family.So I just want to write an autobiography ,if I ever sucide I just want my diary to e an evidence why I cumitted sucide or may bif some day my life changes at that time I could remind how hard days I have passed through but I am not getting how to write an autobiography.So please suggest me any idea about that

Gary Le Lacheur
Guest

Hi Mansi,
15 years old.
suicide?
Give yourself a chance girl.
Suicide is for old people, old people who have had a life and have grown tired.
I understand you are lonely and it is painful.
But you have not even finished growing up.
A person’s brain is not fully developed until they are about 25 years old.
You have much to learn about the world and people.
Tomorrow your world may change for the better.
If you end it now you may miss out on a lifetime of enjoyment.
Hang in there and don’t give up.
Give yourself and your life a chance to get better.

Sue
Guest

Mansi, I agree with Gary, give life a chance you are so so young. Life is hard, but life is also good. Don’t give up.

sara kessy
Guest

Hi Mansi, can you please avoid first the idea of committed suicide.we all pass through many problems in our life. Believe that you shall overcome one day. To write an autobiography is good for encouraging others who will pass through obstacles.

Tina
Guest

Wow this site is like a gold find! And so interesting to read comments from others who are gaining from your contribution! My interest is in writing my mums story, she has had an interesting life by today’ standards, having lost her mum at 18 months who died giving birth to a daughter. Mum was fostered out to a neighbour, only to meet up with her last family member, the adopted out sister, at the ripe young age of 65.

But mums story would really revolve around her brief rise to local fame as “The Dancing Nana” in NZ. Well to be honest the story started in Australia, and reached our shores via a viral utube clip “Find the Dancing Nana”. But it didnt take long for it to rapidly spread through local kiwi newspapers and TV, with mum receiving two calls from our two TV news channels (yes we are a small country!) in rapid succession. “Tell Us your story” .

So my current thought was to capture that story, as much for me to learn more about her early days, as to share the true story behind the woman that all who meet love. A little 85yr old pocket rocket lol! Anyways thats what led me here, looking for a “HOW TO” capture information from her. And between you and Art, Im getting some ideas – thanks guys!!!! Ive signed up for more ideas, but any suggestions (the 100 ideas by Art is awesome!) are welcomed! Thanks team!!

Margaret Pun
Guest

Tina…I totally agree with you this is like a gold find and more, it might even turn out to save a 15 yrs old life like Mansi with all the professional writers giving compassionate advice with true concern!
I have been encouraged by my two daughters to write my own autobiography and recently I have written a one page Testimony for a Prison Ministry for Women Correctional Center in Hong Kong with a group of Christian from different churches. After I gave my Testimony, the inmates also suggested I should write my story, an autobiography. So, I supposed my life story has something to tell; however, as a Christian I only want to share my story for a purpose if it will help others who also have faced life in similar way or more traumatic experience to come to know God and Jesus as their personal savior. No one else in this world could know us as well as god does including ourselves at times or struggle.

So, these comments are so helpful. I just wonder if I write it more like a ‘memoir’ in a journal format is good? I like to use Excel rather than Word it helps me to easily reorganize it in any order I so wish when I finalize it. I also have 4 journals written since beginning of this year after I renewed my faith in Jesus. I have read from the comments, spiritual journals can be inserted as well.

In general, all these comments are so valuable!
Thanks to all!

Muhammad Jawaid Akhter
Guest

Hi everyone! This is Jawaid Akhter. I had never thought of writing my life-story till I read an autobiography of a street boy from Mumbai whose story had been a super hit . Reading his story has encouraged me to write my own.

Till attaining to this age, I had passed through a life full of peaks and valleys. my loneliness, my childhood bluffs, my education, multiple migration, my profession, active politics, MNC jobs, joblessness etc. It may have shades of multitude interests.

Started penning the events of my life just three weeks before. I wished if I had been through this forum before on capturing the moments of life, it had been the best thing to start the journey. English is not my mother tongue. I am 54 years of age and I have just accumulated some thoughts accounting to more than 9000 words. I did not know if I was moving in the right direction, however, after reading the comments and tips here, I feel now somewhat comfortable that my toiling is positive.

