Have you ever thought about recording your life story for your children, grandchildren and future generations to know? Whether preserving it for your descendants or a wider audience, an autobiography or written memoir is one way to ensure your story is remembered.
Below are a few tips I’ve picked-up over the years as a Video Biographer that have helped to keep me organized and on task. Perhaps a few will prove useful as you start the process of writing your own autobiography.
~ Autobiography Tips ~
To start, I divide the process into three stages: 1) Pre-Production or Planning, 2) Production or Content Gathering, and 3) Post-Production or Editing. Below are tips for each stage.
1. Pre-Production or Planning
- Know your Audience
Are you writing your autobiography for your family and descendants? If so, think about what you would want know about your own grandparents and great grandparents. What stories, information, delivery style, tone and so on would resonate with you? If your audience is the general public or your peers, on the other hand, consider their perspective.
- Identify your Goals
What will your autobiography cover? Will you include your entire life story or focus on a specific theme throughout? Will you include family history and life lessons? Write your goals down to help you stay focused during the editing process.
- Set a Timeline
Do you have an end date in mind for presenting your autobiography to your family or sending it on to a publisher? If so, work backwards from the date and set monthly, weekly and daily writing goals. Be sure to include periods when you simply need a break.
- Create an Outline
An outline will keep you organized, focused and make editing more manageable. Start by identifying general categories (childhood, young adulthood, career, etc.), then add sub-categories and then sub-categories under those. Expect to modify the outline throughout the editing process.
2. Production or Content Gathering
- Write, Write, Write
It’s time to let your thoughts and stories flow. Be sure to keep a notepad or voice recorder handy since memories surface in their own time. Leave one on your nightstand, in your car, kitchen, etc. Do not edit at this point. Just write.
- What to Include
Wondering what stories and information to include in your autobiography? Check out these two articles: ‘The Stories That Bind Us’ by Bruce Feiler, NYT. and ‘The Power of Myth: The Benefits of Sharing Family Stories of Hard Times’ for guidance.
- Memory Triggers
Having difficulty remembering? Memories can often be recalled by stimulating your senses. Review old journals or diaries, photo albums, year books and family movies. Drive through your old neighborhood. Dig through boxes you may have packed away that contain object from your past.
- Visual Elements
Gather photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia that can enhance your stories. Visual elements will add dimension and a more personal connection for your audience.
- Stay Organized!
As you gather content for your autobiography, be sure to label and file the material under the appropriate category in your outline. Organizing now will help tremendously when it comes time to edit.
3. Post Production or Editing
As tempting as it may be to include every life experience in your autobiography, your audience will find it overwhelming. Instead, identify the stories that support your goals and then rank each by importance. Not only will your content become more manageable but you will start to see themes and patterns emerge.
- Stick to your Timeline
While it’s important to stick to your timeline, it’s equally important to schedule daily and even weekly breaks. Having a chance to step away and clear your head will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and getting stuck in the minutia.
- Stay Focused
Refer back to your outline, goals and audience perspective often. I find it helpful to alternate between the details of a specific story and the broader story as a whole.
- Outside Input
It’s never easy to have an outsider critique work you’ve poured your heart into but a fresh pair of eyes can help identify weak spots. Ask a friend, family member or even a stranger their thoughts and what could be improved upon. While you may not agree, it will provide some valuable food for thought.
Need a little help writing your autobiography? Consider taking a local or online class, working with a writing mentor or hiring a professional biographer.
Capture your stories, history & memories in a
~ Family Documentary Video ~
for your family to know & celebrate.