Autobiographies are much more than a life story. They are an adventure of self-discovery through which authors remember, reflect upon, analyze and write about their life from birth onward. True autobiographies or memoirs are incomplete life stories lacking the final chapter, death. That is the realm of the biographer.
Autobiographers write their life stories for various reasons, including:
- To put their life in perspective
- To understand life experiences
- To share life lessons
- To resolve problems, conflicts or issues
- To preserve family history
There are, of course, other reasons, such as to achieve fame or fortune, but very few autobiography writers realize either.
The most important question an autobiography author should answer is: Why am I writing my autobiography? Answering it helps put the component parts of the autobiography in perspective, beginning with the title.
- Title: Start with a “working title” that describes the theme. The working title will likely change by the end of the writing and editing process.
- Dedication: Decide to whom you want to dedicate your work, but be open to adding to it as you remember others worthy of special recognition.
- Table of Contents: Leave this page blank until the writing and editing processes are done. Like the title, chapter headings tend to change.
- Acknowledgements: Keep a list of everyone who helped and then come back and express your appreciation for their guidance and support.
- Foreword: Describe the reasons for writing the autobiography, what you hope to achieve by writing it and what you hope others will learn from reading it.
- Introduction: Grab the reader’s attention right off! The first paragraph, first page and first chapter must keep readers interested, or you’ll lose them.
- Body: Create a series of chronological chapter headings. Write about one specific time period and use sub-headings to distinguish important life-changing events.
- Conclusion: The “pay off.” Here is where you tie together your life experiences and explain what you’ve learned by sharing your thoughts, insights and recommendations.
- Memorabilia: Some autobiographers include pictures of family members, letters, heirlooms and other items that capture special moments.
- Index: Some publishers of autobiographies expect a page index at the end of the book.
Last, but not least, edit, re-edit and re-edit some more. Family, friends and colleagues can help with this very important task, but there is no substitute for professional autobiography editing.
The second most important question an autobiography author should answer is: Who will publish my autobiography? Autobiography publishers tend to reject manuscripts that require substantial editing.
Writing your autobiography is only half the story, the other half is making sure you told your story well.
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