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How to Prepare and Write an Autobiography

Updated on November 11, 2017
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Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Jack has worked at IBM for over 28 years.

Introduction

Having completed my autobiography recently, I want to share some thoughts on how I did it. It is my approach and I thought other's may benefit from my experience.

- January 2016

Background

A memoir by definition is self serving. It is the story of a person's life from his own perspective. Therefore it is not a history book but more an opinion piece along with some facts. Never the less, it can convey some generational knowledge. Life lessons and family heritage are important information to pass on. Ideally, it can also be entertaining on it's own for outsiders.

In my particular case, I did not want to write this and make it all about me. I want to impart some knowledge that I gained over 60 plus years.

Some Steps In Preparing To Write Aautobiography

This is the hardest part of the whole process. It should start when you are early in life and want to capture your life history.

  • Start a diary
  • Keep important records
  • Take photographs
  • Save correspondences
  • Publish papers
  • Write an article
  • Submit comments and opinions to publications
  • Be sentimental
  • Improve your memory
  • Sign up to HubPages

Notice that many of these items are something that you should be doing all along. They will help your career and possibly shape your opinion. By doing some of these on a regular basis, you are forced to think about the big picture and life philosophies.

My Lumix TZ1 Camera with Zoom

Some Resources To Help

There are many resources that may help you. Memoir writing is a specific type of writing. Here are some of resources I found to be very helpful.

  • Read a book on writing
  • Join a writer's group
  • Ask for feedback
  • Ask someone else to proofread

My Notebook

How I Wrote My Autobiography

I decided to write my biography when a colleague of my, who is much older, mentioned that he is working on his memoir and have taken a writings class to help. His motivation was to create something for his two grandkids who are still young. He had an interesting career and a harsh time growing up during world war II. He felt he needed to tell his story so that his family heritage will be preserved.

I was reminded of years ago, when my own father past away and later on my aunt's passing, that they also had similar wishes about telling our family history but never wrote them down. I figure I want to make this my mission before it is too late.

Having joined HubPages a few years, I have been publishing for quite a while on various topics that I was interested in. Writing a memoir would just be a new addition to my collection.

  1. I started by creating an outline of chapters. I divided the chapters mostly chronologically but not exclusively. There were some parts of my past that overlap some periods.
  2. I assembled some of my papers and old photos and important documents...
  3. I checked my family tree where a few years back I've created on Tribal Pages.
  4. I put my iPhone to use and took photos of them.
  5. I started writing the chapters, not in sequence, choosing the easier part first.
  6. Here is the amazing thing I discovered. As I started to remember some item in my past, it unlocked other parts that I have forgotten. It is truly amazing how easy they came to me.
  7. I kept a notebook by my side and just record notes as I remember them. I would go back and re-visit them and later decide how they would fit into the various chapters.
  8. I treated each chapter as a standalone piece of work. I would include relevant information such as photos, links to papers or news articles, books that I've read via the Amazon module and a comment section at the end. The comment section is used two ways. First, they are feedback to my content. I have full control over what gets appended. If something is relevant, I would post it and perhaps add a response. If the comment were critique on my style, I would welcome the advice but would keep the comment private. In line with the Web 2.0 philosophy, this new way of publishing includes the audience participation and multimedia content.
  9. I used the Hubbook concept of connecting each chapter so that the reader can navigate easily from one chapter to the next.
  10. In some cases, where a hubbook already existed, I would add the Table of Content hub as one of my chapter. This falls in line with my belief to minimize replication. If some thing exists, I rather link to it than re-write it.
  11. As I finish each chapter, I would ask my son to proof read and fix some grammatical errors.
  12. I would publish it and link to it from the Table of Contents. I would also re-visit each hub periodically to add to it or modified it as a result of comments and feedback. In this way, it is a dynamic content that changes over time.

Some Tips

I found it helpful to think of a target audience when I'm writing. In my case, I am writing for my kid's who are millennials. I try to relate to their interests but also bring up somethings that are obsolete and still part of our shared experience.

Summary

Writing my autobiography was very satisfying. It was also revealing and gave me much insight on how our brain works. It took a while to complete and I'm sure there are items that I left out that may be important and on the other hand I may have included more details than necessary. That is the hardest part of writing. However, one thing I learned from my Writer's group is to put down into words as much detail as possible and let the editor prune it. I don't have an editor but it still makes good sense. I can revisit them a time later with a fresh perspective and edit it for the better.

My autobiography comprises a total of 24 chapters (5 of which are hubbooks written previously). It took me approx. 6 month to complete. It is approx. 200 pages of printed text including images. It was more work than I envisioned it to be due to the additional content. Let me know if you find this helpful.

© 2016 Jack Lee

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