LifeTime’s Guide to Writing
Your Own Autobiography
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The experience of sharing your stories
in an autobiography for the family.
A Guide to Writing Your Own
Autobiography in Ten Simple Steps
1 Starting an autobiography; first memories and structure
Sitting down to begin your autobiography can actually be the hardest part of
the project. What should you talk about? Where do you start? How are your
memories going to fit together? But most importantly, who are you writing
it for: your grandchildren, family and friends, the public? This will frame
the style you use and the stories you choose to include or exclude.
A useful exercise is to cast your mind back to your very first memories.
Nobody really knows why these become cemented in your mind, but they
make for great reading!
2 Plotting a timeline
Unless you are a born writer, it’s difficult to coherently capture on paper the
colour and essence of your stories, but certainly piecing together a rough
timeline or a thematic guide that outlines your life story is a useful exercise
to shape the book. Think of this autobiography as a jigsaw puzzle of your
life; once you have the edge pieces ready, it’s easier to fill in the rest and
complete the full picture.
Map out your story by grouping these memories into preliminary
chapters. You don’t necessarily have to start with your first memory or when
you were born, but you do want to ensure that the book does not read like
an unstructured download of all your memories.
Pick out your key points so that you can ‘hang’ memories on each one.
For example, a typical timeline for an autobiography would read thus:
• Growing Up
• Moving On
• The Present
3 Your family tree
You have a completed timeline and the next logical step is to list all the
characters who appear in your life story. Drawing a family tree in the first
instance can be very useful as it will make sure no one of importance is left
out of your book! It can also help you recall associated stories. Think about
friends, colleagues and any other important people who have influenced
you along your life’s journey and make a note to remind you to include
them in your book.
4 One memory will lead to another
Focus on your ‘highlights’, the stories you are most eager to preserve.
These can be stories that have a deep and personal meaning; for example,
challenges you overcame or funny anecdotes that made you smile, such as
the time your aunt had one too many sherries at Christmas. Write these
stories under the relevant sections of the timeline and you will find that,
by doing so, everything comes flooding back, with one memory leading to
another – and another.
Always keep a pen and a pad to hand once the writing of your
autobiography is underway, just in case you suddenly recall more details
that you need to note down. This can happen at any moment, even in the
middle of the night!
5 Your story in your voice
Another key aspect of writing an autobiography is to consider the voice
of the text. Remember that this is your story, so you should be easily
recognisable to the reader. You don’t need to use your usual speaking voice,
but neither should you feel you must drastically alter the way you sound to
best represent your stories in the book. They will speak for themselves!
There’s no right or wrong style or tone; the book should reflect who
you are. Do you have a very formal way of speaking? Perhaps you frequently
use colloquialisms that would produce an informal voice for the book. If
you are known for your sense of humour, for example, this will naturally
show in the way you tell your stories; it isn’t necessary to artificially force a
joke into every third paragraph, thereby disrupting the narrative, simply to
prove you’re the storyteller!
It’s important to capture a tone that matches how people know you, as
the risk when trying to adopt a different style is that it will seem as though
someone else is telling your stories for you. In other words, your personal
voice becomes lost.
6 Include everything!
Sometimes, we may think that certain details are not important or that our
reader doesn’t need to know specific information; however, take care not to
omit anything that could be crucial to the reader’s understanding of your
story. Sometimes, the inconsequential details are the ones that leap from the
page when the reader picks up the book. Your family and friends are the
perfect audience for your story and they will want to know all the ins and
outs of it!
7 Capture your experience of social history
Nobody has lived their life in the exact same way as you. Your autobiography
is not only your story, it is also your unique experience of social history.
Take your reader through the key historical events you have witnessed firsthand.
If you lived through wartime Britain, you will have a personal insight
into that period that your grandchildren’s textbooks simply cannot provide.
There are so many aspects of daily life during the war that are completely
alien to later generations and your story can capture the conditions,
atmosphere and stoicism that prevailed within the country at the time.
8 Edit your book
Now that you have fleshed out your timeline into a first draft of your
autobiography, read it through to check you have captured all your stories in
full and that there are no inconsistencies with your structure. A chronological
structure should be related decade to decade, whilst a thematic structure
should have the stories appropriately grouped together.
Make any edits necessary to ensure the story flows throughout. The
sentences should link well, with one chapter passing seamlessly to the next.
You must also ensure that you check any facts to make sure that the book
is as accurate as possible. Editing is key, and it is important to eliminate
duplication, otherwise the reader will switch off.
Alternatively, it is good practice to enlist the help of an editor, as they
will provide an objective view of your book to make sure the narrative flows,
while also spotting any typographical errors or other mistakes that may have
crept into it.
A prologue and an epilogue will effectively top and tail your autobiography
and, finally, please don’t pick My Life as your title; in fact, we ban it at
9 Don’t forget your photographs
As the old adage goes, a picture speaks a thousand words. When it comes
to photographs that are buried in old family albums, there is no better way
of preserving them other than scanning them digitally for inclusion within
your autobiography. Photographs can add real depth to an autobiography
and, when coupled with relevant stories in the book, they can provide
meaningful imagery for the reader.
The last thing you want in your autobiography is low-quality photographs,
so images should always be scanned at high resolution to prevent them from
appearing blurry or pixelated when printed. With the invention of websites
such as Facebook and Instagram, billions of photographs are now available
on the internet, but there are two important issues to consider:
1. Social media websites compress images and shrink them considerably,
so that while they might look fine on a computer screen, they will
either be tiny when printed, or appear pixelated when enlarged.
2. Even if your autobiography is a private book, you will need permission
to use certain images that belong to the photographer or copyright
holder. Using such images may incur a fee that will vary according to
10 Ready to print
Once the story has been completed, you’re ready to print! Consider how
you would like the book to be bound and how it will best represent your
legacy. Your autobiography should be a treasured possession, not a series of
loose-leaf or ring-bound papers. The story of your life deserves to last and
be the best book on your bookshelf, not a collection of stapled together
sheets of A4.
Your autobiography, as it now is, will need to be typeset by a trained
professional, one who will set the text and the photographs as they will
appear in the book itself.
Once the typesetting has been completed, the next step is to find a
printer who can produce a high-quality, unbound manuscript for you to
take to a bookbinder. There are many bookbinders who can provide this
specialised service, so find one who will produce the right type of book
to suit your autobiography. Consider what sort of cover you would like
and whether you would like to design a dust jacket to protect your book.
Paperbacks provide a cheaper alternative, but the quality will never match
that of a hardback edition.
Your bookbinders will complete your project, providing you with your
very own autobiography, ready to be passed on to the next generation!
If you are au fait with using online publishing providers, this can be
an alternative way of seeing your book in print. You do, however, need to
take great care when uploading and flowing the text, so that it doesn’t have
an amateur appearance, and paying attention to how the photographs are
placed, cropped and captioned is essential.
Not everyone is a born writer.
If you are thinking of writing your life story but not
sure you can do it yourself, LifeTime has helped
Authors all over the world write their Private
We are experts and handle everything from start to
Talk to us and we will explain how LifeTime can help.
LifeTime Private Autobiography Service, Inc.
13124 Monroe Place
+44 (0) 203 291 1169
USA: +1 800 453 0199
It is time to tell your story
Copyright 2020 LifeTime Private Autobiography Service, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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+44 (0) 203 291 1169
USA: +1 800 453 0199