You have seen and done a lot. You have filled countless pages in your journals. You have something to share, and there’s something special in knowing that a stranger may read your personal story and draw inspiration and encouragement from it.
You may have a wealth of experiences that your readers can gain insight from and the opportunity to leave your legacy to the world while making a buck at the same time.
It’s finally time to write your life story.
Below we’ll explore the critical elements to consider on how to write a book about your life.
How to write a book about your life
Why do you want to write a book about your life? Let this question be your starting point as you enter the creative writing process.
What makes you want to get your own story out there?
Your story is the message you want to convey. It’s a natural human urge to preserve a person’s life experience and share the word with those who come after us.
Consider that message and your passion for it the theme of your story. What does your life express?
Brainstorm concepts, themes, and messages. Write down your experiences and perspectives in free-writing journal sessions.
How can you organize your memories to convey your message through an engaging true story?
Think about novels and their plots. The story of a character’s life doesn’t always start at the beginning.
The organizing process is known as outlining. Established writers outline their novels to help them stay on track and remember the overall message or theme.
Outlines act as scaffolding for your life story, a frame of reference to overcoming moments of disruption to flow or writer’s block.
The most important thing to remember when writing your book is to understand the process will have ups and downs. Some days you’ll write freely, from a place of authenticity, and on others, you may struggle to find motivation.
Stick with it! The journey of writing a book, especially one so personal, is not easy. It’s a deep dive into the self that calls for discipline and emotional resilience.
How to start writing a book about your life
Below is an elaboration of the elements of life writing mentioned above. There is no one size fits all approach to writing a life story. The process calls for the creative use of established techniques, as outlined.
1. Start writing with journaling
Knowing where to start when writing a book about your life can be challenging. Your reader doesn’t have first-hand experience of your personal life, so how do you help them relate?
The best way to begin writing is to start journaling.
Journaling is the act of recording your experiences and perspectives in life, from the exciting to the mundane to the surreal.
You can journal about whatever you like – your thoughts on a particular person, your progress in the past year, or how you felt about breakfast this morning. There is no wrong topic.
Journaling is an honest and insightful look at yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, and your behavior.
‘Write about what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been able to speak about. Be willing to split open.’Natalie Goldberg
When writing a book, your personal journal’s content is a great place to find inspiration and authenticity.
2. Try writing short stories
Writing an entire book is no easy feat. It’s wise to start writing your life story by focusing first on short stories and anecdotes.
Consider a weekend with a best friend, a time you learned a new skill or the experience of having your first pet. You can compile these short stories later and include them in your outline.
3. Organize your stories
Your true story needs to be engaging. So, how do you engage readers in a book about your life?
Take them on a journey. Imagine you’re writing for someone who has never met you and never will. This reader will read your book differently from a close friend or family member.
Outline and organize your book’s content for that reader. Make a list of important stories you want to share and piece them together to form a coherent narrative.
You don’t have to write about your life chronologically, and the book doesn’t need to be read that way either. Still, it’s essential to create some timeline and place individual stories in order so that they immerse the reader in your life story seamlessly.
Outlining can also help you enter a more creative state of mind. You’ll find that some pieces work better than others at a particular stage of the book, or you may find that one story can be rewritten for greater effect.
How to outline your life story
List the memories you find most significant in your life. Remember that an outline is essential when writing any book, autobiography, novel, or manifesto.
Consider the following ideas and prompts to help you begin the outlining process.
- What events in your childhood influenced the person you are today?
- What were your teenage years like?
- Your first romantic relationship
- Your aspirations for the future from when you were younger
- Challenges and obstacles in your life and how you got through them
- Relationships that have shaped who you are
Now that you have a list of significant memories identify the ones that most stand out. These are the memories and perspectives that will carry the plot.
4. Identify your theme
Have you thought about your book’s theme? It’s crucial to write under an overall theme; otherwise, your book is just a collection of random stories.
A theme keeps your reader engaged and helps the story progress.
To identify your theme, consider the message you want your reader to take away from reading your book. Is there an important lesson in your life story? Can you inspire your reader to seek insight into their own life?
