How to Write an Autobiography: Make Yourself a Literary Hero
What Is an Autobiography?
An autobiography is a form of narration written by a writer about his or her own life. An autobiographical writing serves different purposes, and its main goal depends on the type of writing. There are four major types of autobiographical writing.
The autobiography is the longest and the fullest story about yourself. You can write it for your personal use in order to structure and perpetuate your memories. If you are sure that your life will be an interesting theme to read about, you may create an autobiography for the wider public. An autobiography covers the period from the day of your birth until today. If you think that your life journey will be a good example for others, include the information on how you have achieved your goals and success and how you got your autobiography published.
If you are not sure that your whole life path is worth attention, then a memoir is your best choice. It is focused on one particular event, relationship, place, or period of your life that has influenced your personality a lot. Don’t be afraid to express your personal feelings and ideas in your memoir, as it shouldn’t be simply a brief list of facts, but the reflection of your inner world.
3. Autobiographical essay for college
The aim of such an essay is obvious: you need it to convince admissions officers to accept you into college. As a rule, there is a word limit specified in the instruction for applicants. Don’t confuse an autobiographical essay with your CV or resume! They have totally different structure and formatting. In addition, the essay is aimed at portraying you as a personality, not as a professional.
4. Personal essay
This is an extremely emotional and intimate type of writing. You share a personal experience with your readers in a detailed manner. Your audience should have an opportunity to see the event or person that you’ve written about through your eyes and understand your feelings. Any personal essay has two main aspects: the description of a particular situation and how it has influenced your worldview and life. Generally, the personal essay is the shortest form of autobiographical writing, along with the essay for college.
In our guide on how to write an autobiography, we will talk more about a personal or autobiographical essay. However, we will not miss a chance to share a few awesome tips about other types of autobiographical writing. Plus, you’re always free to use our instructions for any type of autobiography, as they can be helpful for any piece of writing.
How to Structure an Autobiography
The structure of your autobiographical writing depends on the type you’ve chosen to create. In our guide on how to write an autobiography, we’ll focus on the basic principles of structuring the autobiographical essay.
You may wonder how to start an autobiography introduction. The answer is simple: the same way you start other essays’ introductions. The main purpose of the introductory paragraph is to grab the reader’s attention and present the idea and theme of your writing. Don’t make the first paragraph too long: between one and three sentences are enough to compose a regular introduction. Try to provide readers with a general portrait of yourself, so they will know more about the main “hero.” Mention your age, significant personal qualities, and principles of worldview. You can also add some details about your appearance in order to make your story more vivid.
The main body includes the biggest amount of information. It is 80-90% of the whole text. There are no strict requirements, but you should not forget to use a logical sequence and correct wording. You can use the classic five-paragraph structure for your autobiographical essay if your ideas fit it. Anyway, you have to divide your writing into separated paragraphs to increase the readability of your essay. You should also create a logical connection between paragraphs. In this manner, readers will easily follow your thoughts.
Now, it’s time to think on how to conclude an autobiography. Your conclusion has to be strong and impressive. Mention what lessons you’ve learned and what changes in your life you’ve witnessed thanks to the described episode of your life. Even if this event has had negative consequences, you shouldn’t hide anything. Bad experiences are also useful for personal development. As Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”
We’ve provided you with general information on how to start and how to end an autobiography. Let’s move on to the detailed guide about essay writing steps.
How to Write an Autobiography Step by Step
If you need a simple and brief instruction on how to write an autobiography, you’ve already found it! The next time you get such an assignment in your English class, don’t worry – just check out this step-by-step guideline.
1. Read a well-known autobiography.
You are not the first person who wants to write about his or her life. Many famous writers, artists, politicians, and businessmen create autobiographies to share their wisdom and experience with a wide audience. Find the autobiography that belongs to the author whose personality inspires you and read it in order to get a basic understanding of autobiographical writing.
2. Think over your life.
Remember every significant event, unusual experience, or important person in your life. That might take a considerable amount of time, as we think that your life has been interesting enough, and you have many worthy moments. If you want to write about your childhood, you’d better apply to the “experts” – your parents. Perhaps you did something outstanding and awesome when you were a child.
3. Make a list.
This is the most satisfying part of writing an autobiography if you like making lists. On the other hand, it can be quite boring for those who hate lists. Everything depends on your personal tastes. We highly recommend you to divide all memories into categories. You will be able to structure your thoughts in a more logical manner.
