How to write an Autobiography

Lets begin with the blatant truth. Before you embark on a journey to write an autobiography, you will need to ask yourself one question Why would someone want to read your autobiography?

An autobiography is a self- authored story of a persons life. Unlike a book, an autobiography is steeped in the truth. Fiction gives authors plenty of reign to make things interesting. But the crux of an autobiography is your story. And you need to evaluate if your story would make someone pick up your book from the shelf. is a great blog on why you should write a book.

It’s a misconception that autobiographies are written only by celebrities and well known personalities. Yes, it does help if you are one of the above. But the appeal of an autobiography is that every one of them has a compelling story at the heart of it.

It is a great way to account your life and leave something back for your family and friends. People have been writing autobiographies since 400 A.D however the word “autobiography” was first coined by William Taylor in 1797 in the English periodical the Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid, but condemned it as “pedantic. The next recorded use was by a gentleman named Robert Southey in 1809.

Another common error people make is to confuse memoirs with autobiographies, but today that is not the case. A memoir typically records one area of the authors life such as his career while an autobiography is records an entire life. For example, A Movable Feast is a memoir by American author Ernest Hemingway about his struggling career as a journalist and writer in Paris, France in the 1920s. The book talks in detail about the authors apprenticeship as a young writer while he was married to his then wife, Hadley Richardson. Whereas, Wings of Fire by A.P.J Abdul Kalam is an autobiography since it recounts his entire life story.

Sadly, most people shy away from writing an autobiography because of the complexities involved in writing one. There is also another important question that most people ask, how to write an autobiography? Writing an autobiography is more difficult than it sounds.

So here are a few tips to help you write your autobiography

Ask yourself who’s your audience?

Figuring out who you are writing autobiography for is something you should decide on very first. This depends on what part of your life forms the chunk of your autobiography. Is it your career triumph? Or the story about the failure of your start up? Then the demographic of your autobiography would be potential entrepreneurs and your writing style would have to be more corporate detailing the facts about your business. You must remember that an autobiography is more about what you did than who you are. So let your life’s greatest moments be the centre of your book.

Plan your story’s structure

Creating a timeline of all the events that happened in your life is a good way to start. This can include all major events, dates and a structure to build upon. Begin by breaking up your life into several different points.

The major chunk of your autobiography must include the central story that you want to talk about. If you are the spouse of a cancer survivor and this aspect is the central core of your autobiography, then plan your lifes details that can complement this crux.

You need to ensure that every bit of your life that you write about is like a clue for the reader to help them understand the reason behind your decisions and feelings. While writing an autobiography, you must remember that for the reader you are the central character they are invested in. So some choices that you make in your life may have a compelling backstory to it, which needs to be addressed in the book as well.

Here are some additional points to think about:

  • Your autobiography doesn’t have to begin with your birth.However, it is a good idea to include information on your ancestors and family history. This will give your readers an idea of how you became the person you are.
  • Significant events that happened in your teenage life. What lead you to make decisions you made?
  • Your education and career
  • Your relationships

While you are the hero of your autobiography, there are other main characters that form the crux of your story. There are friends, family, and other people who may have significantly affected your life. Take a few minutes to list them down.

You will also find that a few people like teachers, coaches, mentors, and bosses may have influenced your life.Decide whether someone who has been a role model for you will appear in your story. You should also include some people who may have created problems in your life.People learn from negative experiences as much as they learn from positive experiences. Make sure you run your readers through the ups and downs in your life. A story without conflict often tends to get boring.

Identify moments and be honest

Creating categories and sub categories will make it easier to plan and identify the right moments.  One of the best ways to write important moments is by writing events that happened in a particular time frame. As tempting as it may be, it is a good idea to keep it real and stick to the truth. Your autobiography is a fact and not a fiction. Changing names and locations to protect the privacy of other people involved is fine, however completing changing the way a certain event took place is not a good idea. If you don’t feel comfortable with revealing the whole truth, perhaps writing an autobiography may not be for you.

For instance, your childhood forms a huge part of who you are today. Let your book have plenty of anecdotes about your parents, upbringing, value set, friends and any other important parts of your young life. Relationships and heartbreaks realty interest readers since everyone can identify with it. However if you are intensely private about your life and uncomfortable about sharing these details, writing an autobiography is going to be hard.

Write in your own voice

If your story has an impersonal voice, readers tend to lose interest in it. So writing in your voice is a great way to hold your readers interest. Write in simple words, as if you are narrating your story to your friends and family. After all, this is your story. Think from readers point of view. Descriptive narration will always entertain and captivate people.

If you are looking for some inspiration to write, we suggest you read the following list of life changing autobiographies from around the world.

Publish and Market

With the phenomenal success of the self-publishing industry, you can get your autobiography edited and published in no time! Ensure that your autobiographys cover is compelling. Our blog on 5 book cover mistakes every Indie author makes gives you a insight into the matter.

Marketing your book is as important as writing it. Be active on social media and regularly share excerpts from you book on your profiles to instill curiosity amongst your readers.

Playing it My Way- Sachin Tendulkar

Launched in 2014, the book is one of the most popular autobiographies sold in India. It accounts the legendary cricketers career spanning 24 years and aspects of his life that have not been shared publicly before. The book entered the Limca Book of Records for being the bestselling adult hardback across both fiction and non-fiction categories.The book has sold over 1, 50,289 copies.

The best parts of the book are the occasional glimpses into batsmanship. “I’ve batted best when my mind has been at the bowler’s end of the pitch In fact, for both bowlers and batsmen, cricket is played best when your mind is at the opposite end Problems occur when your mind is stuck at your own end,” he writes.

 

How to write an Autobiography

 

 

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin

A perfect story of rags to riches, the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is a must read by both historical and self-improvement standards. The book focuses on his life, ideas and his youth. It is a story on how hard work can bring a man financial success.  He divided his life into four parts, reflecting the different periods at which he wrote them and this work has become one of the most famous and influential examples of an autobiography ever written. It is also considered the first American book to be taken seriously by Europeans as literature. According to William Dean Howells in 1905, “Franklin’s is one of the greatest autobiographies in literature, and towers over other autobiographies as Franklin towered over other men.”

 

How to write an Autobiography

 

 

Long Walk to Freedom Nelson Mandela

Published in 1995, Long walk to freedom is Nelson Mandela’s account of his life in the prison for 27 years. Under the apartheid government, Mandela was regarded as a terrorist and was unfairly put in prison for his role as a leader of the then-outlawed ANC. This book is the perfect example of your lifes challenges and traumatic phases can turn into a great literary piece and an inspiration for others.

How to write an Autobiography

 

 

The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian – Nirad C. Chaudhuri

Nirad C Chaudhuri, a famous author recorded his life and from his birth in 1897 to in Kishorganj, a small town in present-day Bangladesh. The book relates his mental and intellectual development, his years growing in Calcutta, his observations of disappearing landmarks, and the connotation of this is dual  changing Indian situation and historical forces that was making exit of British from India an imminent affair. His interesting dedication runs thus:

To the memory of the British Empire in India,
Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
But withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
“Civis Britannicus sum”
Because all that was good and living within us
Was made, shaped and quickened
By the same British rule.

How to write an Autobiography

On the whole, writing an autobiography is like embarking on a brand new journey. You will often face challenges and difficulties but it is a journey that will change your life. Sharing your trials and triumphs with the world is a life changing experience.

Do you have any other interesting insights to share? We would love to hear from you in our comments!

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Aishwarya Mukundarajan

Aishwarya is an MBA graduate from Symbiosis International University, Pune. When asked what her hobbies are she points to an overflowing bookcase.

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