“Autobiography” is a word that might confuse some people. Biography means the story of someone’s life. “Auto” means about oneself: so the word means the life story of the person writing the life story. Only one person can write an autobiography: the person whose story is being told. Writing your own life story is a difficult task and is usually left for the latter part of one’s life when a substantial term of living has been completed, and there is a long story to tell. There must always be a reason to write an autobiography: these are stories not usually attempted by people who live ordinary, mundane lives. In general, people who have suffered some unusual misadventure or trauma, people who have achieved greatness, or people who have committed outstanding mistakes or endured extreme hardships have stories valid enough for an autobiography. There is no set pattern or plan for writing an autobiography: the story can take any form as long as it is written expressively and in an informative or entertaining way.

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What is an Autobiography Format and How it Looks

The first question you need to answer is – what is an autobiography? An autobiography is usually a non-fictional narrative. However, it can be partially fictional or written with the use of fictional characters, with an author and others from his life being prototypes for them. It’s a story of a person’s life told from a first-perspective point of view.

It’s a subgenre of biographies. The main difference is that here, the writer is also a subject of the narrative, whereas in biographies, the writer – is someone else, a historian or a journalist, for example. 

Autobiographies are very popular among a broader audience. For example, James Joyce’s “ Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” has been read for over a century now and even became a part of the literary canon as well. 

Memoir as a Type of Autobiography

Autobiographies can be different. Memoir is one of its variations, for example. Its specialty focuses on one particular period in life rather than the whole life story. A memoir can also document a few eras of the author’s life path if they consider it to be one whole period. These writings are much more focused and allow the writers to get into specifications and details, which in the case of an autobiography, would be unnecessary. When citing sources or references in your memoir, consider using a free citation generator to ensure accuracy and consistency in your bibliography.

How to Write an Autobiography: Starting with an Outline

The structure is important for any type of writing. And it’s highly crucial for autobiographies. After all, you wouldn’t want your reader to jump-read your story and start from when you were 5, then move on to 20-year-old period, and then back to childhood. It would leave them confused and without any wish to continue reading. 

So, how to start an autobiography? That’s right, create an outline. As most autobiographies are written in a chronological format, your outline will actually be a timeline of the life events you think are worth mentioning. You should start by mapping out the brightest ones that definitely need to be highlighted in the story. Then you can fill out more mundane events, which, nonetheless, has led to the major ones. 

How to Write an Autobiography: Key Points to Consider
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Note, however, that you don’t have to start with birth. You can mention it at some point in your story, but it’s not always what autobiographies begin with. You are not also limited to depicting your life solely. For example, you may as well include a brief family history as it will give the readers a look into your background, surroundings, and specifics of your upbringing. 

After considering all that, you can think about the major events you decided to describe and the stories behind them. Think about what interesting and crucial details and anecdotes you would want to include to captivate your reader. You can write them down in a bullet list under each marked event on your timeline.

In the end of this process, you will have an outline not in a common sense but in a structural sense. You will have a skeleton for your future writing that will keep your thoughts in the right stream and all the unnecessary details out of your writing.

Steps for Writing an Autobiography

Moving on to the writing part. We have a skeleton that we can now dress in the flesh of words and sentences. Sit down, put your hands on the keyboard (or pen on the paper, if you do it old school), and start typing. Wait… where do you start? In the very beginning? What if you have an already formed narrative about an event that happened a few years ago instead?

The most accepted format for an autobiography is chronological. This means writing the life story in the order in which it happened. One starts with a bit of background of parents and family and proceeds from the time of one’s birth.

Brainstorming Focus and Scope

This step is the second review of your outline. Here, you can answer questions like: where do I want my narrative to start? What key events do I want to put emphasis on the most? What themes and subjects do I want to discuss in the writing? How do I better explore events and insights resulting from the key scenes? Consider your whole life. Think about how you have lived it. Try to remember the important times and the achievements and adventures or mishaps that shaped it.

Research your past

You can’t possibly remember every little detail about what happened in your childhood or even high school. Some events slip through our memory, some get altered by our psyche’s coping mechanisms. So, talk to your parents and friends, look at the old photos, and go through your diary – maybe you notice you missed something important or fun. Moreover, if you do these small interviews, you can then include them (with consent from interviewees) in your book as proof of your words. Make a list of all the events, incidents, and accidents that you would like to mention. List people who were—or still are—involved in your life. Add substance to the list by writing a brief description of each person, event, accident, misfortune, lucky strike, and occasion you can remember. A plan must be created from the result of this summary.

