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How to Write Your Autobiography or Memoirs - Getting Started

Updated on September 29, 2014

Why Write your Autobiography?

Have you ever thought about how to write your autobiography?

Do you ever find yourself thinking about what life was like for your forebears? If you have, then think about your own descendants. It would be a wonderful thing for you to leave memories of your life for them. In today’s world of rapidly developing technological changes,our lives may seem old fashioned to coming generations. Imagine how interesting it would be to your grandchildren to read about how life really was before the computer age, before cell phones, and before all of today's modern conveniences.

Ideas for How to Get Started

Before you begin, you may wish to consider the different ways to achieve your goal. Rather than write your autobiography, which usually encompasses one’s entire life, you may prefer to write memoirs, which are random selections of happenings that stand out in your memory. A memoir can focus on certain parts of one’s life, for instance success in building a business, or the pleasures and trials of life as a first time mother, etc. There are no set rules for writing memoirs, but whatever method you prefer, the following ideas may help you to write your autobiography:

1. If you wish to include information about your genealogy there are web sites to help you find it. Such details would make an interesting prelude to the story of your own life. You may be very surprised at what you will learn.

2. If you have kept a journal over the years you can use it as a reference to create your autobiography. If you do not have journals to refer to, then just sit back in your favorite chair and think about your life, starting with your earliest memories. Take notes as you recall one thing after another.

3. Use your senses, i.e. sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch, to recall memories. For instance, was there a particular dish that your mother made that smelled and tasted so good? What did your kitchen look like when you were a child? Was there a particular TV show that you recall enjoying? Did you enjoy the touch of your dog’s tongue as he licked your face? You’ll find that each recollection will trigger others as well.

As you can see, using your senses to recall your life works well. You might recall how you excited yet nervous you were when a boy asked you for your first date. That may trigger other memories of those times. One thing leads to another and before you know it, you have some ideas for how to write your autobiography. You may wish to start at the beginning of your life, and progress through the years from there. However, if you are not inclined to organize your past life that way, you might consider writing memoirs instead. Whichever way you choose, your life will someday be of great interest to future generations of your family.

What to Write About

4. What do you wish to include in your autobiography? It’s totally up to you. You may have some things you do not wish to include because reading them may upset family members. If those are incidents they already know of then it may not make a difference. But it’s always more fun to recall the pleasanter aspects of your life. You don’t want the stories to be a downer for the reader. Don’t drone on and on about your various illnesses or failures in life. Sometimes one can even put a humorous twist on an otherwise unpleasant incident. For instance, I had a very critical mother-in-law and I compared her to Marie Barone of the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” in a comical way. You just have to think about who will be reading your autobiography and take that into consideration.

There are so many subjects to consider for your autobiography. Think about your very first memory in life. Usually those are the ones best recalled. As you have progressed through life you may wish to include tales of your school days, your married life, places you have lived, your favorite foods and recipes, your hobbies, travels, holiday traditions, etc. Making a list of the subjects before starting to write would help you better organize your autobiography.

More Ideas for Memoir Writing

5. How can you make your autobiography more interesting? If you are writing your autobiography on your computer, you can insert pictures of family members. Or you may wish to use clip art pictures to separate various subjects. These lend variety and humor to your story. If you had pets during your lifetime you may have some interesting or humorous information to write about them, as well as pictures. Give titles to the various subjects, such as “My Wedding,” “Life on the Farm,” etc. Breaking up your story makes it more interesting to the reader, focusing their attention one aspect of your life at a time.

6. What if you cannot recall specific details about an incident you wish to include? How do you write your autobiography then? For one, you could contact someone who was there at the time for details you have forgotten. It might have been a family reunion, a wedding, a July 4th picnic, etc. With so many people attending an affair like that, it could be helpful to obtain their input, which in turn, may trigger more of your own memories. Check back in your photograph album. Pictures may also bring to mind memories long forgotten.

  1. An autobiography does not have to stop at the time of writing. For instance, I have divided mine into four parts titled as follows: The First Half of My Life, which takes one from birth to adulthood, then For Better or for Worse, which encompasses my married life, Part Three (the next ten years) and Part Four, The Final Years. The final years features interesting happenings as they occur, which I add to from time to time. Therefore, the autobiography in its entirety continue to grow until one is no longer able to write. At that point, if you have distributed the previous sections, you might choose a relative to publish and distribute part four should you be unable to continue. Say, for instance, you are in your late seventies. Most of your life has passed, but perhaps there are still happenings of interest to include in your autobiography. Those would constitute parts three or four.

As you can see, writing your autobiography would be a challenge, but one you can overcome and are sure to enjoy in the knowledge that you have made a lasting contribution to your family history.


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