How To Start An Autobiography: The 411 On Writing Yours!

Posted on Oct 2, 2021

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Written by Sarah Rexford

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Wondering how to start an autobiography?

Often, individuals who write their life story are doing so not because they’re famous for their writing, but because they’re well known in other respects. 

If you’re here reading this article, this is likely the case for you. Perhaps you are a famous sports player, a celebrity, or well-known for your life story already. Maybe you’re a famous speaker or run a global nonprofit. 

Whatever the case, you want to write your autobiography.

First of all, congratulations! Sharing your life story with the world is an incredible aspiration and will take a lot of work.

The fact that you’re here reading this article shows that you’re dedicated to making this happen, and are ready to take the necessary steps to do so.

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It may feel a bit overwhelming to plunge into the writing of your story.

In fact, much of writing an autobiography starts in the preparation stages. Condensing your entire life from birth to present day into one manuscript will take time, dedication, and perseverance.

You’ve come to the right place!

We’ll start right at the beginning with a brief definition, and take you all the way through your preparation stages. By the end of this article you can feel confident to start writing your autobiography.

What Is An Autobiography?

When thinking about how to start an autobiography, it’s helpful to first distinguish it from a memoir.

Many people think these two book genres are two terms for the same genre that can be used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

An autobiography is the life story of an individual from birth to present day, written by the individual himself. 

While writing a memoir focuses on specific life events that all point to one underlying theme, an autobiography includes all the major (and even many minor) stories from your life and focuses on you.

The point of an autobiography is to share your story with the world. Whatever your story is, it’s important enough to write an entire book on. Those details, big and small, need to be included.

When planning to write your autobiography it is important to realize that the more vulnerable you can be in your writing, the more your readers will engage with you.

Your autobiography is a book about you, but it does need to focus on the reader first.

When you’re writing your story and feel the urge to skip certain life events that may be a bit difficult to write about, remember, these moments are the ones readers will connect with.

The reader wants to know about your life and not just the successes. Failures are often the most relatable parts of life. The majority of people who have dared to do something great or succeed in a specific way have likely met failure before they met success.

Find someone who is highly successful, and you will likely find someone who has failed many times before.

Readers will be able to empathize with you if you share your stories of failure and show how they contributed to your success later on.

It’s one thing to share your life story and only show the highlight reel. It’s another to go deep into your actual journey and share the difficult aspects as well.

An autobiography encompasses all aspects of your story: The good and the bad, the highs and the lows, the trial and errors, the success and the failures.

If you’re ready and willing to share your story, let’s move on to point two.

How To Start An Autobiography

When deciding how to begin, it’s important to adequately assess your writing capabilities. 

If you are the individual whose story should be written, and you’re capable of writing it in the way it deserves to be told, you can plunge straight into brainstorming.

On the other hand, maybe your story is incredible and you want to be the one to write it, but you have never learned the basics of writing. 

Unless you plan on hiring a ghostwriter to write your story for you, now may be a good time to invest in a writing course to get the basics down.

In writing, voice is extremely important. Since you’re writing your autobiography, it’s crucial that your writing voice be heard loud and clear.

Investing in a writing course can help give you the foundation you need to share your story in a powerful way.

As the saying goes, all writing is rewriting. While investing in a writing course is a tremendous first step in your writing journey, remember that your autobiography will likely go through many drafts before it is complete.

Learning the basics of writing will allow you to share your story in a way readers can easily connect with and understand. The more you think “reader first” the better your autobiography will be. This starts with the writing. 

Steps To Begin Writing Your Autobiography

If you already feel that you’re a competent writer and have the necessary tools to write your story well, you can move on to the planning stages.

1. Brainstorming 

Brainstorming ideas for your book is a fun stage because you don’t need to hold anything back. If you think something is a good idea, you write it down. If you wonder if something might be a good idea, write it down. If you think something is a bad idea, you still write it down. Brainstorming is your chance to get every single idea down on paper so that you can work with it later.

Remember: If you think something is a bad idea, you still write it down.

The particular method you take to brainstorm depends on you and your individual personality. You could use colored markers, sticky notes, a blank notebook, a blank Microsoft Word document, pages strewn all over the floor, a whiteboard . . . you get the point. 

Do what you need to do to get all your ideas in front of you.

2. Outlining

After you’ve done the necessary steps to brainstorm and have collected all your ideas, now you get to decide what to do with them.

In fiction, most writers either write via outlining, via pantsing (writing by the seat of their pants: deciding what to write as they write) or a hybrid of the two. 

When it comes to writing your autobiography, I would encourage you to have at least a brief book outline to work from. The decades that are your life encompass so many highs and lows. It’s important to have a general understanding of what you have to work from and how you want to get it down.

You might start organizing every event of your life chronologically, and then deciding how you want to write about it. 

Maybe you want to start at a certain age, and bounce back in time every other chapter (flashback).

Perhaps you want to layer in your past via backstory: Moments of dialogue, hints, conversations, etc.

Whatever method you choose to take, having a brief outline to work from can be extremely helpful in this process.

3. Drafting 

Now that you have done your brainstorming, your outlining, and it’s time to move on to the writing, you get to begin your first draft.

This is the time to put your brainstorming mindset back on.

Pro Tip: Don’t ever try to edit while you write. Put aside any desire to edit and simply write.

Drafting is simply writing your story and getting the words down on paper with the intention of going back and editing later. If you use your drafting time to edit, your writing will likely move forward extremely slowly. Simply get the words down, get the scenes down, and get the chapters finished, then go back and edit.

As you draft you can follow whichever type of editing schedule is best for you.

Maybe you want to draft a chapter and then edit it. Maybe you want to write one day and edit the next. Maybe you want to draft your entire autobiography and only then go back to make edits.

Whatever method you choose, make sure that when you are working on your draft you are not working on editing.

It can be difficult to turn off your editing mode, but in the long run, it will likely be much more efficient to draft and then edit.

Your autobiography is a work on your entire life story and it deserves to be written well. Edits will come, but as you draft, try to just get everything down.

As You Begin Writing Your Autobiography. . .

Making the decision to write and share your life story is a big step. Now that you know the overall process and how to start an autobiography, which stage will you start at first?

Investing in a writing program?

Or do you plan to jump straight into brainstorming and outlining?

Wherever you are at in writing your story, enjoy the process and remember a few key tips:

Think reader first. Yes it’s your autobiography and therefore the book is about you, but ultimately, books are about their readers. Remember to share the difficult parts of your journey as well as the successes. Readers will connect with your story at a much deeper level and be impacted that much more.

Congratulations on making the decision to write your story! 

Take your time as you go through the process, and remember, all writing is rewriting. 

You’ve got this. 

It’s time to share your story with the world! 

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