This guest post is by Richard Campbell. Campbell is co-author of Writing Your Legacy – The Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story, published worldwide in July 2015 by Writer’s Digest Books. Richard teaches Legacy Writing to adult learners in Ontario, Canada, as well as to guests on board transatlantic crossings with a major cruise line. He is passionate about life story writing and has guested on several Top 50 U.S. radio stations. He would love to hear from you and can be reached at email@example.com.
These memories are also important because they point backwards to what was, and forwards to what was about to happen, with a sense that there was now a new way of seeing these stretches of time. In each memory, moreover, there is likely to be a huge gift – each will reflect a theme, possibly a major theme, which will play out in the rest of the writers’ life.
Remember every significant event, unusual experience, or important person in your life. That might take a considerable amount of time, as we think that your life has been interesting enough, and you have many worthy moments. If you want to write about your childhood, you’d better apply to the “experts” – your parents. Perhaps you did something outstanding and awesome when you were a child.
Either way, this jump is disturbing, but the description likely caused you to cringe more than the summary. And doesn't some part of you want to know what happened next? Who came to help? How quickly they reached a doctor? If all had turned out well in the jump, you would not have the same compulsion to read on. If you can't think of any details, write a line of summary and return to fill in the details as you remember them. If you remain relaxed about it, you will remember. If you don't, you don't. Writing an autobiography isn't easy, but it should be enjoyable.
Most memoirists struggle to begin their life story and are not sure where to start. Depending on your life story, you may reach out to other family members for details on a childhood memory or event. But it’s important that you also focus on your personal experiences and your recollection of a childhood memory or moment, even if it may be flawed. Often, the best memoirs are about the process of remembering an event, or are about processing a moment in the past that felt important.
Take a step back to reflect. You're chronicling your life lessons, but what have you learned from them? Relay your intentions, desires, feelings of loss, feelings of joy, the wisdom you've gained, and other inner thoughts from time to time throughout the book. Taking a step back from the action of the story to reflect on what it all means is a good way to add depth to your autobiography.
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 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.
The consequence(s): Ask yourself, What disaster will happen if the goal is not achieved? What is my protagonist afraid will happen if she doesn’t achieve the goal or solve the problem? The consequence is the negative situation or event that will result if the goal is not achieved. The combination of goal and consequence creates the main dramatic tension in your plot. It’s what makes the plot meaningful.
“I was born in 19XX year, I entered school N…” Would you read that if you had a choice? Most likely not, especially if you already have read a dozen biographies which star with the same phrase. Yes, an autobiography is a formal piece of writing. But here, it rather means that you are not allowed to use slang and colloquial language, instead of following a specific pattern of writing.
Your life story, or autobiography, should contain the basic framework that any essay should have, with four basic elements. Begin with an introduction that includes a thesis statement, followed by a body containing at least several paragraphs, if not several chapters. To complete the autobiography, you'll need a strong conclusion, all the while crafting an interesting narrative with a theme.
For example, let's say you wrote, "From the age of ten, I knew I would become a concert pianist." What specific event triggered this determination? Can you describe that one event in a paragraph or two, using all the senses available to you—sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell? Using all five senses will help readers imagine the moment as if they were present with you. This vicarious act of reliving events arouses more emotion in readers than simple summary. and if you can master it, you are well on your way to writing an autobiography! Sensory description: The narrow plank felt warm and smooth beneath my bare feet. I ran its length in three strides, arms extended out from my sides for balance. At the end I took a weightless leap into eighteen inches of space. I caught a barely-there flash of metal just before I landed hard, all my weight on my front foot. Then pain like a red-hot poker jammed through my arch, and the gleaming tip of a three-inch nail as it emerged through the top of my foot. Summary: That day I jumped on a board with a nail in it and it went through my foot.
Weave in themes. Use the major themes of your life as a way to tie stories together, connecting your past and your present. Aside from the central conflict, what themes have followed you throughout your life? A fondness for certain holidays, your fascination with a certain place that you visited over and over, a certain type of guy you've always fallen for, a rich spiritual life you fall back on again and again. Bring up the themes every so often to help form a cohesive picture of your life.
Below, you’ll find an example of an autobiography provided by one of our experienced writers. You are welcome to use it as a template for your own autobiography. Although you can borrow some ideas about proper structure and writing style, you can’t copy our sample without citing it properly. Please, don’t commit plagiarism! We believe that you are able to create an autobiography that will be no worse than our autobiography example for high school students.
That’s it. Writing these ten themes will result in a concise story that covers all essential aspects of a life well lived. For added context to your story, Writing Your Legacy offers 25 additional themes, including those on your life values, greatest personal achievements, your cultural heritage, life after retirement, and life miracles. It can be your New Year’s Resolution to create the perfect gift to your children or grandchildren. For free downloads, try www.guidedlifestories.com.
You are not the first person who wants to write about his or her life. Many famous writers, artists, politicians, and businessmen create autobiographies to share their wisdom and experience with a wide audience. Find the autobiography that belongs to the author whose personality inspires you and read it in order to get a basic understanding of autobiographical writing.
I think the first and best step to getting things out – but not necessarily writing your life story for anyone else to read – is to buy a journal. Start writing about your experiences and painful memories. It will hurt, but the only to get past the pain is to go through it. The more it hurts, the better it will be in the long run to process the experience.
Do you remember any other challenges you had to overcome that relate to each main point in the story? Did you move? Were you ill? Did anyone close to you die? Did any of these people or events affect the choices you made during that stage of your life? Do you remember any amusing or embarrassing incidents related to this success or failure? What high points and low points do you recall? Was a specific holiday or celebration memorable? A specific meal or car ride?
What were the narrator’s desires in the memoir? What was motivating the narrator to share this particular story with the reader? Often, memoirs can be cathartic for the writer. Perhaps the writer was trying to process a year of grieving and loss, as Didion does in The Year of Magical Thinking, or perhaps the writer was trying to describe a childhood in a concentration camp, as Spiegelman does in his memoir Maus. Consider the motivations of the writer for putting down their story and presenting it to readers.
Create an outline or a graphic organizer of the major topics and ideas you want to cover. For example, you might make a time-order chart -- a chart with event blocks to organize events chronologically. Or, you might draw a cluster web -- a diagram with connected circles -- to divide your autobiography into sections, such as one for relevant background information, one for life-changing events, one for special memories and one for goals and dreams. Focus on reasons why specific events, situations and circumstances were important to you and how they made you feel.