Have you ever thought about capturing your life story, family history and life lessons for your children, grandchildren and generations beyond to know? Whether for your descendants or a wider audience, a written memoir or an 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 keep me organized when working on a client’s story. Perhaps you will find a few useful as you start the process of writing your own autobiography.
~ Autobiography Tips ~
To start, I break-down the process into three stages: 1) Pre-Production/Planning, 2) Production/Content Gathering, and 3) Post-Production/Editing. Below are tips for each stage.
- Know your Audience
Are you writing your autobiography for your children, grandchildren and future generations? If so, think about what you might 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 is the general public or your peers, 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 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 on 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 surface in their own time. Leave one on your nightstand, in your car, kitchen, etc. Do not edit at this point. Just write and let the bigger picture emerge.
- 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. For tips on stimulating your senses to bring back memories, check out: Memory Loss: Family Stories and History – Tips to Help You Remember.
- Visual Elements
Visual elements will add dimension and a more personal connection for your audience. Gather photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia that can enhance your stories.
- Stay Organized!
As you gather content for your autobiography, label and file all your material under the appropriate category listed in your outline. Organizing now will be a big help 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 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 writing your autobiography? Consider taking a local or online class, working with a writing mentor or hiring a professional biographer.