Writing an autobiography is really very easy. It's almost too easy. Which is why everyone should write one - especially you!
Naturally, if you have spent your life alone on a desert island, most other folks probably will not be all that interested in your patently uneventful life story. . . . but I certainly would! How in the world did you end up on a desert island? Did you encounter any cannibals? Is a fish and seaweed diet a good way to lose weight? What did you miss most: junk food or sitcoms? Have you been contacted by National Geographic? America's Funniest Home Video?
Okay, so basically the real trick here is to simply attempt to answer the questions people might ask if they had just met you and, as I'm certain they do, found you to be quite interesting. Of course, the hardest part of any writing effort is just getting started! That's why I encourage individuals far less motivated than you to follow ten very simple rules as I softly repeat the writer's refrain: Just get started, you lazy sloth!
1. Be honest. This is partly so that when you write your manuscript, you won't have any trouble properly documenting even the smallest details, as you might if you just embellish parts of your story. But it's mostly because your life is plenty interesting (especially that hilarious story about you and the raccoon!) and there is absolutely no need for exaggeration.
2. However, writing autobiography means never having to say you're sorry . . . or embarrassed! Always write the whole truth, but never think an autobiography means that the world has a right to your innermost being or your most private and personal thoughts, unless that is really your purpose. If you want to write something way too personal and somewhat uncomfortable for others to read, remember that's what Facebook and Twitter were created to do! Well, that and provide an easy way to recommend this website to your social media friends.
3. Be your funny self - but only if you really are funny. But whatever you are, don't try to be anything else because you will alter your natural writing style too much. If you are dull and dry as toast, go with that. Write the quintessential autobiography for other tedious people to read. Hey, if it's who you really are, then tell the world to simply learn to live with it. That way, ten thousand years from now no one will have to wonder what you were really like because your life story written in your own true voice will have told them already - you were as dull as a doornail and mighty proud of it, too! Plus, several millennia from now only dull and mindless data crunching machines will still be reading books and you'll have a best seller on your hands. Naturally, a fellow like me will already be long forgotten because I only write what pleases me.
4. Write what pleases YOU. That may strike you as somewhat egotistical, but this is really the number one rule of writing autobiography (makes you wonder why it's listed as number four here then, doesn't it?) and it means that you should put together a story that YOU think is interesting. I mean, think about it! If you don't find your own version of your life story to be rather absorbing, what in the world makes you think the rest of us will? Sorry. Am I being too caustic here?
5. Try not to be too caustic. Even the villains in your life deserve some respect. And you could change your mind about them some day. Or they could change their personality. No, really, that happens sometimes. And anyway, the ones who don't deserve respect and never will usually have little villain attorneys very much like themselves who are just waiting to sue somebody for defamation.
6. Be sure you avoid cliches . . . like the plague! After all, who wants to read an autobiography that isn't a bit unexpected in parts and loaded with new and intriguing viewpoints? Exactly right, no one. Certainly no one important. Here's what you need to do: Decide what key points really make your life story of particular interest to others and you will almost certainly be surprised at the difference in the focus of your overall effort. Make those key interest points your chapter titles and you are halfway home. However, like my older sister keeps reminding me, always be mindful of rule #7.
7. Start with an outline. I should have put this rule as number one. Or perhaps number three. Five maybe? Anyway, without an detailed outline, you might end up writing too much about one portion of your life and miss the larger picture; said larger picture being both more interesting and also larger. An outline that includes all of the main events of your autobiography is good. Twenty pages on your first snow sled is bad. Got it? Okay! Plus, you'll definitely want to save that Rosebud sled story until the very last paragraph. Trust me, I know things.
8. Write your very best the first time through. Most of us think we'll simply get the whole story down in words any way we can and then imagine we'll just go back and polish it up during a final editing. I organize my work tools this way by just leaving them around the garage with plans to go back and put it all in order later. You should see my garage! You should try to just get into my garage!! There may be exceptions, but my strong feeling is that it's far easier to come up with just the right wording as you go rather than later when you edit the effort.
9. Keep your writing confidence up. Your ability to write is more than adequate for your autobiographical effort. Never doubt it. I have recently come to realize that most people are far better writers than they think they are. And I am certain that you are far better at forming sentences than you imagine. In fact, I don't know why we're even having this conversation since we're both obviously so gifted with words.
10. Don't lose sight of the commercial side of writing. Did I mention four of my books are now available on Amazon Kindle? And even if you don't plan to market your effort, pretend that you are in order to maintain that "writer's edge" needed to sustain you through to the end. Nonetheless, always use a spell checker, watch those dangling participles, and go write like the wind!
Of course, the real trick to autobiography is to simply enjoy yourself. You can never go wrong documenting your own reflections on real life adventures. So try to embrace the actual process and remember that the creative writing spirit is what ultimately separates us from the other animals. Well, that and the ability to safely maneuver an automobile in rush hour traffic.
For my part, I wish you nothing but success and know that you will soon be discovering the ultimate joy of creating an autobiography in your own interesting and unique way. I really do believe that, so try not to disappoint me by failing to actually go write something. That is, after you take a brief tour of this "all things autobiographical" website!
Cordially, David Douglas Ford
I don't think anyone should write their
autobiography until after they're dead.
- Samuel Goldwyn