I had chalked out my own list of “things to do” and I am happy that my list equates the list I have seen here. I am also not comfortable if the language I am using in the book will be of interest to the readers as said its not my mother tongue. By virtue of professional growth I acquired a little command on the language. But to translate the emotions and feeling is real uphill task; thinking of getting some help from the gurus once I am able to complete it.

Being born in 1959; I do not have pictures of those early days so I am totally dependent of my fading memories. Now I have just completed my journey through 7 years and a lot to lay down moving forward. Need a little motivation to complete the task.

This is my first venture of engaging myself on such kind of project. Need some valuable comments and suggestion if my work is in the appropriate direction. Please read following paragraphs and let me have your feedback on the opening of my autobiography. Remember please that I am novice on the subject and find difficulty in expressing my thought in a foreign language.

“BIRTH OF AN INEPT
It all started with a great negotiation! My Father gave Jawaid to me and I took Akhter from him – so became Muhammad Jawaid Akhter.”

“At that time it was a tradition for a lady to join back his maternal home while expecting a delivery especially the very first one. Since it was first delivery to my mother, she traveled back to Chittagong, where this inept, the organic survivor, born.”

Best
Jawaid

Art Taylor
Guest

Hi Muhammad,

I can understand your concern about trying to write in English when it`s not your native language. Many of the authors I`ve read suggest that for people like yourself, whose native language is not English, try writing in your native language to capture your memories, emotions, and feelings as well as possible. Once you have the information on paper or computer disk, you can always find somebody to help you translate it into English if you want it translated. Another option is to write as much as you can in English, but revert to your native language for the parts that don`t initially translate easily for you. The important thing is to get your stories recorded in whatever language you are most comfortable with. Not every thought translates successfully to English, regardless of which language it might originally be written in, so, if your primary anticipated readers are more familiar with your native language than with English, you probably don`t need to worry about translating your stories. Write them as well as you can in whatever language you`re most comfortable writing in.

Art

artlol
Guest

hi i see u had wrote here

Joe Fiduccia
Guest

Excellent information Curtis. You are spot on with many things, and added several that I didn’t even think of when I built Americas Footprints. Appreciate the information! -Joe

autobiographist
Guest

This post of yours was great inspiration for me. As were the comments. They tell me I am not alone in my quest smile

I started writing in the spring and started it for two reasons. I want to understand why everything has happened in my life and I never want to forget the things that have happened. I am 25 and have managed to fulfil most of my dreams in life. It has not been a result of careful planning, but rather a series of freak accidents combined with the lifestyle of a rockstar.

To understand, I decided to write down everything I remember as chronologically as I remember. So it’s really not an autobiography, but something between a diary and memoirs. I chose the form of a blog to link things together easier.

The main thing is, that I’m not writing to the readers, but solely for my own pleasure. It is the best form of therapy there ever has been.

Margaret Pun
Guest

Hi…that’s exactly why my daughters suggested I write my autobiography as a therapy for myself. As you said, I am also writing it in a format between, diary, journal and memoirsmile My strength is Excel so that’s what I am starting out with. Thanks for sharing!

autobiographist
Guest

Thanks for replying, Curtis! I also believe, that I will appreciate having written everything down. If I become a dementic at old age I hope to some day stumble at my blog by accident and wish that I had lived a similar life. wink

That app you recommended seemed intresting and may be handy in the future. Thank you for sharing that with me. Actually I noticed, that everything from the past 12 years has been recorded by accident. I forgot to turn off the ‘save conversations’ option in Messenger and Facebook saves everything nowadays, so there are plenty of stories recorded, if ever I manage to have the time to read them.

