How to Write an Autobiography: One Useful "Rule"

It's not difficult to learn how to write an autobiography, and it's such a gift to discover that a loved one has left behind a story of his or her life. Even a simple diary or journal is a gift. An organized autobiography, memoir, or memory book is even better.

By writing your autobiography, you can provide loved ones with stories they will cherish forever.

Don't worry that you can't "write well." Your autobiography can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, and it may not cost as much as you think to get the help of an editor if you want it.

An autobiography is yours, and you can make the rules. There is one basic "rule", however, that will help to make your story more interesting and focused...

First, let's clear up the difference between autobiography and memoir.

Definition of Autobiography and Memoir

Autobiography is an account of important facts and life events as written by you, the individual who lived them. An autobiography attends to the details of your entire life, in a factual, historical context, focusing on how events shaped your character and individuality.

Memoir generally refers to a personal account of a particular period in your life, often your career, a traumatic event, a particular challenge, or other special circumstance. Memoir aims not to encompass a chronology of your life, but to provide insight into a specific period or aspect.

If you were writing an autobiography for professional publication, a publisher would expect you to observe these distinctions.

However, when you learn how to write an autobiography for personal reasons, your primary objective is single.

How to Write an Autobiography Using One Rule

Have a theme. Provide answers to questions others may not know they have, around a single theme.

When my mother died, she left a few pages of diary that explained how she fell in love with my father. This diary fascinated me, and it helped me to understand her better.

I wish she had left more, and that desire made want to help others write their stories.

If you'd like to write your own biography, however informal, you may find it easier if you focus on an overall theme.

Create a Unifying Story Theme

The more your autobiography (or memoir) follows a traditional story structure, the more it will capture and sustain attention. The easiest way to create a story structure is to focus your story on a major life goal, and the successes and setbacks related to that single goal.

This might be anything from your need to survive an illness to the desire to raise a happy family. You may recognize these goal-oriented themes:

  • The struggling artist
  • Overcoming hardship
  • Following a calling
  • Love that conquers all
  • Rags to riches

If you want to write your own autobiography, any one of these, or something similar, will make an interesting and inspiring theme.

A story, by definition, is an account of overcoming obstacles. Others learn more about you through your management of setbacks than through your ultimate successes, and it is human nature for readers to want to learn how others have overcome obstacles.

Everyone has goals—financial, familial, or spiritual. You have longings, you strive, and you fail. These natural human struggles interest and engage readers, which is why professional autobiographies of historical figures, whether John F. Kennedy or Marilyn Munroe, focus on difficulties the individuals faced. The successes are secondary.

Writing about the difficult path you followed to attain your primary objective will interest readers and will also provide a single focal point for your writing.

To learn more about how to write your autobiography as easily as possible, see: 9 Simple Steps to Writing an Autobiography.  And if I can help you, please contact me.

Helping others write about their lives is the most interesting and rewarding work I do.

As one example of how to write a biography, please check out this fascinating and moving memoir I edited, written by Bruce Logan and Elaine Head, the story of a retired Vietnam vet and his wife, as they revisit Vietnam with philanthropic goals:   Back to Vietnam: Tours of the Heart.

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