Create a first draft with key life scenes

As you already have an outline of key events and smaller experiences that led to them, you can start writing around that scheme. It doesn’t have to be ideal right away. And yes, you will most definitely rewrite around 80% of that draft later. At least it will give you an idea of what you really want to see in the end and what you would like to use more or less of in your writing. As with other writing, it is always wise to draft the introduction and first chapter last. This method provides the opportunity to introduce your work in an appropriate way and devise an absorbing and well-written autobiography.

How to Write an Autobiography
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More inspiration sources will come in handy at this stage. Hold meetings with relatives and friends, who can remind you of events and people you might have forgotten. Gather as much information as you can in the way of photographs, letters, paintings, mementos, souvenirs, personal belongings, recordings, and other audio, visual, or personal material. These make for useful memory triggers and will elicit stories. Reserve a long time to cover all the talking, listening, and reading you might have to do to put together an account of your whole life. Although you know it well yourself, the aim is to make your knowledge and interpretation sound fresh and interesting to those who will read it.

Take a break

After your first rough draft is complete, save it, and don’t open it for a few days. Relax, meet up with your friends, go to work or university, and continue on with your life. You will need to give it a fresh look to be able to make it better. 

Proofread and Find transitions

After you are done with your break, read through your writing again. Mind that it will probably take a few weeks for you to correct everything you don’t like and refine the parts you like to the golden ideal. Then, give this draft to your friends or family members to read. They will most likely remember something along the way that you might want to include in your narrative as well. And don’t shoo away their recommendations on how to make your autobiography a little better – be open to external ideas. 

Find somebody to read your story and give recommendations

Finally, when you have checked everything, added all the missing details and comments, and proofread your work 7 to 10 times, you can find someone outside your friend group and close community to read your story. Check their insights and what they think. Refine your work as per their comments. And after 3 more people have read it, and you see no other way to make it better, maybe think about revealing it to the world.

Life Events that Can Be Discussed in the Auto Biography Format

An autobiography is your story. There are no rules that prohibit you from telling it how you think is better. Neither are there strict limitations as to what you must not mention in any case. There are a few topics that most autobiographies include:

  • Date and place of birth
  • Upbringing and education
  • Career path and how you got there
  • Personalities that played key roles in your development (friends, loved ones, family members, teachers, and even pets)
  • Life experiences you gained throughout your path
  • Main and crucial challenges you faced along the way
  • Key achievements you reached
  • Some ideas and viewpoints you learned and took on along the way.

This is a usual kit that, to some extent, can be found in any autobiography. However, you are free to omit some parts or add on a few extra details at the other if this helps you better describe and expand on your life. 

The topics you will describe mostly in the autobiography will also depend on what form of writing you choose to follow:

  • Thematic – then your story will unfold around one central idea that you try to convey to your readers. Therefore, you will concentrate on the events that help you share this particular opinion in the best way.
  • Spiritual or religious – you will be mostly focused on sharing your experience of finding your spiritual beliefs and how they helped (“saved”) you. 
  • Intellectual – you will mostly share those events that help the audience picture how you became who you are today.
  • Fictional – you accurately depict your life experiences but through a more artistic lens, a prism of made-up characters. Here, you are free to exaggerate or alter actions and identities. 

Key Points to Consider

Writing an autobiography is a deeply personal and profound effort. It’s not just about recounting events; it’s about capturing a lifetime’s essence, emotions, and lessons. As you immerse into the complexities of your life story, there are pivotal aspects to consider, ensuring your narrative is authentic and resonates with readers. Here are some key points to guide you through this reflective process:

  • An autobiography is a personal document to write. The motivation behind it might be to leave your story to your descendants, to entertain your family, or to put on record some unusual achievement or escapade.
  • It takes months, if not years, to put a whole life into words. It also takes a lot of careful thought and cautious deliberation. Telling the story as it happened might be the easiest way, but it is also possible to work in flashbacks or vignettes.
  • Places, people, and time are all important to get right in an autobiography. There are also opinions, attitudes, feelings, decisions, and resolutions that might be difficult to write about without becoming overly emotional. Taking an occasional break might relieve stress.
  • An autobiography cannot avoid the mention of family members and friends. No one lives a life of complete isolation. It is vital to ask permission to mention incidents, events, cases, and procedures that involve others.
  • It is inevitable that someone is hurt, insulted, or offended by the content you write. Try to lessen the impact of what you write in two ways: by making the person aware of what you are writing and how you are framing the context and connections; and the second way is by using the most diplomatic and tactful explanatory language you can.
  • Use your genealogical information to depict your life accurately in the context of who your family and antecedents were, the locations in which they originated, and information about their lives—since without them, you would not have a story to write.