I have some of my closest friends following the blog, so I want to publish at regular intervals. That’s why I sometimes write 20 posts in a week and then spend a month without writing at all if I don’t feel like it. My first three years took 50 posts, and that’s what has been published so far. My first six years have taken 150 posts. Looks like it’s gonna be a loooooooong story grin

Hilary Lee
Guest

There’s a lot of useful advice here for the members of the group I have been asked to ‘lead’ writing autobiographies. I especially like the idea of starting small and just starting. Thank you to everyone.

Bryher Scudamore
Guest

Hi Hilary,

With Mother’s Day fast approaching in the UK I though you might be interested to see my blog on how my fabulous mother inspired me to start a business for the first time at the age of 60. When she died suddenly I had so many unanswered questions which is why I created autodotbiography – so that everyone can write their life story for their family. It is my passion that no matter how they do it, everyone should record their life story for their family. I so desperately wish my mother had.

https://www.autodotbiography.com/help-advice/blog

I would love to know what you think of it.

Bryher

Solo Bless
Guest

Hello
I have been wowed by this website: from the conversation to each and everyone’s comments. I must agree, I just stumbled here because I was looking for a website that teaches how to write autobiographis. I am but amazed!
The people I have ever met and to whom and explain some episodes of my life always said I should put my life story in a book so that it could serve as incentive to others. I have meant to do so. But I am a person who so lacks self-confidence. Nevertheless, I think it is important I write such a book that recounts the story up to now.
I have a question. Is there any number of pages (limit )that should be considered in an autobiography writing? Can the product be as big as can contain the important parts we want to share? Is there a community or forum I can join to sparkle my motivation?
Cheers to us all and three cheers to the administrator of this website. You are doing a great job. Keep it up!

Solo

Anna
Guest

Hi, My name is Anna! I want to or more like I would love to write an autobiography; I`m young, only 18 and have plenty of more things to learn and experience in this life, but believe it or not I have experienced some pretty big things at a young age and I want to write about it. I want people to know my story and maybe, just maybe it`ll be helpful for someone and in the long run maybe the only person it’ll be helpful to is myself. Any more tips or advice?

Arthur kamara
Guest

I want an examples should be given. In order to understand well.please

Art Taylor
Guest

For most of my teen years, I did keep a daily diary where I recorded significant activities and/or thoughts from each day. While I did manage to save those diaries for several decades, unfortunately they fell by the wayside in one or more moves from city to city in my adult life so I no longer have access to them. This is a situation I strongly regret but there’s not much I can do now to retrieve those records. If, as Curtis suggests, you do choose to not only write about events you’ve already experienced but also to keep an on-going journal or diary of issues you consider important as you continue to grow and gain experiences, good and not so good, be sure to safe-guard those journal entries as you would any important documents like your birth certificate, passport, etc. so you can incorporate that data into any future writings you may eventually undertake.

Margaret Pun
Guest

Art, same happened to me, I kept a daily diary type of journal for over 10 yrs. That got drowned by a flood to the basement of my son’s house where I temporarily stored them because of moving back and forth between Hong Kong and US! This has become a life story sharing already. I will put this in my ‘memoir’smile

Bridgette
Guest

Hi Curtis I just wanted to say thank you for the valuable information about writing an autobiography. It time like years to finally start writing my life story, but my recent heartache really did prompt me to like really start writing. I have been encouraged by so many people to really start thinking about writing a book about my life but I was so reluctant and scared and not knowing how to start. but I finally did and I just cant stop writing.

One question how long does it take to finish the autobiography or it depends on how much of a story one has to tell. A year, months any time line??

As for Mansi I can relate to her I have tried that 3 times in my life time, and yes I agree she is very young to even think about doing such a bad thing. Life has so much to offer, Yes being lonely can be very painful, I have gone through that as well as a child, I am 44 now and I am living despite 3 attempts of suicide, So Mansi please please seek help if needs be and yes when you lonely just write thats the best therapy.

Thanks Curtis

Bryher Scudamore
Guest

Hi Bridgette, I run a business that helps people tell their life story to their family – it is the most precious thing you can do and they will treasure your memories.

