Your story is too important to simply let fade away. Whether preserving it for your children, grandchildren and generations beyond or for a wider audience, writing an autobiography is one way to ensure your story is shared with others.
Below are a few tips I’ve learned over the years as a video biographer that you might find helpful as you start the process of writing your own autobiography.
~ Autobiography Writing Tips ~
When I take on a new project, I start by breaking the process into three stages: 1) Pre-Production or Planning, 2) Production or Content Gathering, and 3) Post-Production or Editing & Completion.
- Pre-Production or Planning
Who is your Audience?
Determine who you are writing your autobiography for. If you are writing it for your grandchildren and great grandchildren, think about what you would want to know about your own grandparents and great grandparents. What stories, information, delivery style, tone and so on would resonate with you? If your audience will be professional peers or the general public, consider their perspective.
What are your Goals?
What will your autobiography cover? Your life story from the early years to the present day or will you focus on a specific theme or thread? Will you include family history and life lessons? Make a list of your goals to help keep you focused during the editing process.
What is your Timeline?
When do you want to present your autobiography or send it out to be published? Determine a completion date and then, working backwards, set monthly, weekly and daily writing goals. Share your progress with others if it helps to stay on track.
Create an Outline
An outline will help keep you organized and make the editing process easier. Start by identifying general categories (childhood, young adulthood, career, etc.) first, and then add sub-categories and then sub-categories under those.
- Production/Content Gathering
What will you include?
If you are wondering what stories and information to include, 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’ by Sue Shellenbarger.
Need help remembering? Memories can often be recalled by stimulating your senses with reminders from your past. Does a certain sound or smell bring back memories of your mother making dinner? For tips on stimulating your senses to bring back memories, check out: Memory Loss: Family Stories and History – Tips to Help You Remember.
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 don’t always come back to us when it’s convenient. Leave one on your nightstand, in your car, kitchen, etc. Most importantly, do not editing at this point.
Photos & Memorabilia
Gather photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia that will help to enhance your autobiography. Including visual elements will add a sense of reality and dimension for your audience.
As you write and gather materials for your autobiography, label and file content under the appropriate section in your outline. Cataloging now will help tremendously when it comes time to edit.
- Post Production/Editing
As tempting as it may be to include all your stories and memorabilia, your audience may find it overwhelming. Instead, identify the stories and memorabilia you feel are important to pass on, support your goals and your think would resonate with your audience. Then, rank them in order of importance, with ‘1’ being the most important and ‘4’ being the least. Soon, you will start to see your content becoming more manageable.
Pulling it all Together
Now comes the hard part – pulling it all together. Find a comfortable spot and set aside few hours a day for writing and editing. Don’t forget to refer back to your goals, audience, outline and timeline. Also, I’ve found it helpful to alternate between working on the details of a single story and pulling back to work on the larger structure.
For help writing your autobiography, there are several options: Find a local or online writing class, work with a writing mentor or hire a professional biographer. Whichever you choose, know the time and energy you put into preserving your life story will be valued by those you share it with.
~ Video Biography ~
Here at Family Line Video, we preserve life stories, family history and memories in Legacy Videos – Family Documentaries, Video Biographies, Anniversary Videos and Video Slideshows.
These modern-day memoirs weave filmed and edited interviews together with family photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia to bring stories to life for younger generations to know and cherish. To learn more or to view samples, visit us at FamilyLineVideo.com.
Your life story, whether in a written autobiography or a Legacy Video, is a gift your family will truly treasure for generations to come.
Family Line Video, LLC
Family Documentary Production