Common themes found in autobiographies and memoirs include:
- Accepting and embracing change
- Overcoming challenges and obstacles
- Relationships (romantic, platonic, family)
5. Write interesting characters
Who are the people in your life who deserve a place in your book?
Like other types of books, a good autobiography or memoir follows the protagonist (you). Still, it is supported by various characters who each play an essential role in your life.
While you’re the star of the show, don’t forget to shine a light on the other characters. A well-rounded cast makes your story far more engaging for the reader than if you were to illuminate yourself and keep other characters’ vague shadows.
Consider their viewpoints and perspectives to flesh out an interesting character (a real person in your life).
It’s important to respect and highlight the differences in viewpoints and perspectives between you and your supporting characters. The contrast between your view and theirs will help to make your story more interesting.
Consider their mannerisms, moods, and coping mechanisms; what’s life like for them?
Of course, nobody wants the spotlight without their permission. If you’re going to write a book about your life and share details about those involved, ask permission if you can.
It’s also important to fact-check before you make any big statements.
When writing a particular story, contact others who know it and run your understanding of it by them. They may be able to offer insight or new information that will alter your perspective.
6. Write engaging dialogue
Writing accurate dialogue can be tricky. You want to share the conversation, but you’ll need to trim fat from the lengthy, unnecessary small talk that happens in real life.
Consider the purpose of dialogue in a story.
We don’t need a real conversation in a story. Attempts to perfect reality fall in vain. Gather phrases, tones, and punctuations from those who will speak and use them to support the plot development.
Dialogue is functional. What purpose does it serve? Why does that line earn space on the page? Use dialogue to achieve the following effects:
- Reveal information about the speaker. Are they trying to communicate a need? Is there urgency? Is there authority?
- Show rather than tell the reader moments you learned something
- Connect the dots and emphasize the message
7. Embrace your vulnerabilities
Don’t hold back on writing your authentic self. There’s no point in writing an autobiography or memoir if you’re not going.
Your account of your life story won’t be all butterflies and unicorns. Use those darker times to highlight contrasts in behavior and perspective and let the reader in on your internal process, struggles, and saving graces.
Difference between memoir and autobiography
Do you know the difference between an autobiography and a memoir? Both tell your life story but from a different standpoint. Let’s explore.
What makes a good autobiography?
An autobiography is one’s entire life story. It covers a person’s childhood, adolescence, and adulthood in a way that offers the reader a comprehensive understanding of their life.
Autobiographies usually take place chronologically – from beginning to middle to now.
Autobiographies are typical among famous leaders and celebrities. They can show readers how one achieved success, such as how they overcame challenges and obstacles or the mindset that made them a natural leader.
What makes a good memoir?
A memoir focuses on a period in one’s life.
For example, the time the author lived in France or their experiences as a soldier. Their childhood, a romantic relationship, a career.
‘A memoir is not an autobiography. It’s a true story told as a novel, using techniques of novelization. The author is allowed to compress events, combine characters, change names, and change the sequence of events, just as if he’s writing a novel. But it’s got to be true.’Homer Hickam
In a memoir, a writer draws upon their experiences and memories to convey a message or theme. Unlike autobiographies, which typically focus on the facts and chronology, memoirs focus more on the writer’s experiences, feelings, and perspective on a situation.
A memoir writer can play with the facts by exploring their different perspectives and thoughts relevant to the time.
Stuck for inspiration?
Consider how established writers tell their true life stories.
The best way to find inspiration is to read. Read about lives and memories, and see how writers use time and perspective to share their life stories.
What about you and your life makes you ready to write the story?
Popular life stories that exemplify the genre include:
- The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls
- Becoming – Michelle Obama
- When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
- Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
- This Boy’s Life – Tobias Wolff
- The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
- The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto Che Guevara
If you want to write a fantastic life story, write from a place of deep authenticity. Your openness and willingness to show your flaws, as well as your strengths, is what will help a reader who has never met you relate to your experiences.
Writing a book is not easy. It takes consistency, discipline, and focus on telling an amazing life story, even one in which you’re the main character.
Set aside time every day or create a weekly writing schedule. The more you commit to a schedule, you’ll discover that it’s easier to enter a state of flow when you sit down to write.