How To Write an Autobiography | An Ultimate Guide From Start To Finish

how to write an autobiography

Omar Founder of OJ Digital Solutions

Table of Contents

Have you ever wondered how to make a mark or take your place in history? Or wanted to understand your life’s journey?

You might want to try your hand at writing an autobiography.

An autobiography is a way for you to share your story in your own voice.

However, it’s easier said than done.

If you want to learn how to write your life story, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I’ll discuss what you need to know about writing an autobiography.

Let’s begin!

What Is an Autobiography?

Before I go into the autobiographical writing process, let’s first discuss what exactly an autobiography is.

To put it simply, an autobiography is a self-written life story.

It can involve elements of the following:

  • Significant events
  • Entire life events
  • Personal origin story
  • Life lessons
  • Chronological life story

It’s important to make a distinction between an autobiography and a biography.

Both are stories about a person’s life. The difference is that an autobiography is about the author’s life, while a biography is a story about someone else’s life.

Different Types of Autobiography

how to write an autobiography

Before beginning the writing process, it is important to understand the two types of autobiographies.

Autobiography Essay

If you can’t write your story down in a whole book or novel, you can write an essay instead. This autobiography format is a short account of just one or several aspects of the writer’s life.

Autobiographical essay writing is a common requirement in academic and professional fields. However, you can still write one for other reasons, such as self-expression or therapy.

You can also use your essay as an inspiration for a full autobiographical book later.

Autobiography Book

An autobiography book is a longer version in book or novel form, explaining the author’s own life in detail. Because it’s longer, there’s more room for rich and detailed descriptions and narratives.

You can expand on your personal essay to turn it into a full-length book.

Autobiography Elements

Whatever autobiography format you choose, whether it’s an essay or a book, it must include the key elements below.

Description of Your Origin Story

When you start writing, you have to describe your origin story. This includes your hometown, family members, and educational background.

The description doesn’t have to divulge everything. You can include only the details that you feel are relevant to the story you want to focus on.

Significant Experiences

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Talk about the highlights of your life. When people write their own autobiographies, they highlight key events.

This can involve memories with family members, loved ones, friends, strangers, enemies, etc.

This section includes significant moments, turning points, key events, or details of your story.

For example, you can talk about a memorable day and how it changed your life forever.

Recollections of Episodes

Most autobiographies give a clear narrative of the different episodes in the author’s life.

Professional writers do it by dividing the story of their whole lives into seasons to make it more focused and digestible.

You can consider your family, work, or college years as a season.

Don’t forget to note down the relevant and important details in each episode to give readers a complete picture.

A Personal Story of Failure

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It is important to mention a struggle in the narrative structure to capture the reader’s attention.

You can share how an adverse event that happened to you or to a family member impacted you.

You can also recount how that personal experience gave you a different perspective on life.

In a fictional autobiography, this can be the story’s main plot.

An Engaging Title

Your title should be compelling enough to grab the reader’s attention. A good autobiography title sums up a person’s story in a few words—short and direct.

You can make your title after you finish your first draft. You can take the key points or the main idea and craft a title based on them.

Once you have put down your final thoughts in your story, it becomes easier to choose a title.

First-Person Narrative Voice

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Because it’s your own story, you should write your autobiography in a first-person narrative.

An autobiography written in the third person narrative sounds pretentious and will turn your readers off.

How To Write an Autobiography

Here is the step-by-step process for writing an autobiography.

Create an Outline.

Many people struggle with writing their autobiography because they don’t know where to begin.

You can follow the outline below to start off on the right foot.

An outline helps organize your ideas and the details you want to include in your essay. This includes elements such as:

  • Family history: your family members and your relationship with them
  • Educational history: your school experiences
  • Personal development: your strengths, weaknesses, influences, dreams, life decisions, and other details about you

Choose a Theme.

Before writing your autobiography, you can pick a theme to help narrow down the content.

With a theme, you can eliminate other aspects of the autobiography that are not relevant.

You can just choose the ones that help create a background or supporting foundation for the autobiography.

Here are the most popular themes to choose from.

  • Overcoming adversity
  • Adjusting in life
  • Dealing with loss
  • Importance of friendship
  • Revenge
  • Forgiveness

Recall and Research.

After you’ve chosen a theme, it’s time to fact-check your experiences.

This doesn’t mean questioning yourself. Fact-checking means researching to help you better explain something that happened.

Say you’re writing about the time you went to a festival. You can research additional details to help describe the festival to readers.

When recalling certain events, you can ask your friends and family for input. Asking others how they remember something will help you paint a better picture.

Create a Structure.

Once you have a working idea of your content, you can create a structure to flesh out these ideas.

Here are the main parts of an autobiography.

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Intro

An intro sets the tone for your story. This is where you talk about how you grew up and the factors that influenced and shaped you into who you are today.

The intro gives the readers a general idea of who you are. You can include details like your childhood, upbringing, family, or academic life.

Body

The body is the “meat” of the autobiography, where readers learn about most of your life.

Talk about the experiences that stand out when writing the body. You can highlight things that happened in your life that you will never forget.

