Have you ever read an autobiography? Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, for example, is an exceptionally powerful one. “DEAR SON: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors.” That’s how it starts. But, Benjamin Franklin was an exceptional person, after all. That’s the point: autobiographies are for exceptional people. You’re exceptional, too. You have a special story that’s worth sharing. The only thing to learn is how to write a life story about yourself.
If you think about it, most of us are already sharing our personal stories nowadays. What do you think social media is? We pour out pages and pages with our opinions. We publish photos as testimonials of our daily life. All that can belong to the genre of “creative nonfiction.” Turning a life story into a novel, however, is something else. It has to involve elegance, creativity, and some warmth and humor.
You want to learn how to write a life story about yourself? Read on. We’ll tackle the process step by step.
Why is writing important in life?
Even if you’re not planning to publish a novel about your life, writing is still important. Have you ever wondered why your professors have been trying to teach you how to write?
Writing is important for expressing opinions and ideas. Just open your Facebook feed for a moment. In between all those cooking videos and funny images, what do you see? Opinions and ideas. They are everywhere. Check out the comments under a post that shares important news. You’ll see that some people have strong opinions, others don’t. You’ll notice a classification among those that have strong opinions: some can express them, others can’t. That’s the big difference that writing skills can make.
Through writing, you’re creating ideas, too. If you set your mind free and you allow the flow of your thoughts to take you wherever it takes you, you’ll notice new ideas coming up. Creativity is a process, which the writing practice supports.
Writing about your life is important because it gives you a chance to reflect. Journaling is one of the main practices that therapists recommend for promoting mental health. It helps people manage anxiety, cope with stress, and deal with depression. When you maintain a journal and you go through your previous entries, you witness your memories without distorting the reality. You see your progress. You remind yourself of the important things you forgot.
So yes, writing about your own life is important. When you’re ready, you can turn those writings into a book that sells. How do you get to that point? How do you start? We’ll give you the tips you need.
Step by Step Guide: How to Start Writing a Novel about My Life
Read the Great Work of Others
Explore any online library and you’ll find a list of autobiographies you can start reading. Here are few suggestions to start with:
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography by Ignacio Ramonet and Fidel Castro
Whoa, that was a big list. It’s just the surface. When you start exploring autobiographies, you’ll find one interesting read after another. You don’t have to read them all. The important thing is to read as much as you can.
No, you won’t copy these authors. However, you’ll learn what it means to write well. You’ll understand how an experience can be structured as a story worth reading. That will give you ideas on how to tackle your own project.
Keep taking notes as you read through these autobiographies. What’s the author’s style? How do you feel when reading about the determining moments of their lives? What made you laugh and what made you cry? Did you adopt the point of view of some of these authors? Why? How did they develop their arguments?
Ask yourself these questions and take notes. They will inspire you to find your own voice.
Practice Writing Before You Start
Did someone mention voice? Before you start writing the book about your life, you have to find your own. Having a strong voice means you can leave impressions. It means you can present a clear description of events and heighten the emotions just enough to make them more powerful.
Practice different techniques. Remember what you liked about the way notable people wrote their autobiographies. They had a signature voice.
What’s the most important characteristic your closest friends name about you? Is it wit, humor, seriousness, logic, or anything else? Ask them about their impressions. If they think you’re witty, maybe you should focus on that aspect of your personality and turn it into your style of writing.
In writing, there’s a strange rule: you find quality through quantity. The more you write, the better you become. So write! Start a blog. Write in your journal. Write in a way that’s most comfortable for you. When you’re ready to start this big project, you’ll know.
Brainstorm and Develop a Plan!
Brainstorming is a great technique that gets you started on any writing project. Here is an idea how to do it: Try to summarize your life in three sentences. Think: what are the things and events that define you?
Once you’re done with the thinking, write whatever comes to your mind. You’ll find your focus through this technique. Maybe it’s a cause you’ve been fighting for. Maybe it’s a sad moment. Maybe it’s a relationship, or maybe just a feeling that has been present for years.
Whatever those defining moments are, you’ll identify them through the brainstorming process.
Then, you’ll develop a plan for the book about your life. Think of it as an outline. It doesn’t have to be too specific. Just list the most important events you’re going to write about and note down few ideas. When you start writing, the initial ideas will evolve.
You’re Mentioning Other People, Right? Ask for Their Permission
It’s important to do this before you get too deep in this project. You have the right to share impressions and memories. However, if you’re naming other people, you’ll need their permission. They also have the right to their privacy. Maybe they remember the events in a way that’s different from yours.
If you don’t get permission and you still want to write about those events, you’ll have to change their names and make sure the real persons behind those names cannot be easily recognized.
Make the Start Exiting
“I was born in a small town in Iowa. The year was 1963.”
This sounds like a boring start. It doesn’t promise much. Many other people were born in a small town in Iowa in that same year. What makes your life so special?
“Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe.”
That’s how Ernest Hemingway’s autobiography starts. He doesn’t start from the day he was born. He starts with an event that defines him: a moment spent at a cafe. He saw a girl that inspired him to start writing. That’s how the important part of his life began.
Think of a trigger event. Define that turning point in your life that made you grow into who you are. Describe that one, and you’ll have a great start.
You’re not writing this story just to get it off your shoulders. You don’t just want to describe your life. People may be interested in such a book if you’re really, really famous. It would still be stripped off literary value. If you want to write a really good autobiography, you must get to the bottom of things.
Ask questions about the most important events you’re describing. Why did you do that? Why did a person decide to leave you? Why do you care so much about this cause you’re devoted to? Why didn’t you make a commitment to something else?
When you get deeper into the events, you get material that will turn plain descriptions of events into a memoir.
Are You Ready?
We told you how to start. When you get through that point, it will be easier to continue. You will follow the plan and you’ll keep developing it. At one moment, you may even notice that the words are pouring themselves out. You’re finally expressing the things you’ve been carrying inside for so long. That may be a torturing process, but it’s also liberating in a strange way.
If you have a great life story, it would be a shame not to turn it into a powerful autobiography. Follow the steps described above and start with the process of preparation.