Your life story is too important to simply let fade away. Whether preserving it for your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren or for a wider audience, a written autobiography 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 moving forward when capturing a client’s life story. Perhaps a few will prove useful as you start the process of writing your autobiography.
~ Autobiography Tips ~
When starting a project, I divide the process into three stages: 1) Pre-Production/Planning, 2) Production/Content Gathering, and 3) Post-Production/Editing & Polishing.
- Know your Audience
Is your autobiography for your family and future generations? If so, think about what you would want know about your own grandparents and great grandparents. What life stories, information, delivery style, tone and so on would resonate with you? If your audience, instead, is the general public or your peers, consider their perspective.
- Identify your Goals
What will your autobiography cover? Will you share your entire life story or focus on a specific theme or experience? Will you include family history? Life lessons? Make a list of goals to refer back to 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 to a publisher? If so, work backwards from that date and set monthly, weekly and daily writing goals.
- Create an Outline
An outline will keep you organized and make the task of 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/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 aren’t always predictable. Leave one on your nightstand, in your car, kitchen, etc. Do not edit at this point. Wait until a bigger picture emerges.
- What to Include
Wondering what stories and information to include in your autobiography? Check out these two great 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
Memories can often be recalled by stimulating your senses. Do certain sounds or smells bring back memories of your mother in the kitchen or summers on the farm? For tips on stimulating your senses, check out: Memory Loss: Family Stories and History – Tips to Help You Remember.
- Visual Elements
Visual elements add dimension and a stronger sense of reality for your audience. Gather any photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia that might enhance your stories.
- Stay Organized!
As you gather content for your autobiography, label and file everything under the appropriate category listed in your outline. Cataloging now will help tremendously when it comes time to edit.
3. Post Production or Editing
As tempting as it is to include every experience, thought and life story in your autobiography, your audience will find it overwhelming. Instead, identify the stories that support your goals and then rank each by importance, from 1 to 4. Soon your content become more manageable and themes and patterns will start to emerge.
- Stick to your Timeline
Identify a comfortable place to work and start editing and then writing as determined by your timeline goals. Be prepared to step away every few days to keep from becoming overwhelmed.
- Staying Focused
Refer back to your outline, goals and audience perspective often. I find it helpful to alternate between working on the details of a specific story and the larger storyline.
- Outside Input
It’s never easy to have an outsider critique work you’ve poured your heart into but having 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 with your autobiography? Consider taking a local or online writing class, working with a writing mentor or hiring a professional biographer. Whichever you choose, know the time and effort you put into preserving your life story will be valued for generations to come.
Here at Family Line Video, we help families preserve life stories and family history in Family Documentaries – Life Story Videos, Family History Videos, 50th Anniversary Videos and Video Slideshows.
These modern-day memoirs weave filmed interviews together with photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia to bring stories to life for younger generations to know and cherish. (See Samples)
Your stories are too important to lose. Give your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren a gift they will treasure for years to come.
Family Line Video, LLC
Life Story Video &
Family Documentary Production