How To Write an Autobiography: Three Approaches to Writing Your Life Story
There’s no greater gift to share with your loved ones than the story of your own life. Whether you want to share your special moments with friends, family members, future generations, or the general public, it’s definitely worth the time to record the important events of your life.
They’ll also enjoy reading your recollections about past generations, so you’ll be preserving not only your experiences, but also those who came before you.
Whether your goal is writing an autobiography—the story of your life—or a biography—the story of others—it can seem a daunting task to sit down and write the story of an entire life, which is why I’ve created a class called Write Your Life Story that shows you how to do it.
The first question you might be asking is “How can I possibly organize my life story?” Here are three techniques that make it easy. And once you’re organized, every task becomes much simpler.
Your autobiography should be organized the same way you think about your life. Three possible choices are:
Each of these has advantages, so let’s look at them one by one and see which works best for you.
Chronological Organization means arranging events in the order they occurred. For example, your autobiography might begin with your birth, and continue right up to today.
Or you could select only one period of your life, and relate events that happened, in the order they occurred. For example, none of us actually remember being born, so your story might begin with you as a child. Or you could just describe the course of a particularly exciting time in your life: going to college, marrying, a major work project, and so on.
Alternately, you could include even more than your own life, in chronological order. You could start with the arrival of your ancestors in your homeland, and tell about each of them in chronological order, right up until you arrived, and on through to the present day.
Chronological Organization is a very straightforward way to tell your life story. No reader will be confused about the order of events, and it will be easy to understand them in the context of what was happening at the same time, historically.
On the other hand, not every moment of our lives is interesting (nor is every ancestor) so to avoid boring readers, it might be necessary to skip some periods. This can make some life stories seem like they are proceeding in fits and spurts. In that case, there are some alternate approaches that may work better, so let’s look at those, too.
Thematic Organization mean grouping life events according to characteristics that make them similar. For example, if you have several children, you could compare and contrast their experiences with, say, first words, first day of school, hobbies, sporting ability, and so on. Or you could describe your own wedding and those of ancestors and other family members, all in a chapter about weddings.
With Thematic Organization, whatever subjects you choose to write about will be grouped together so that readers can fully explore that theme before turning to another.
The advantage of Thematic Organization is that if readers are interested in specific subjects, they can turn directly to the chapter about that subject. The disadvantage is that it may be difficult for them to get a clear picture of the order of events in your life, so if that’s important to you, Chronological Organization may work better.
Now let’s look at a third, completely different way to organize your life story.
Anecdotal Organization means telling short, usually amusing stories about the events of your life. This is the approach many humorists, such as George Burns and Dave Barry, have taken to writing about their lives.
The advantage of Anecdotal Organization is that it usually results in a very enjoyable read, because everything in your autobiography will be amusing in some way or other. If you have a knack for witty writing, this is an ideal way to entertain others with episodes from your life.
The disadvantage of Anecdotal Organization is that it means leaving out anything that isn’t amusing, so it can result in a rather random look at various moments from your experience, and won’t convey a complete picture of your life to others. On the other hand, that’s exactly what many writers want to accomplish. And the anecdotes can be arranged in chronological order, so there is the possibility of creating some continuity.
Organizing Your Life Story
Whichever of these three organizational techniques you choose, you’ll find they make it far easier to start telling your life story.
Your next step is to learn the story telling techniques that will best bring your words to life, a subject I explore in my class, Write Your Life Story.
And once you know those techniques, I’ll present you with a couple dozen prompts to jog your memory about important and perhaps amusing events you can write about.
By the end of Write Your Life Story, you’ll have more than enough notes to fill you life story, and you’ll be well on the way to sharing your experiences with friends, family, and future generations.
Best of all, if you use the links in this article, I’ve arranged for a special 50% discount. All you need to do is click! I’ll see you there!
About the Author
Steve Alcorn (@themeperks) is the CEO of Alcorn McBride Inc., a company that designs products used in nearly all of the world’s theme parks. He is the author of seven books, including How to Fix Your Novel. During the past decade he has taught more than 10,000 aspiring fiction writers through the online learning programs of 1500 colleges and universities worldwide. Find out more at writingacademy.com
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