I passionately believe that everyone should write their life story for their family – and I am so glad that you are writing yours, even though it may bring back unhappy memories, often writing them down can be therapeutic.

I was inspired to start autodotbiography by the unexpected and untimely death of my beloved mother, Peggy. When she died her memories died with her and I was left with so many unanswered questions and so I vowed that I would find a way to help everyone, no matter how good, or bad, at writing to create a beautifully written and lavishly illustrated hardback book of their life. That’s why I started autodotbiography and now my system has helped more people than anyone else in the UK tell their life story – it launched in the US last Fall.

So, as to your question, in my experience people take different lengths of time to tell their story. Some do it in a couple of months and some do it in a couple of years. The important thing is to start and you will find your own time to complete your precious story.

Mya Broadie
Guest

I feel that it would be easier for me to start by dividing into chapters and writing on that topic but at the same time i want it to be in order from adolescence to adulthood and its like the readers growing with me so whats a tip in staying on topic and chronological order but still of setting chapters

Art Taylor
Guest

Mya,

You should write your stories as they come to mind. Include the date the story took place at the top of each page, and, if you want to, also include the date you write it. Once you have your stories written, whether they’re on loose pieces of paper or in separate computer files from your word processor, you can go through them all and sort them into chronological order. Then, if you want to combine related stories into a single chapter, you can do so. Otherwise, each story will be its own chapter and you can number them accordingly. If you try to write your stories ONLY in chronological order, you’ll likely have trouble remembering the exact sequence of events as they happened. As you write one story, you may remember a story that should come earlier because it happened earlier in your life. If you stick strictly to chronological order to write, you’d need to omit the earlier story because it would be out of sequence. Worry about putting stories/chapters into the correct sequence only when you finish writing them all. If you manage to remember and write about all the stories of your past, up to and including the present, once you get them into sequence, simply add each new story about a recent event to the previously last chapter. If you want to write about your entire life, you’ll never manage to finish the story completely because you’ll never be able to write about your own death, which of course, will be the real final chapter of your story.

Brenna
Guest

My fiance has recently given me the idea to write a autobiography about my life. Where I have and am growing u with Seizures, I just want to help people who are in the same situation as me. I saw a post by Trevor closer to the top of the comment section about using pictures and i think that is such a good idea. Its going to take a while for me to write my book because i want to include marriage and adopting (no able to have kids) and the journey of everything, I don’t know if i can do like a part one two and three type of book kinda like a series. My fiance and i estimated and it would take about 6 years til i can get it published. My question is what

Tiffani
Guest

I’m glad I found your tips! I’ve been wanting to start a memoir for quite sometime. I want my children to know about my life, so that one day they will be able to read my story, and hopefully understand why I’ve had to make some tough decisions. I also want them to know that I always loved and cared about them. My son had a heart transplant when he was a baby and I had to spend lots of time away from another child. He then had cancer 7 years later. I want them to know everything, because this is still a horrible time for us, I need them to know!

Embuka Sunday
Guest

Your own faith is the key to your own personal victory.

niyi
Guest

nice tips

Librini
Guest

But wich is the purpose of writing an authobiografy? Just to understand better own life or publish it for a public?

Bryher Scudamore
Guest

There can be many reasons. It is the most precious gift you can give to your family. It doesn’t need to be published widely to have value but if you have a particular experience – mental illness, surviving a terrible accident for instance – then writing about how you coped with that experience may help others going through the same thing learn from what happened to you, and that might be worth publishing.

I know from my customers how much their families treasure the book of their life story – it becomes a family heirloom which will survive for generations to come.

m. murray
Guest

I have always thought I would like to write about my experiences through out my life but would have no idea how to. I think I have some pretty funny stories to tell. Especially about my early years. If someone would like to be my autobiographer I could maybe tell you a couple of stories and we could take it from there.

Bryher Scudamore
Guest

Hi M. Murray

I passionately believe that everyone should tell their life story which is why I have created a simple system that means that anyone – no matter how good or bad at writing – can create a beautifully written and lavishly illustrated hardback book of their life for their family. It’s called autodotbiography. Why not have a go? There is a free trial link here http://www.autodotbiography.com/freetrial. If you need any help do contact me and I will be delighted to assist you.

