How to write an autobiography (and actually finish it)
If you’ve ever tried writing your autobiography, chances are you haven’t finished. This article gives you one simple strategy on how to write an autobiography, and actually finish it!
There are lots of reasons why this is the case, but it comes down to a few main things:
- You’ve set the bar high: You want your autobiography to be something you’re proud of — something to share with your family. But something that makes you proud isn’t easy to create. It takes time. It’s hard work.
- You’ve lost steam: Writing is typically a solo activity. Without colleagues or friends to keep you on track, it’s easy to lose motivation.
- You’ve followed the wrong advice: Here’s a 10-second challenge. Google “How to write my autobiography” and see what pops up. Chances are, one of the top results is a WikiHow article with 1.84 million views. Its popularity would make you think the article is helpful — but try and apply this advice: “The trick to writing an autobiography is to treat it like any good story: it should have a protagonist (you), a central conflict, and a cast of fascinating characters to keep people engaged.” True? Maybe. Helpful or practical? Absolutely not.
The one question you need to ask yourself
The most important question that you need to ask yourself is this: WHY do you want to write your autobiography?
Do you want to:
A) Start a passion project that you don’t mind sinking years into with no end in sight?
B) Write your life story for someone to actually read it, like your children or grandchildren?
Here’s what we predict. A handful of you are in group A. And If so, just keep writing, have fun and don’t worry about ever finishing it (because you probably won’t — and that’s OK). But if you’re in group B and actually want to finish and publish your life story for someone to read, then you need a strategy.
How to write an autobiography
In a nutshell: Answer questions about your life and write down your answers.
A bit of background, when my daughter was born my wife and I realised how little we knew about our parents and their family histories. We wanted their stories to be recorded so our daughter could one day read them and discover who they were beyond being her grandparents. So we went searching for a way to record their life stories that was fun and would lead to a beautiful book in the end. We wanted something affordable, easy to follow and perfect for a novice writer. We didn’t really find anything that worked.
Our solution? We designed an interview with 101 questions for our parents to answer. Every question was designed to be thought provoking and take no more than five minutes each to answer. We broke the questions up into different “life chapters” like childhood, work, love, family tree, children and more philosophical questions as well. The idea was that although the questions were simple enough to answer easily, they’d also be detailed enough to cover our parents’ lives. Plus, the question and answer format gave them an easy way to track progress as they got closer to finishing their book. It was easy, motivating and most importantly — they finished their books!
We then printed the books and they were better than we ever imagined. We learned so much about our parents and the interview format made it so compelling to read. Answer this: would you prefer to hear someone narrate your great-grandfather’s entire life story from beginning to end or read an interview with him written in his own words? Which will make you feel like you’re having a conversation with him? Which will bring his story to life? The magic of an interview is it’s fascinating to read — as soon as you hear a question you need to know the answer.
Here are just some of the questions we liked best:
- If you could share a meal with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
- What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
- What’s the most valuable thing your parents taught you?
My wife and I got so excited about how well our parents’ stories turned out that we launched A Life Untold to share this concept with the rest of the world. We tried really hard to get the price as low as possible so there’s virtually no barrier for anyone to ACTUALLY write and print their autobiography into a captivating and professionally designed hardcover book. In fact, we believe in it so much we’d like to challenge you NOT to finish once you’ve gotten started. I hope you give it a try!