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Fundamentals of Autobiography Writing


Where the motivation to write about your life in autobiographical form comes from may vary according to the person undertaking the project, but its ability to record, preserve, reflect, and shed light on it can significantly enhance it.

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in the life?” run the words of the opening song of the Tony award winning musical Rent. What, it may be asked, will you do with your forthcoming one or, perhaps more appropriately, what have you done with the previous ones?

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” wrote Greek philosopher Socrates, and the autobiography is one literary method of doing so.

Countless people have probed, explored, and wondered what the meaning of life is. But the more valuable question may be: What meaning can you give yours? While that ability may not be readily available, the exploration of it through the written word may facilitate this process. Then, again, as you record the numerous experiences and people who shaped you, taught you, and aided your growth and development as an infinite soul temporarily housed in finite physical form, you may conclude that there is not necessarily a single answer.

“Autobiography narrative teaches you how to express what you’ve experienced, what you feel, what you remember, what you understand, who you are, what you believe, and why, in a way that someone else would relish reading… ,” wrote Tristine Rainer in her book, “Your Life as Story: Writing the New Autobiography” (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1997, p. 8).

Old Records

Old Records


As the years and, eventually, the decades unfold, recalling exact incidents and people may become increasingly difficult, and gathering these facts may require significant time and effort before the autobiographer is ready to place his pen on the paper. Nevertheless, there are several tools and techniques that can facilitate this process.

1). Records: Records come in numerous forms-documents, reports, report cards, letters and emails, photographs, conversations with friends and relatives, yearbooks, articles, souvenirs, mementos. All may aid in the recall of life events.

Journals and Diaries:

Journals and Diaries:

2). Journals and Diaries: Journals, diaries, and any other means of preserving the events of your life can form the foundation of an autobiography and can include reflections, feelings, decisions, and redirections based upon what was experienced.

3). Schematics: Schematics, such as time lines and family trees, can not only aid memory, but place events, experiences, and milestones in chronological order. The process, however, may require significant thought and effort before an accurate schematic can be produced. Consider the family tree and timeline examples, subdivided into both years and high and low points, below.

4). Initial Writing: Like peeling away the layers of an onion, writing enables the autobiographer to progressively probe his memory. The more he does so, the more of it he recovers and uncovers. Doing so with the non-dominant hand offers a regressive approach-that is, it provides that slightly shaky, unpracticed feeling and can lead to the revelation of childhood memories.



Character personality can be more effectively illustrated by means of mannerisms, gestures, unique, frequently used expressions, and habitual behaviors, but if physical features are used, you should limit yourself to only one or two of them.

The decision to write about certain people should hinge upon the instrumental role they played in your life.


Writing an autobiography requires the recalling and researching of the significant events of your life, and then dividing them into recountable pieces or sections, which can serve as its chapters. Although the method for doing so is author-determined, there are numerous possibilities.

Source by Robert Waldvogel

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