Jessica Creasy
Guest

Hello, my name is Jessica and I am 24 years old and have wanted to write an autobiography for a couple years now. I actually started writing life events down in a notebook, I have started writing it in about 3-4 journals but the one I am using currently is the most of it that I have ever written. Reading this really helped me to feel better about writing it because I felt like I am a not famous or rich and who will want to read my stories?? I am so glad I found this site! Now I am torn between writing Memoirs or an autobiography! Either way I shall continue to write my stories and I hope to one day publish a book of my own. I sure do hope I succeed. This was really such a BIG help!!!!

Art Taylor
Guest

Hi Jessica,

It sounds like you’re off to a good start with your journals. Don’t worry at this stage about whether you should write a memoir or an autobiography. Just concentrate on recording events and stories that you feel are important to you. A memoir might be easier because an autobiography usually implies it is a record of one’s life from birth until some point in adult life, sometimes to just before death. Unless you are prepared to do some research and can still talk to one or both of your parents, finding details of the earliest years of your life may prove to a major challenge. In a memoir, you can write about one or more aspects of your life, such as perhaps major vacation trips you’ve been on; a particular hobby or interest; your formal education years; your career; finding a spouse; raising a family, if you do; a special friend and the time you spend together; a favorite relative; or any other aspect or aspects of your life you want to preserve for future generations. If there is some aspect of your life you’d rather not write about for whatever reason, you can easily leave it out of a memoir but an autobiography would be incomplete without at least some information about it. The important thing is to get your thoughts and memories recorded in some form as soon as possible. You can go back and edit, add or delete parts, and arrange some kind of sequence or theme later, but you may not always remember important details if you don’t write them when they’re fresh in your memory.

Chandra
Guest

I have written several guest blogs about experiences I have had that my methods of coping with helped people. I keep being told that I need to write it all out, and I really think that a memoir is a better route. Nobody really wants to read about my ordinary childhood or my big hair phase in high school. So finding this blog post has been very educational. The issue I am having now is I have looked for books written by mothers that the same thing happened to and found but one. The writer was so emotional that it was a really hard read. So, how to write this without it being a complete tearjerker from beginning to end? How does one “lighten” a tale of being married to a pedophile for 10 years without knowing? And there is the issue of becoming the target of severe criticism again. It’s not a topic that is spoken about very often, yet, happens to a lot of partners.

Some advice would be fantastic! thank you

Heather
Guest

Hi! Thank you so much for sharing this information! I have been toying with the idea of writing about my life since I was in my very early 20’s. It has been a very very gut wrenching and painful life for sure. I want to share my story with others, in hopes of maybe saving someone else or helping someone else overcome whatever it is in their own lives that may be bringing them down. I do not know where to begin and this has been very helpful. Now just to pray and get started!

John
Guest

Wow! so many people writing about so many things, I’m blown away by it.

I too have been attempting to write about “me,” as I think that my life has been so full of “things” some good and some bad that I received the urge to do so, (after drinking five bottle of Red wine with a friend of mine who suggested I should write ) it’s amazing just what so much Red wine will do,(Dutch courage) and once I started, I couldn’t stop, and now I get pangs of guilt if I dare take time away from my Computer.

I’m in the process of re-editing what I’ve written again (and again) but there are times of despondency creeping in now, for I don’t know what to do with it, as I live alone now, I’m old with no living family or friends, (that should get a few boo- hoo’s) but I’ve had a hell of a lot of great times and an interesting life as a Funeral Director for fourty two years of it, and now my loneliness has enabled me to produce a chronicle of events, some good, some not so good, some clean and some not so clean, but as I don’t have to please anyone, (or hide from them) and I’ve left their identities in the shadows, I’ve been able to write with absolute honesty and that makes me feel good.

