How to write a biography

Spiral Biography Graphic: Michaela Frolich

What are the motives for writing one’s own biography or having it written by a professional writer?? Different needs come together in the desire to record one’s life in words. In this article, I explain the seven most important reasons why people tell their story and have it written down or write it themselves, then have it edited and typeset and printed as a book.

  • Preserving memories
  • Witness work
  • Notoriety and prestige
  • Passing on knowledge and experience
  • Self-perception and self-assurance
  • Life balance
  • Dealing with the Past

Preserving memories

One of the primary motives for writing an autobiography or having a biography written is to preserve memories from being forgotten- for the family, for following generations or also for oneself.

We have already told anecdotes from our lives, in the family, among friends or acquaintances. Some stories we told often and to everyone, others we confided only to individuals, in special life situations, to encourage the other or to explain why this or that developed this way or that way. But who knows our whole history and our view of it?? Who knows üWe know about the background, why we decided in one direction or the other, why we chose one path or the other? Wouldn’t it be reassuring to have written down the most important events, to have something in our hands that tells about us, a book about our life story from our own point of view??

There are the great moments in life that are worth writing down. They give pleasure in reading, beautiful things can be experienced again and preserved inside. And also the events and phases of life, which had to be mastered, which were difficult, are important to be recorded. Because they also document how we became who we are today. Does a closer look reveal- when we tell or write about it- who or what helped in this time, who or what supported to leave the trough again.

The worry of not being able to remember later also belongs in this topic area. One customer expressed her concern very clearly: "As long as I can remember, I want to write down as much as possible. Then someone can read to me later from my life, if I should get dementia.“

Again and again I experience that sons or daughters ask me to write down the story of their mother or father. You want to know more about your roots and how the life of your parents and grandparents was like.

Contemporary witness work

Being a contemporary witness to historical events or contemporary phenomena, and thus being able to present your own perspective, is of great importance to generations that have been touched by world-changing and/or society-impacting events: for example, flight or displacement, violence and war, political power or subversion, institutional abuse incidents. Describing personal experience gives insight into complex events and presents possible connections from an individual point of view. Not only victims and those affected can have their say, but also "witnesses" and participants provide information about individual experiences in historical, social or institutional events and the development on individual fates. Work with contemporary witnesses is important because it strengthens the ability to speak and because telling stories opens up different perspectives on history.

Notoriety and prestige

People who are already in the public eye have their biography written in order to present their role in society and their field of activity. Entrepreneurs, politicians, artists or musicians are examples of professionals who want to use a biography to increase their prestige, profile their image and / or present their visions to a large audience. In the case of celebrities, these biographies are published by publishing houses and publicized in the media. That gives prestige.

Passing on knowledge and experience

Have people acquired special knowledge or gained life experiences that led to unique success or allowed to overcome defeat in a positive way- in the society, in the occupation or in the family as well as in completely different topic areas poverty and wealth, health and illness, luck and unhappiness, love and separation-then they speak gladly about it and are also asked about it. Likewise, life in another culture, foreign worlds or extraordinary circumstances offers multifaceted material to be told. It is the experiences that touched the individual very much, that changed him and his view of the world, about which they and subsequently the readers can marvel and/or reflect. You feel that this knowledge and these experiences can also be significant for others.

Self-perception and self-assurance

People who write about their lives or talk about their lives have the desire to be aware of themselves and to be sure of themselves. Precursors of a biography are diary writing, annual reviews or autobiographical sketches. In writing alone for oneself or in a group of like-minded people, self-taught or under guidance, writing about one’s own life offers a way to get closer to oneself, to recognize oneself.

Life balance

The desire to put past life events in order, to think about what was good and what was not so good, appears regularly in the consciousness. Mostly when changes are imminent or have already taken place, when life became unbalanced, a voluntary break was taken or had to become involuntary. Even after the end of their career, at the beginning of the post-professional phase, many take advantage of the new freedom they have gained to take stock of their lives. In the process, they also come into contact with the question of meaning: What am I living for?? What is important to me? What am I (still) striving for??

People, whose motive is the development of a life balance, write first for themselves, and decide only at a later time, when the writing has been edited several times, to make their manuscript available to others as an (auto)-biography.

Dealing with the past

In many lives there are events that even tens of years later still cause head shaking or the question of "why" trigger. Perhaps they faded into the background for a while, temporarily losing a conscious influence on the life in question. There were simply more important things that needed attention. But then something happens that touches on the past. Then it helps to deal with it again, if necessary also with professional support. It is a matter of reconciling with a pain or fate, forgiving a person or life as such, accepting that the past cannot be changed, only the view of it and the attitude towards it.

A course participant once said to me: "You know.., I am here because I want to get rid of the ghosts that stand by my bed at night. I have already succeeded with one of them- when I wrote down the story of the day of my breakup, I was able to sleep well for the first time in a long time!“

Every life is unique and worth preserving in memory. A biography in the form of a book creates a framework that can be individually designed and represents a lasting value.

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