4. Pick one point from your list.
Remember that you should not write your full autobiography. You have to choose one event, one place, or one person you’d like to write about. This can be quite challenging, especially if you are an adult who has an active social life. Try to be objective and choose a theme that will be interesting for readers, not only for you.
5. Brainstorm ideas.
When you have a particular topic, it is the right moment to think over a few amazing ideas for your autobiography. Here is a list of questions that will help you to focus on certain aspects:
- What was the best (or the worst) thing about an event or person you want to tell about?
- What details are worth readers’ attention?
- What mood do you want to share?
- What feelings do you want to awaken?
- What has changed after this event or meeting?
- What lessons have you learned?
- Why was this moment important for you?
- What general idea can be related to this particular case?
- Why have you decided to choose this event to share with your readers?
- Why have you decided to write your autobiography now, at this moment of your life?
6. Provide an outline (above).
Planning is a crucial part of any writing process. If you need a detailed instruction on how to write an autobiography outline, you should read the section about autobiographical essay structure above if you haven’t yet. There, we explained what you should include in each part of your essay. You can make your outline in the form of a list, scheme, table, or pyramid.
7. Create a draft.
Make your first draft as perfect as possible. There is no reason to correct mistakes later if you can avoid them in the first place. On the other hand, this is just your first attempt, so don’t be too demanding. Good ideas will come sooner or later. Take your time and enjoy the process of writing!
8. Proofread your writing.
You should check your autobiographical essay for mistakes in spelling, grammar, verb tense, style, punctuation, word forms, etc. No matter how emotional or exciting your writing is, your readers will stop reading as soon as they notice the first grammatical mistake. An illiterate author cannot win the trust of the audience, so you should take this step very seriously.
9. Get feedback.
Before you present your writing to the public, ask your parents, siblings, or friends to give you feedback. Maybe, they’ll notice a few mistakes that you missed or give you advice on how to improve the content. A fresh perspective never hurts.
10. Write the final copy.
After you proofread your essay and get feedback, you’ll be able to create the final draft of your writing. Take into account all recommendations that you have received from your proofreaders, and bring your essay to perfection!
You work is accomplished! We are sure that you will succeed on the first try if you use the list of helpful tips for autobiography writing provided by our experienced writers. We’ve gathered tips that will turn your writing into a real masterpiece.
How to Write a Good Autobiography: Helpful Tips
- Catch attention from the very beginning.
Your readers won’t be interested in reading the whole text of your autobiography if you don’t provide a good impression in the introduction. Convince your audience that your story is unique, original, and is worth their time. If you are going to write about an episode from your childhood, use a feeling of nostalgia to create a tight connection between readers and your own memories. Remember that all people are the same to some extent. We live through similar experiences every day, so you should use these similarities to make your writing attractive for the general public.
- Don’t expand your resume.
This tip is extremely useful when it comes to writing an autobiographical essay for college. Admission officers know everything about your grades and academic achievements. In your essay, they’ll look for information of another kind. You have to present your personality and to prove that you deserve to become a part of the college community.
- Add sensory details.
If you want your readers to feel the atmosphere of your writing, vivid details should be an indispensable part of your essay. Let your audience see, smell, touch, and feel the world of your story. Create a full picture of your personal universe and let your readers be your guests!
- Make your characters feel alive.
If you are not the only character in your story, introduce your characters to your audience. Describe them at least in a few words and add some dialogues to give them personal voices. If your characters represent real people, ask for permission or use fake names.
- Create a connection with a general idea.
The episode of your life described in an autobiographical essay should exemplify a certain general idea. All of us like good stories, but readers should see a deeper meaning behind your narration.
- Choose one verb tense.
This is a crucial aspect for any kind of storytelling. Decide what verb tense you will use before you start writing, and stay consistent throughout the text. You can use both past tense or present tense to write about past events. However, don’t change the manner of writing in the middle of your essay!
Use first-person narration.
This is your autobiographical essay, and you write about your own life. Use the words “I,” “my,” and “me” without hesitation. An autobiography differs from academic writing, where you will avoid personification. When you write a personal essay, readers should hear your personal voice, as it is your primordial purpose!