I say, that if your’e going to write about anything, especially about yourself, then your writings must be honest writings and not pretend stories as you may like them to have been, whether they make you squirm a little as you write them or not.

Perhaps I’m fortunate that I don’t have to please anyone anymore, or write so there not “uncomfortable,” for my family have all headed off to the happy hunting grounds now, a few up, but most down, where I’m sure they won’t have access to any written manuscripts as those that have gone down will be busy “stoking” and perhaps the one or two who may have ascended, will be singing in the choir of Angles. (Dream on)

Just as a matter of interest, I’ve called my book, or unpublished bundle of writings, ( all eighteen hundred-plus pages of them)
“My House with Fifth Seven Rooms and a Shed,” each room containing a different experience I’ve had, and in the Shed, “memories.”

Sadness creeps in at times, when I think that whoever it is that has to clear out my little pensioners flat, that they’ll find my writings and dump them along with the rest of my “junk,” some of it quite valuable but will I care, that’ll depend if I’m able to look down at them as they do so or look up at them, depending in which direction I’m heading.

So have fun good people and remember, no “Fibs” or little “white lies,” write for yourself so no one can judge you, but should they do so, attach a sprig of “mistletoe” to your shirt tail for them. (I’m sure you’ll work out what that one means.)

Take care,

John MOLLER.

Michlene Bellamy
Guest

I love this comment( especially the end. Lol) dear good Sir. I hope that after you ascend into the heavens, that whatever lucky person who finds your writings… which I’m sure are quite interested and riddled with humor and sarcasm judging by this post…has the good sense and decency to save it for your family or better yet get it published( and get luckily rich off of it…not like you can do much with the proceeds. Just put a clause in your will that they must donate a portion to st Jude’s children’s hospital) this way everyone wins and the world gets to know a new friend. ( Who said you have to be alive for someone to get to know you?)

A Pond
Guest

I’m struggling to find a topic because I haven’t experienced anything remotely interesting in my life.

Art Taylor
Guest

I agree completely with Curtis, especially his last paragraph.

An exercise I’ve sometimes read to help one write memoirs would likely also work for an autobiography. Set yourself an arbitrary time limit of 2, 3, 5, or 10 minutes. On a fresh sheet of paper, at the top, write: “I remember…” Now start the timer, and record in just point form as many different events, people, places, things, etc. that you can remember. Some examples: my 10th birthday, Christmas 19xx, family trip to Disneyland, Uncle Joe, Aunt Mary, growing up in , Mr./Miss/Mrs/Ms. So-and-So Grade x teacher, a favorite pet’s name. At the end of the allotted time, you stop adding points to the list. Then pick any item from your list and start writing as much as you can or want to about that item. When you feel you’re finished with the first item, pick another and repeat the exercise. You don’t need to write about everything on your initial list in one session unless you find yourself on a roll.
Chances are, as you get into writing about any single list item, you’ll remember additional things to write about. These may or may not be directly related to the initial topic you’re writing about, but that’s OK. Jot them down so you don’t forget them, and return to them after you feel you’ve written all you can or want to about the topic you started with. Eventually, you’ll likely finish your first list of topics but you’ll have a collection of individual stories/memories recorded. At that point, you might want to get out the timer again and repeat the exercise. At some stage, you’ll likely find you have enough related stories to be able to tie them together to form a decent memoir. Your stories should also make it easier for you to write an autobiography, if you still want to do that.

Jerry Chouinard
Guest

Curtis and Art thanks for all the ideas and prompting. Motivation has been no problem for me but a Son of mine says I say I way to much when he reads any of my emails etc. He even questions who would want to read my life’s story. Not bothered by that comment as it has been wonderful just recalling all the events of my life. Actually I am putting together two ‘journals” because the hobby I am involved in is one of the greatest on earth Amateur Radio. My call sign is K5YAA so the book title of my life’s work created by involvement in Amateur Radio is to be titled “The Young American Amateur”. A story every youngster needs to read just for the knowledge that peace and friendship the world over is attainable through communications.

