Autobiographical writing: your life in book form

Sometimes things happen to you in life that are so incredible or special that you just have to write them down. Not only older people, but also younger people can write an autobiography. But how does autobiographical writing work?

Why autobiographical writing is worthwhile

A biography is a literary work that tells the complete story of a person’s life or a specific period of their life. In the case of the latter, it is also often referred to as a “memoir” or “memoirs”. In addition to public figures (politicians, actors, artists, activists, etc.) mainly people who have experienced something extraordinary write down their story.

The bestseller “Eat Pray Love” by U.S. author Elizabeth Gilbert is a good example: in her book, the journalist describes how she finds herself on a year-long journey through Italy, India and Bali after her divorce – and even opens up to a new love in the end. Many readers could relate to her story, were encouraged or inspired to make changes in their lives themselves.

Autobiographical writing offers you, the author, the opportunity to process certain events in your life by writing them down. This does not have to be about a crisis in your life. Maybe you want to write about your time as an environmental activist or your teenage years: Whatever the subject of your autobiography, it will help you reflect on your life and see it from a new perspective as you read it.

Biography vs. Autobiography: What is the difference??

The two terms are often used in the same context, but there is a crucial difference: a biography is written by another author, who does not even necessarily have to know the protagonist of the book. Especially with historical figures, this is usually not possible after all. An autobiography, on the other hand, is a review of the author’s own life. But since the “auto” is often a bit bulky, most people say that they write their own biography – although they themselves are the author.

However, biography and autobiography also have one thing in common: they are based on real sources, such as documents, photos, conversations, interviews or diaries. So these are not fictitious stories, but real narratives that need to be reported truthfully. The main thing is authenticity and completeness of the narrative.

In contrast to this is the (auto-)biographical novel: Here, you as the author may take certain liberties by adding, omitting or deliberately changing things. Fact and fiction are allowed to intermingle, although it may not be obvious to the reader which sections are reality and which are the author’s fantasy.

The structure of an autobiography

If you want to write an autobiography, you should proceed in a very structured way. So that you don’t forget any important details or events, it helps if you write everything down in a chronological overview. A timeline like this helps you conceptualize and write your book, as you can visually see and recall characters and storylines in front of you. Time jumps and flashbacks can also be better planned without the famous red thread resp. Losing track of your life.

Normally, however, biographies are structured quite chronologically: they begin at the birth or. childhood of the protagonist and end at a certain point. Some authors, however, take some liberties and start, for example, with their memories or an event that was to change their lives forever.

In terms of chapter structure, you can use the different stages of life as a guide, for example, birth and childhood, adolescence and school years, studies and career. It is more exciting, however, if you focus on the most intense experiences of your life and build your chapters accordingly. So the things because of which you want to write your biography in the first place: drastic encounters, deep friendships, disappointments and defeats, but also exciting flights of fancy. Birth, childhood, adolescence, and school years can be covered well in one chapter before moving on to the exciting content, such as your first disappointed love or your first meeting with your mentor.

You want your story to be exciting to read, so here is a list of examples of what stages can be included and highlighted in your autobiography:

  • Life crises
  • Important people and mentors
  • Formative experiences
  • External circumstances (spirit of the times, significant political events, etc.).)
  • Recurring life questions (“What is my calling??” or also “Is there a God?”)

Research and writing process

Research is one of the most important processes for anyone who wants to write a book. (Auto-)biographies give events truthfully, therefore it is essential that all facts can be reconstructed exactly and preferably documented. So gather all the documents, photos and other testimonies you want to use as a source.

Stylistically, it’s important that you decide on a tense when writing. Either, you write in the present tense or in the past tense. As a rule, autobiographies are told from the first-person perspective; after all, it is the author himself who is writing down his life story. Biographies written by someone else, on the other hand, may use different narrative perspectives.


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