However, you don’t have to limit yourself to singular experiences alone. You can talk about episodes or seasons in your life as a whole.

Conclusion

This is where you sum everything up. Your conclusion could also include your reflections or insights about the events you narrated.

You can go back to the highlights in your essay and what these events taught you. Think about what you want the reader to learn when writing the conclusion.

Write and Edit Until Your Final Draft.

The key to a good book is to make draft after draft after draft. When writing the first draft, do not aim to be perfect.

You should, however, aim to narrate the events as accurately as possible.

Since you’re talking about actual events that happened in your life, it’s essential to be truthful and factual.

Once you’ve completed your first draft, leave it for a while, then come back to read it with fresh eyes.

You can then proceed to fine-tune and revise the parts that need editing.

You can consider your draft a final one when it is good enough for both the writer and the reader.

Sample Template

Here’s a sample template you can use for writing your autobiography.

Premise

Your premise revolves around your main idea. It can be the chosen theme of your autobiography.

A premise helps you keep your writing relevant.

For example:

“This autobiography is the story of how a man overcame depression in corporate America.”

Setting

Just like in a novel, you’ll have to set up a scene to give your story a frame.

The setting describes the time and place where the events happened.

For example:

“I was born in South Korea during a time of high tensions with the North.”

Characters

If some people play an important role in your life, like your parents, friends, or spouse, give them a proper introduction.

You can talk briefly about how they grew up or what they did.

“My parents were always busy. This is because they grew up in a time where only hard work could keep you alive.”

Plot

You can create a simple plot and fill in the blanks. This way, you will know the catalyst, the journey, and the final destination.

A plot gives your story a narrative arc. It should include the following:

  • Beginning: This includes the settings, history, and introduction.
  • Middle: This includes the conflict, main events, and highlights.
  • End: This includes the reflections, thoughts, and ending remarks.

Tips for Writing an Interesting Autobiography

Ready to write your life story? Make it more engaging with these simple tips:

Write in Chronological Order.

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Narrate your story from start to finish when writing your autobiography.

This makes everything more manageable since you only have to focus on one season after another instead of jumping around.

It also gives the story a natural flow, resulting in a smooth experience for the readers.

Use Real Names of People and Events.

Share real names of people and events. Unless the people don’t want you to mention their names, it is better to share them for authenticity.

This also helps readers connect more with the story. The more details you give, the richer the story becomes.

If you forgot a person’s or event’s name, you could describe them instead. Only mention people or events relevant to your story.

Mention Specific Times, Dates, and Places.

The key to good writing is to paint a better picture for readers. The more detailed your autobiography is, the better.

For example, instead of saying:

“I was cold, and it was dark.”

You could say:

“I stood shivering by the old church on Christmas night, waiting for him to arrive. The moon and the stars were nowhere to be seen, and the only light I could see was the street lamp two blocks away.”

The more colorful your description is, the more enjoyable your book becomes.

One technique you can follow is listing the specific time, date, and place before turning them into sentences. You can expand on them later on as you write the story.

Describe Personal Memories.

You don’t have to pack a story with relentless action scenes to make it exciting. Sometimes, using rich descriptions is enough to spark your readers’ imaginations.

You can be as creative as you wish when talking about personal memories. One technique to bring out the most color is to use different senses to describe something.

Here are some examples of personal memories that you can describe through your senses:

  • How the food tasted
  • How your coffee smelled in the morning
  • How someone’s voice sounded
  • How your pet’s fur felt
  • What a person’s smile looked like

Sensory writing allows you to create colorful expressions of even the simplest and most mundane topics.

Find Your Voice.

When writing an autobiography, it is vital to have a personal voice. If you’ve written other books before, you can use the voice you are comfortable with.

If not, you can write mini-drafts in different approaches until you find one you like.

Finding your voice early on gives your autobiography a consistent tone all throughout. This cuts down on the tedious task of editing your entire autobiography.

One technique is to use tools like Jasper.ai or Copy.ai to help you see samples of writing tones. You can also use the AI writing tool to make different versions of what you are trying to say.

Include Your Reflections and Insights.

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Some autobiographies give more gravity to the author’s reflections than the story itself.

Your reflections are where you can be completely honest about things in your life.

This is where you can express your frustrations, joys, and anything else you feel about the events in your story.

You don’t need to explain your thoughts on everything. You can limit your reflections to the events that truly matter.

Your reflections also contain the main takeaway from your autobiography. What are the insights and lessons you learned from your life’s stories?

These drive home the point you want to make, and it’s something that readers would love to know as well.

Use Photographs.

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Photographs are very useful in autobiographies; you can use them to emphasize a season of your story.

The more photographs you have, the more colorful your autobiography becomes. Images also help break up blocks of text and provide some visual texture to your work.

Every so often, you can insert photos that are meaningful to you. As long as the images have sentimental value and meaning, you can include them in your autobiography.

The Bottom Line

Writing an autobiography may seem intimidating at first, but it becomes easier once you’ve laid some words down on the blank page.

Hopefully, these guidelines have helped to show you where to begin.

Do you want more tips on improving your writing skills? Check out my article on what makes a good writer.

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