Other than writing my auto-biography as a third rather “disinterested ” party I see no way to exclude the simple word I. In fact I have used it five times here already! Since being told I am sort of full of myself I have tried to replace I with me, my or myself as much as possible but it just doesn’t fit at times. Is using that little word acceptable and even as impossible to avoid as it seems to me?

Amazingly the suggestion to just write pieces to be later put together is exactly what I have been doing. Last evening at 3AM I awoke and had vivid memories of my Sister Ellen who had Cerebral Palsy. She never walked and could not move a muscle. We had to help her turn her head so she could “see” who was talking to her. Her blue eyes sparkled and she would coo back trying to say things in response. Ellen lived to the age of twelve and was in a state facility for half of her young life. I wrote ten pages just about my memories of her some fifty-four years ago now.

Thanks again for both of your ideas and suggestions. I shall visit the several sites you have mentioned for additional help.

Jerry Chouinard

velocity
Guest

For me bouncer over the head.Not for a school project. Otherwise………nice

Falahun
Guest

Thanks a lot, thats Great !

justin
Guest

Great post brother. Writing my own as we speak. Very helpful. cheers bro!!

Heather
Guest

This is a great read! When I was a little girl, I always dreamt of writing a book. I kept a little diary growing up that maybe had anywhere from 1-10 entries a year. I didn’t start being more serious about journaling until these last 3 years.

Here is a question that I struggle with, I am 30, and *hopefully* have many many years ahead of me. As a comment someone mentioned earlier, is to be brutally honest, even if it makes you squirm. My hesitancy is being honest in my thoughts or opinions during some experiences that might cause some of the people closest to me unhappy, cause it would reflect negatively on them (or me). Things that I may have never shared with them before. Maybe as I start writing I would prefer to leave it out, but I also would love it to be brutally honest cause if any of my ancestors had an autobiography or memoir, I would want to juicy details of their real opinions/thoughts etc…

Any advice?

Patricia Rosado
Guest

Hi Curtis: This column was extremely useful information for me so I thank you for that. I do have a question. I would like to do a memoir of my life story but I would like my target audience to be for adult children of dysfunctional families and finding your way through the darkness. You see I lost my dad and now recently my brother and of course I have been going through many family photos. As you age you begin to see why and how the dynamics of a family are created. I want to share my experiences in hopes that it may bring healing to the next generation that may find themselves in this position one day. Any suggestions on how to target a selective audience? Thanking you in advance for any help

Nancy Brown
Guest

For years, I’ve wanted to write my life story; however, when I actually began getting down to it this summer, I’ve found the task more daunting that I had expected. Your comments, Curtis, about the differences between an autobiography and a memoir have helped clarify the type of writing this will become. I thought I was writing an autobiography, but according to your differentiation, it appears more like a memoir. The topic is “Full Circle” with many examples of how my life has come full circle. One example is that I was born in CA, moved away to other states, now have returned to CA. I was going to write it entirely in the first person, but tried the opening chapter in third person and found that to be intriguing. My dilemma is how to make this interesting so that someone other than my children and grandchildren will want to read it. In the end, that’s really all that’s important; however, actually selling it to someone who would buy it, wouldn’t be a bad move. Any suggestions you might have, would greatly be appreciated!

Michlene Bellamy
Guest

Hi. I just want to say how very helpful and encouraging this post has been. I’ve always enjoyed writing since as long as I can remember. I remember writing plays as a kid. Falling in love with poetry and the music in words as a teenager. Embracing my super emotional soul. Knowing I loved music not because of the actual sound of the instruments, (tho I love a banging beat I can pop lock and drop it to???) but because of the meaning in the words. I am in love with words and how people use them. And I decide at a young age that one day I was gonna tell the world who Michlene (yes, like the tire)?) was. The cold hard facts. Now at 33 and having lived such an…for the lack of better words…eventful life…. I know that my story is worth telling. If not to encourage,help,or save the next ugly/beautiful soul, than at least to entertain the hell out of you. Lol and after reading this post, I know believe I can do it. I couldn’t figure out where to start. So thank you so very much for this huge step in the right direction. #finallyreadytotellmystory #mouthsorgonnahitthefloor #toknowmeistoloveme #imnotforeveryone

MaKayla
Guest

I been coming up with ideas of what i want to do with my life but how do i put that in a autobiography for my class this semester. I came up with some ideas but i am researching and i can’t come up with any ideas of how to put it together.

