Tips On Writing A Book About Your Life – Aspiring autobiographers often email us, “how can I write my own story?” Try these 7 life writing tips to get started:
There are many ways to approach life writing. You can take a non-fictional approach and set dates, facts and memories that are closest to the event.
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Tips On Writing A Book About Your Life
Another option is to fictionalize and blur the line between reality and fiction. This life writing approach can be helpful if you want to:
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Barthes continues to present the reader with fragments written in the third person, alternating with captioned photographs of his youth. For example, in a passage entitled “Arrogance,” he writes:
He did not like the proclamation of victory. Disturbed by the inferiority of others, whenever victory appears anywhere, he wants to go somewhere else. Barthes, Roland Barthes, p. 46.
Depicting himself in the third person, Barthes presents his perspective and values to the reader, just like a typical autobiography. However, in his fragmentary, third-person (non-narrative) presentation, he becomes more like a short philosophical musing than a traditional linear “story” with character development. Memories are told a lot
For example, will your book be born until now? Or a few weeks or months covering every part of the major life events?
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First-person narrators in fiction exemplify a narrative approach to time that can also be used by writing about our lives.
To begin my life with the beginning of life, I note that I was born (as you know and believe) on a Friday at twelve o’clock at night. Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850), page 5 (Wordsworth edition of 1992).
I was born in Blunderstone in Suffolk, or ‘therefore’ as they say in Scotland. I am a posthumous child. My father’s eyes had been closed to the light of this world for six months, when mine were opened. Dickens, David Copperfield, p. 6.
This time approach provides a linear understanding of life’s progress, starting from childhood. It is a general narrative approach in many
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You can start with an important event that happened later in adulthood, for example, and flash back to a past scene that illuminates the backstory and helps the reader understand what led to the later events.
Many writers feel overwhelmed when starting a new project. This is often especially acute when writing about personal experiences that don’t have the protective cover of a fictional character.
When the acclaimed Virginia Woolf biographer Hermione Lee was asked whether fear is a useful emotion for biographers, she replied:
Fear must somehow be channeled into work energy. In doing so, I think you should feel that they are yours and only you know them. But to achieve that feeling, you have to face and master your fear. Hermione Lee, interviewed in “Hermione Lee, The Art of Biography No. 4” for The Paris Review, available here.
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I get to work every morning and hear this little voice say, “He doesn’t know what he’s doing!” and I lifted my arm and just swept it, swept it off the table.
Find your own way to alleviate your fear, whether it’s changing the main character’s name or even fictionalizing your entire life.
Any person’s life is a huge archive or storage of valuable experiences and memories. As Hermione Lee said, the immensity of this “source material” can be overwhelming.
As a preparatory step to decide how to write a life story, summarize the important events that you want to include. Try to write just two lines for each incident or scene you can think of (you can create and organize scene summaries in the Scene Builder tool).
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At the heart of great life writing (as with great fiction), there is often a major internal conflict and/or external conflict. The main tension or experience faced by the autobiographer. Tweet this
As in fiction, in life writing, the memoirist’s voice helps create a distinct sense of character.
Renowned memoirist and poet Mary Karr offers great advice for life writers about sound in their books
Every great memory lives or dies based 100% on sound. It’s a delivery system for the author’s experience—a high-bandwidth cable that brings clarity to every pixel of the experience inside and out. Mary Karr, The Art of Memory (2015), p. 35.
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Karr is careful not to mask aspects of his own voice in order to appear more appealing to readers. He said:
The voice should allow some emotional tone – very wise, and reject pathos; very pathetic and it’s shrill. It establishes and varies the distance of both the material and the reader – from cold and uncomprehending to tense and close. The author did not choose this style, but was born, depending on who he was and how he lived in the past. Carr, p. 36.
In Karr’s chapter, “The Truth Contract Twixt Writer and Reader,” he discusses the value of telling the truth (rather than “developing” it for the audience):
But, how does telling the truth help the reader’s experience? For example, you had a horrible childhood – tortured, ridiculed and starved every day – beaten with belts and hoses, etc. You can write repetitive nonsense memos, duller than a rubber knife. But will it be “correct”? And is it true to the way you make the box now or the experience you have had? At that point, the bullies can feed you or you will die. Carr, p. 2.
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What Karr says is that “the truth” is often more complicated than what makes us look good (or others look bad).
One of the important lessons in learning to write a life story is how to portray your people as more than heroes and villains. Indeed, rather to show the fragments of life between people who are better and worse choices, which flesh out more complex portraits with other colors (and other shades of gray). As Karr says:
It is different in childhood, life between whippings in the ass, that throw past pain into stark relief to read. Carr, p. 2. 7. Ask for help in shaping the life story
Writing a fictional memoir or autobiography is difficult because you’re not only dealing with standard story elements (conflict, narrative, voice, etc.), but also with personal areas. Some of these may be harder to see (or capture in prose) than others.
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Because of the many challenges (including the challenge of subjectivity), don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Karr wrote about sending the people he put into the manuscript of the memoir to make sure the decorations didn’t detract from the people or the story. Beta readers can provide valuable information, especially if they are spectators or active participants in the events you describe.
You can also get help from a writing coach who will help you start weaving your personal experiences and anecdotes into a better and more complete story.
Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received a BA in English Literature and a BA in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town. An autobiography is a self-told biography. This is an account of a man’s life written by himself. Autobiographies are usually not written with the intention of publication. Some authors publish their autobiographies in book-length form, while formal autobiographies are written for a specific purpose, such as education, work, or business. There are many types of autobiography, including religious, intellectual, thematic, and fictional. The main concern before writing an autobiography is how to start and how to maintain coherence and order? To meet this writing challenge, I have listed the following tips for writing a good autobiography.
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There are four categories of autobiographical writing. The first and most important task is to choose your category. This can be determined by the author’s life story. You need to create an interesting theme for your autobiography. It can be about love, faith, grief, fate, or whatever you feel most affects your life. You should follow the pattern of the selected categories in your autobiographical events. For example, if you are writing about religious inspiration, you should add related events in your autobiography. In this way, the autobiographical content can model the story.
The next tip for writing your autobiography is to choose a specific category that fits your life story, be it religious, thematic, fictional, or intellectual. This mainly depends on the way you choose to write and also on the most dominant aspects of your life. Read popular autobiographies in categories you know. Try to understand the story line by reading different autobiographies and submit your own story as famous writers do. By doing so, you understand the content and structure of writing an autobiography. You can also take inspiration and writing advice from other people’s well-written autobiographies.
Your target audience should be determined when writing an autobiography. If you write your own experience
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