If you graduated from high school despite struggling with dyslexia, you may have a powerful story about perseverance. If you became hugely successful in your career, perhaps your story is rooted in diligence with a dash of luck. While researching this idea in the course of writing the book Writing Your Legacy (WD Books), Richard Campbell and co-author Cheryl Svensson focused on the concept of life themes, developed by the father of gerontology James E. Birren. In the January 2017 Writer’s Digest, Campbell explains why the 10 core legacy themes are an essential piece in puzzling together your memoir. Below, he breaks down each element and poses questions sure to prompt a personal response from writers.
Why did the author choose to highlight certain events in their life in the memoir? Consider why the memoirist chose a certain section of their childhood or a specific life event as the focus of the book. For example, Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking focuses on the recent deaths of her husband and her daughter, while Nabokov’s Speak, Memory focuses on his childhood in Russia. One event is in the recent past while one event is in the very distant past. Yet both events have a very strong, and possibly traumatic, effect on the writers.
“Be aware of the pat on the back! It might be the one thing that holds you back. We are always trying to find a way to make people better. In a weakened society, one of the methods people believe works is to give an instant pat on the back to someone once they do something positive/correct, etc. While this may be an effective method, all you are truly doing is weakening one person’s mind. You are essentially training a person to expect a congratulations/ an attaboy, etc., for every fucking thing they do. But, we are forgetting the very basic principles of being a basic fucking human being. Instead of the pat-on-the-back method, why not try this one? The fucking “supposed to” method! It is our job as leaders and teachers to teach people to not always look for the pat on the back rather to build a mindset that we are supposed to do and be our best all the time in every situation. We shouldn’t look for anything from anybody for simply doing our best. You are supposed to get up early, make your bed and clean your house. You are supposed to work out almost every day. You are supposed to do the best you can in school every day. You are supposed to bring your best effort to work every day. That pat on the back should only come when you have exceeded what most people consider exceptional work or have gone above and beyond what is expected. Don’t expect a pat on the back for the shit that a human being is supposed to be doing every day of their lives and that is being the best that he/she can be in every situation in their life. It’s not about you. It’s about your team, the ones you love, and having pride in yourself. It’s not about what others think or feel about you- it’s about how you feel about yourself.” – Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds
Be revealing. You don't have to be explicit, but it's important to reveal truths about yourself and your life in an autobiography. Don't let the book become a list of your accomplishments, with all the negative material carefully kept under the rug. Present yourself as a whole person, sharing talents and flaws alike, and your readers will be able to identify with you and hopefully root for you as they make their way through your story.
Writing an autobiography for a high school or a college English class can help you gain a deeper sense of personal identity. An autobiography allows you to tell your story in a way that reveals truths about your values, goals and dreams. Though there's no exact science to writing an autobiography, you should include information about your background, major events that shaped who you are and any core themes in your life. Include specific examples to help readers understand your life history.