Carol Stack ( Dusty)
Guest

Thank you for this article and comments I have never written a story and have been trying to put together my life in a story for years. I feel I need and would like to learn how to actually write an autobiography without hurting those that will read it but I need to be honest and feel it’s time to let my story out that is not an easy past . Was thinking maybe a ghost writer could help or a very organized app or class to help me write down different events .. then bring together. I know little about my parents but have pictures Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated on maybe a beginners writing class or app.

Jessica Harigis
Guest

Great information. I feel like I have lived many lives (chapters) filled with crazyness, trauma, big up and downs and now today I am most at peace. My Q is… Can I write a memoir on one area of time (chapter) vs memories through out life.
Thanks
Jessica

Melissa
Guest

How do I get started? Having a lot of trouble getting started. Don’t know how to put topics in otder

Emery C. Walters
Guest

I’m a transman who has been asked to write my story. It’s a time piece, since I was born in 1943 and there was no knowledge or belief available to me or anyone else about trans issues. I did not even know how to believe myself. I have started this task about five different times. I don’t like who I was after the age of ten until fifteen years ago when I transitioned. All I’ve managed so far, and it’s been a lot of effort, is to integrate all the beginnings into one cohesive (sort of!) 6000 word start. All it would seem I need to do now is expand, right? Incorporating ‘the times’ is everything to my story. I’d rather write more young adult, coming of age, LGBT fiction which I’ve been doing. That’s like giving myself the life I wanted, not having to relive the one I was given.

Emery C. Walters

Craig
Guest

Hi, I am currently in the process of writing my own memoirs/autobiography after suffering with mental illness for most of my life. I hope to give inspiration to others and to give them strength to persevere with their fight for help and support. I have written just over 20,000 words at present and have hit a little bit of a wall I have covered all the topics I wanted to but I am unsure what the number of words I should be aiming for is as this is my first attempt at writing. I realise I may have to expand each chapter in order to make the book longer,but would a little bit of advice on the best way to do this.

Henia Kahan
Guest

Thanks for this very thorough and informative article!

Madhav gupta
Guest

Hi I am madhav I want to write about my school and college days I started writing but when my friend read it he said that interestin elements are not there and also I dont clearly remember my memories so what I should do in this condition

hugh
Guest

hi im soon to be age 74,never written anything since school day,s. now id like to write about my earliest memmouries,starting with the abject poverty and croulty in a family.living it an old tenemnet building four kid,s and mother,no photo,s of life,well that part of life,where do i start ….

Susie
Guest

I am writing an autobiography-a true life story. I would like to know what is the best way to describe clinical narcissism for a character in order to get the point across to the reader without having to clearly state the narcissism? Would you use dialogue and to what extent? I am having a difficult time explaining while writing because for me, I now see the disorder after 5 years of counseling and it is difficult for me to go back in time to the person I was before the counseling–a person who did not recognize the narcissists in my family.
Also, it is my intention to write a book, which can be turned into a movie, as this is definitely movie material! Any tips for what I should definitely include if I want it to be a movie? Thanks for any input!

Jay
Guest

I have decided to write about my experiences as a young child through adulthood. I will focus on growing up in the ghetto as a black girl and topics will include teenage pregnancy, death of a sibling, a parent’s drug abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, neglect, prostitution, homelessness, depression, poverty, prison, single mom. To triumph… married, working, homeowner, role model of the family, mind and spirit intact and how I overcame it all. I have a lot to cover so I’m guessing an autobiography may be the way to go but this article was enlightening in opening up the possibilities I have. Thank you

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