Starting your autobiography may seem like a daunting prospect but, if you are well informed and suitably inspired, it should be no more difficult than telling a story in the pub, sharing a joke, or telling your partner about your day. Here's what you need to know...
There is no right or wrong answer
First, always remember that this is your story - you should tell it however you wish. There is no correct or incorrect way to compile your memoirs*.
This beginner's guide is intended to provide you with some simple suggestions for where to start, and how to apply some basic structure to, your autobiography.
Try to identify distinct periods within your life
- your ancestry
- early childhood
- school years
- early adulthood
- adult life
By applying a rough timeline to your memoirs, you should find that it's easier to write a short story about each of the major periods within your life, and allow those stories to naturally flow from one to the next in chronological order. It sounds obvious but separating your memoirs into distinct chapters makes the writing process both more manageable and more enjoyable by focusing on particular periods of your life one at a time.
Focus on specific anecdotes to add colour and insight to your story
Remember the time when... Your fondest memories (or the memories that haunt you) are most likely to be those parts of your life that you are most passionate about when you come to write about them. Transform your memoirs from a dry collection of facts to an involving and inviting story.
This simple technique is how professional biographers draw out the juiciest, most entertaining and most read-able stories of their (usually famous) subject's life. Start thinking about your life as a series of anecdotes and you're half-way to writing an enthralling autobiography...
Pose yourself questions
Where did I come from? Who are my parents? How did they meet? What challenges have I had to overcome in my life? What do I most enjoy in life? Which people have been most influential in my life?
If you can compose a list (however brief) of questions that you wish you'd been able to ask your own great-grandparents, then you're likely to successfully write about the aspects of your life that your descendants will be most keen to read about. Plus, the time-honoured writing technique of question-and-answer will help you to apply a professional structure to your story-telling.
Produce a first draft
Producing a first draft (either of a particular chapter of your autobiography or of your entire life's story) gives you a great starting point from which to make tweaks and improvements; to add further details or elaborate on particular incidents.
The great thing about a first draft is that it can be really rough and sketchy - little more than a number of chapter headings and bullet points will suffice. Once you have a first draft, adding to your story will become progressively easier as you identify (and remember) new stories within your memoirs that are linked to events that you have mentioned in your first draft. The process is not dissimilar to completing a large jigsaw (or constructing a house): you start by moving a few key pieces into place; building the foundations for the subsequent steps; finally filling in the gaps and adding the finishing touches.
Think about your potential audience
If you were reading your autobiography for the first time, what would you want to know? What do you hope to gain from reading it? What do you wish your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents had written about their lives?
Learn from the professionals
Professional biographers take weeks, months or even years to write a subject's biography. They work on building up the story over time, using an iterative process - one chapter or anecdote at a time, and then in a series of revised drafts.
The process of writing your autobiography can be as long or as short; as detailed or as brief as you like - you're the boss. However, to do yourself (and your exploits) justice, take your time and enjoy yourself. Revel in your memories!
Need help from a professional biographer? Request a quote for us to help you write your biography.
* However, as I've learnt through trial and error, jokes usually work best if you put the punchline at the end... : )