How to Write an Autobiography: Example Analyzed
Below, you’ll find an example of an autobiography provided by one of our experienced writers. You are welcome to use it as a template for your own autobiography. Although you can borrow some ideas about proper structure and writing style, you can’t copy our sample without citing it properly. Please, don’t commit plagiarism! We believe that you are able to create an autobiography that will be no worse than our autobiography example for high school students.
Click the images to see their full size.
Mistakes to Avoid While Autobiography Writing
- Don’t make it too long
Many people cannot resist the temptation to tell as much as they can, but a longer piece of writing doesn’t always equal a better piece of writing. For whatever reason you are writing the autobiography, think of the person who is going to read it. Imagine you were an admission officer or the judge in the scholarship committee, and you have to choose from hundreds, if not thousands, of autobiographies. At some point you will hate people who prefer to write long admission essays and autobiographies. There’s also a good way to check whether your writing is interesting or not. Give it to one of your most impatient friends, who prefers short articles to books and long stories, and ask for their opinion.
- Don’t make it trivial
“I was born in 19XX year, I entered school N…” Would you read that if you had a choice? Most likely not, especially if you already have read a dozen biographies which star with the same phrase. Yes, an autobiography is a formal piece of writing. But here, it rather means that you are not allowed to use slang and colloquial language, instead of following a specific pattern of writing.
- Don’t turn it into your personal diary
Yes, you have to be precisely honest and quite revealing and candid to write a successful autobiography. And obviously, you need to describe some hardships of your life to show how you coped with that or how it influenced you. However, we strongly advise you to describe the thing that you feel rather calm about when writing. For example, you are writing about other students picking and making fun of you at high school. If you still feel like wanting to kill them all, it would be better to avoid this topic or mention it slightly. Why so? Because your feelings will leak into the writing and make your reader feel subconsciously uncomfortable.
How to Choose Autobiography Topics
We hope that you now have a general idea on how to write an autobiography, because now it’s time to choose a topic. But shouldn’t you and your life be the topic of an autobiography? Well, in general, yes. There are, however, also a lot of tiny nuances.
- Make it focused. The purpose of any autobiography, excluding the one written for your personal diary, is to promote you and advertise your awesome personality. Find out what is appreciated the most in the institution you are applying to and focus on these traits in your character.
- Choose one or two aspects of your personality. We believe that you are an amazing person and even a book wouldn’t be enough to tell your story, but in an autobiography, it’s better to tell a short and meaningful story than try to describe everything that has ever happened in your life.
- Drawbacks. Think of an autobiography a great outfit: you need everything to match. For example, if you were saying that you are persistent and purposeful, pick a matching drawback and show how you overcame it due to your good character traits.
- Find out what is in trend. Yes, this may sound a little bit weird, but try to keep up with massive worldwide trends. Is it popular now to be creative and daring? Show how creative and daring you are.
Many people who have something to tell, have an experience, or have the knowledge and vision “as it should be.” What if you decided to write your own book and it’s not a novel about love and adventures? To become a good writer or to write an interesting book is not an easy task. Unfortunately, this won’t totally depend on hard work, diligence and regular training: you can sit with a laptop, paper, pen or voice recorder at least eight hours every day – and still, you will get something dull and colorless that nobody wants to read. Not always does the desire to write a book match the capabilities and talent. But making effort and progress is still necessary. Anyone who wants to write their first book, should read and write, try different styles and genres, and listen to the world around. The main thing is to throw into trash away all “must” and “deserving / not deserving of attention,” ideas which aspiring authors often suffer from. Here are an autobiography topics list and autobiography examples which can help you.
If you have thoughts about writing an autobiography, you should start your way reading autobiographies of different people all over the world and get inspired. In our humble opinion, the following list consists of autobiographies that are worth reading.
