How to Write An Autobiography

How to Write
an Autobiography

By Susan Saunders

Capture your life story in an autobiography or video biographyYour life story is too important to simply let fade away. Whether you preserve it for your children, grandchildren and generations beyond or for a wider audience, an autobiography offers one way to share your story with others.

Below are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years as a video biographer which you might find helpful as you write your story. I’ve also included links to several websites with even more ideas on ‘How to Write an Autobiography’.

‘How to Write an Autobiography’
Tips From a Video Biographer

When capturing a client’s story in a video biography or video memoir, I start by dividing the process into three stages: 1) Pre-Production or Planning, 2) Production or Content Gathering, and 3) Post-Production or Editing & Completion. You may find it helpful to break your process into similar stages. Listed below are tips to consider with each stage.

  1. Preproduction or Planning

    Know your Audience
    Determine who your audience is and try to put yourself in their shoes. If your autobiography is for your grandchildren and great grandchildren, think about what you would want to know about your grandparents and great grandparents. What stories, information, delivery style, tone etc. would resonate with you?

    Know your Goals
    Will your autobiography cover – your life story from the early years to the present day or focus mainly on a specific time period or event? Do you want to include family history and life lessons? Make a list of your goals to help you stay focused during the editing process.

    Set a Timeline
    Set an end or completion date. Then, working backwards set monthly, weekly and daily writing goals. Share your progress with others if you find it helps keep you on track.

    Create an Outline
    Give yourself structure by putting together out an outline. Start by listing general categories (childhood, young adulthood, etc) and add sub-categories and then sub, sub-categories under those. You may find yourself adding even more well into the writing phase.

  2. Production/Content Gathering

    What to Share
    If you’re wondering what stories and information to include, check out these two great articles on why sharing stories of difficult times might actually be good: ‘The Stories That Bind Us’ by Bruce Feiler, NYT. and ‘The Power of Myth: The Benefits of Sharing Family Stories of Hard Times’ by Sue Shellenbarger

    Memory Triggers
    Need a little help remembering? Memories can often be recalled by ‘tickling’ your senses with reminders from your past. Does a certain sound or smell bring back memories of your mother making dinner? For tips on stimulating your senses to bring back memories, visit my blog post on Memory Loss: Family Stories and History.

    Write, Write, Write
    Let your thoughts and stories flow and about editing later. Be sure to keep a notepad or voice recorder handy since memories don’t always surface when we want them to. If it isn’t convenient to carry one around, leave one on your nightstand, in your car, kitchen, etc.

    Photos & Memorabilia
    Gather photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia that will help enhance your stories. Visual elements add dimension and a sense of reality for your audience.

    Stay Organized
    As you write your life stories and gather materials, label and file everything under the appropriate category in your outline or create new ones if necessary. Cataloging now will be enormously helpful when it comes time to edit.

  3. Post Production/Editing

    While you may be tempted to include all your stories, your audience may find it overwhelming. Identify the stories you think are important to share, support your goals and think your audience would want to know. Then, rank stories in order or importance, with 1 being the most important and 4 being the least. Soon, you’ll start to see a managable outline and story-line emerge.

    Pull together the stories ranked most important and bring in the lower ranked stories where you see fit.

    Add photos and memorabilia as needed.

    Refer back to your goals, audience, outline and schedule to help you stay focused and moving forward.

    Alternate between working on the details of a single story and pulling back to work on the larger structure.

    If you feel you could use a little help with your writing skills or simply want another pair of eyes, you have a couple of options. Find a local or online writing class, work with a writing mentor or hire a professional autobiographer or memoir writer to pull the pieces together for you. Whichever you choose, know the time and energy you put into preserving your life story will be valued by those you chose to share it with.

More Tips on
‘How to Write an Autobiography’

Below are more sources for tips on writing your autobiography:

How To Write An Autobiography‘ by David Douglas Ford

How To Write An Autobiography‘ by Greg Lawrence

Writing an Autobiography‘ by Pearl Luke

How To Write Your Autobiography‘ by Maury Breecher

How to Write an Autobiography‘ on Wikihow

~ Video Biography ~

How to write an autobiography. Memoir writing. For another way to share your stories, consider a Video Biography or Video Memoir. This captivating moving portrait skillfully weaves a filmed interview with family photos, documents, maps and other memorabilia to bring your stories to life.(See Samples)

To learn more, take a look around my site or contact me directly. All inquiries are welcome.

Susan Saunders
Video Biographer

Family Line Video, LLC
Legacy Video Production
Chicago & Beyond

Visit Family Line Studios to learn more about capturing the life story, family history and memories of a loved one in a video biography, personal documentary, video memoir, legacy video, family documentary

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