Do and Don’t

Writing an autobiography is a delicate balance of showcasing your experiences while remaining genuine and relatable. Certain practices can elevate your narrative and pitfalls that can detract from its essence. Here’s a guide to the dos and don’ts to ensure your story resonates with authenticity and clarity:

✅ research the periods of your youth and childhood. Some interesting events might have occurred that need clarification and checking. The best people to ask are relatives and friends, but neighbors, town and village people, classmates, playmates, and teammates all make for sound sources as well.❌ pad your writing with insubstantial details. Your life story must sound genuine, original, and interesting to the reader.
✅ make connections with well-known events that took place around the significant stages of your life: for example, mentions of inventions or discoveries made during your childhood.❌ include personal or embarrassing details about other people. Relatives and friends have the right to know when they are mentioned; and the context of their inclusion. The life story is yours, but some shared experiences might make for a touchy subject.
✅ use a style that goes with your personality. If you are a casual, down-to-earth person, avoid a stilted pompous style. If you are precise and studious individual, avoid a boisterous or overly jovial style.❌ use overly formal language, but don’t use clichés or hackneyed phrases either.
✅ summon all your thoughtfulness, enthusiasm, watchful concern, and recollection for this reminiscent but significant task.❌ leave out significant details.
✅ save your work and back up your data.❌ leave out big gaps in the narrative.
✅ start and finish in an engaging, friendly way, without being too self-absorbed or narcissistic.❌ neglect the fact that punctuation, grammar, syntax, and word choice are just as important as when you are writing a true story in other styles of writing. These technical aspects affect meaning, and you must impress readers with narrative style and descriptive skills.

Common Mistakes

As with any other creative work, there are potential missteps that can detract from the authenticity and impact of your story. Here are some common mistakes to be wary of as you pen down your life’s story:

  • Not allowing enough time to remember all your childhood and incidents that happened in your youth. It might be too late to make additions. Talking to relatives is vital.
  • Repetition—if others in your family have written autobiographies, it is inevitable that you will relate similar stories about the same events. Try to make yours as original as possible.
  • Lack of focus. This story is all about you. People rarely live totally isolated lives—but the focus is your life and how you lived it.
  • Forgetting the importance of the task. This piece of work might live on much longer than you will. Your family might regard it with suspicion, or with great delight. To make sure it is a story everyone enjoys, you must work hard to get it right and make it pleasant.
  • Lack of analysis. Even the story of someone’s life needs some sort of reflection about how it relates to the world and environment in which it is lived. Try to make the context unusual, thought provoking, and unforgettable.


How do you structure an autobiography?

In general, when you want to write an autobiography, you should structure it chronologically, starting from birth and ending with the present. However, this is a type of paper that does imply a personal touch. So, if you want, you can play around with the structure, perhaps using themes or non-linear timelines if it suits your story better. Just make sure your narrative flows smoothly and poses no confusion to the readers. 

What are the 3 parts of an autobiography?

No matter what format you choose, your autobiography should have an outline. This will ensure that your narrative is properly organized. Your outline should include all the same basic parts that an essay does: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. However, they can be made in a form of a timeline with an intro part being those events that you want to start with, and the other two parts as follows.

What is 1 example of autobiography?

Autobiographies are mostly presented in book-length since the author has to cover the entirety of their life. 1 example of an autobiography would be “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank.

How long should an autobiography be?

As autobiographies are usually written in a book format, they are mostly 250-450 pages long. However, there are no specific rules or limitations to the length or the word count of this type of writing. It depends on how long you’ve lived and what you really have and want to tell in your narrative.

What should not be included in an autobiography?

Even though nobody can really tell you what to tell and not to tell about your life, there is a list of details that generally should be omitted when writing an autobiography:

  • Unnecessary details
  • Inaccuracies and false information
  • Details about others that they didn’t agree to share.
  • Overly graphic content (unless it’s crucial to the narrative)
  • Bitter or biased perspectives (especially about others)
  • Overemphasis on routine events (unless it contributes to the broader themes)

Always keep your audience in mind when writing. If you want to include something irrelative or boring to the audience – rather don’t. 

What must an autobiography include?

The details to disclose in the autobiography are up to you. Nonetheless, any writing of this type must include:

  • A date and place of birth
  • Childhood and its central events
  • Crucial life events with dates, places, and influence on your life.

What is the best autobiography format?

The best autobiography format is chronological. This way your readers won’t be confused with the described events and your narrative will always be kept well-organised and structured. However, if it’s not suitable for your style, you can also choose a thematic or Q&A format.

Which is the first step in writing an autobiography?

The very first step to start writing an autobiography is creating an outline. This will help you organize your thoughts and keep track of events that you want to discuss in your narrative.

How do you end an autobiography?

Usually, autobiographies end with a reflection on the lived experience. You can share your understanding of the described events and highlight why your narrative is important. You can also motivate your readers to do smothering like you did, or, vice versa, not to do what you did.


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