Books for Inspiration
- “Childhood, Boyhood, Youth” by Leo Tolstoy (1852-1857)
- “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway (1964)
- “My Autobiography” by Charlie Chaplin (1964)
- “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
- “A Street Cat Named Bob” by James Bowen (2010)
- “Gretzky: From the Backyard Rink to the Stanley Cup” by Walter Gretzky (1985)
- “My Game” by Booby Orr (1974)
- “I Can Jump Puddles” by Alan Marshall (1955)
- “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell (1956)
- “De Profundis” by Oscar Wild (1897)
- “An Autobiography” by Agatha Christie (1965)
- “The Summing Up” by W. Somerset Maugham (1938)
- “Three Singles to Adventure (Three Tickets to Adventure)” by Gerald Durrell (1954)
- “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” by Henry D. Thoreau (1854)
- “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge” by Carlos Castaneda (1968)
- “Orlando: A Biography” by Virginia Wolf (1928)
- “The Hero” by Rhonda Byrne (2006)
- “The Beatles (the Authorized Biography)” by Hunter Davies (1968)
- “My Life in France” by Julia Child (2006)
- “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” by Robert M. Pirsig (1974)
- “The Tender Bar” by J.R. Moehringer (2005)
- “Ham On Rye” by Charles Bukovwski (1982
- “Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen (1993)
- “The Long Hard Road Out of Hell” by Marilyn Manson (1998)
- “Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy” by Frances Mayes (1996)
- “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
- “The Man Without Qualities” by Robert Musil (1930-1943)
When you are done with reading and have reached an inspiring mood, you can try to write. Then comes the question on how to organize time wisely and your text, in order to present it in the best way possible. Such questions you may face while writing and after the first draft is finished. We have worked hard and found for you some sources that will be helpful while writing an autobiography.
Sources to Use in Autobiography
Useful information about autobiography writing, tips and steps. “How to Write an Autobiography and Make the Best-seller List.” Published February 16, 2014, in https://blog.udemy.com/how-to-write-an-autobiography-2/
David Douglas Ford is an author of great books that share his experience and knowledge about writing on this blog: http://daviddouglasford.com
How do you write an autobiography? How do you start? You will find the answers in “Lifetime Memories and Stories.” Published 2009, in http://www.lifetimememoriesandstories.com/ebooks/WritingAnAutobiography.pdf
Lots of information about writing an autobiography, a list of topics for inspiration and advice on how to choose more appropriate. http://www.scanyourentirelife.com/how-write-a-autobiography-vs-memoir-difference-life-story-secret-tips/
You can buy a workbook “Memorygrabber” that will help you to write your own life story without problems, as it asks all important questions that you or your relative can answer. http://www.familyhistoryproducts.com/memorygrabber-cb.html?hop=tomgilbert
It’s not only a how-to manual, but also an inspiring book for newbie writers. “Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You” by Ray Bradbury (1987)
Read about the experiences of the famous writer and take into account his advice for aspiring writers. “On Writing” by Stephen King (2000)
Here you can find important information for any kind of creative work and avoid problems that it may cause. “The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle” by Steven Pressfield (2002)
Detailed tips that will help you turn facts into fiction by Helena Halme. http://selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-how-to-turn-your-life-into-a-novel/
The article tells about different types of bios and gives advice on every kind of autobiography. http://bettymingliu.com/2014/08/how-to-write-a-bio/
If you have already written your autobiography and want to publish it and sell it, read this article with practical advice. http://goodinaroom.com/blog/autobiography-sell-a-movie-or-book-based-on-your-life-story/
Read the tips from Stanley Fish on how to write sentences and organize writing in a right way. He presents the language as cultural organism and gives a manual to the art of language. “How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One” by Stanley Fish.
This book may be called a treasure in your home library, as it’s a collection of wisdom from famous writers. “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott.
Discover the peculiarities of grammar while writing a book and the importance of style in your writing. “The Elements of Style. Illustrated.” by Maira Kalman.
The success of a good autobiography and any book – comes from the ability of the author to show readers the story from the “outside”, and make the reader feel in your place, “in your shoes.” Everyone does not care about your difficult childhood, or your parents’ divorce, or the fact that in school you were a fat and ugly kid with glasses. But if the difficulties experienced by you will be displayed so that the reader learns some lessons for himself – this would qualify as a good book.
How you can see that, writing an autobiography is not a piece of cake. You should plan your time, read and get inspired from books, and search for information about writing styles and grammar. Don’t forget to figure out your final destination and why you need to write an autobiography. All of thus titanic-sized work will end with a great treasure – your own autobiography. Hopefully, our information will help you on this interesting but hard path. So, pick a pen or open your laptop and start your masterpiece. We wish you lots of inspiration and easy writing!
We hope that our guide on how to write an autobiography has clarified all nuances of the writing process for you. Being a character of your own narration may seem confusing at first sight. However, thinking about your past may help you to deal with your current problems and look at your future from a different angle.
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Maybe you have a better idea on how to write a good autobiography? Share your insights at the comment section below.