A Guide How To Start An Autobiography

Are you an individual, who is just interested in knowing the secrets of Autobiography writing  or you have been employed to guide a person through the writing and editing of his/her own autobiography?

You have surely come to the right place for consultation: welcome!

In this article, you are going to be equipped with the valid definition of autobiography, vast types of autobiography, methods of writing, templates, samples and the examples of the best autobiography.

After reading this article, you would be able to:

  1. Write an outstanding Autobiography
  2. Prevent the common mistakes other people made in their own autobiographies
  3. Make quality research that would make your autobiography complete
  4. Leave a standing legacy for generations to come
  5. Protect your family history from altercations and blackmails
  6. Inspire people with your success story
  7. Reconcile past issues openly before the world
  8. Have an opportunity of reliving your sweet memories while brainstorming
  9. Discipline yourself and prevent making past mistakes
  10. Strengthen your sense of purpose and fulfill your unaccomplished goals
  11. Improve your social and psychological well being

Before we fully explore the technical know-how of autobiography writing, lets firstly define our subject

What Is An Autobiography?


The word autobiography was formed from two Greek words; autos and bios, which denote self and life, respectively. It is a self-presented account of one’s life.

Autobiography differs from a self reflective journal/diary in its coverage, as explained by Roy Pascal. An autobiography reflects the whole lifetime from the time of composition backwards while a self reflective journal reflects a moment or relatively shorter period of time.

Short History

The first autobiography was supposedly written by Saint Augustine of Hippo, who wrote his own autobiography in form of confessions, around 400.

The creation of this word is attached to William Taylor, who was said to use the word in 1797 in one of his reviewed periodicals/journal.

Memoir vs Autobiography

The difference between a memoir and an autobiography is that a memoir focuses more on the other people during the author’s review while autobiography is quite focused on the person writing it.

Consequential Autobiography Influencers

Saint Augustine, Roy Pascal and William Taylor are just few of autobiography influencers. There are a lot of other influencers, who helped the creation, modification and evolution of Autobiography writing.

Literarily, Autobiographies are termed as apologia in Antiquity. It is seen as a form of self-justification rather than self-documentation. Sometimes it is referred to as confessions. Some autobiographies started with a self appraisal and ended with self-justification, for example the autobiography of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.

Oftentimes, autobiographies of the Roman era are racy and highly self-critical for instance the autobiography of Augustine and Jean-Jacques, which are perfect epitomes of confessions initiated during the 18th century. The confession of Augustine has undoubtedly influenced western theology, as it introduced a skeptical approach towards important topics like sex, virginity, and marriage. Augustine’s autobiography focuses on the hedonistic lifestyle he led during his youthful days and how he changed from a sex exploring individual to an evangelist of virginity.

Autobiography was welcomed in the Christian society, however, the first autobiographical piece in the world of Islam was written by Abdallah ibn Buluggin (also known as Al-Muzaffar, the last Zirid ruler of Granada) in the late 11th century.

Amazingly, during 15th century, Leonor López de Córdoba, a noblewoman from Spain, wrote her memoir and become the pioneer of autobiography in Castillian.

It would be a slap on the face of autobiographical historians, if we mention the historical influencers of autobiography without including Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), who wrote one the greatest autobiographies of the Renaissance. His work defined the main criteria for Autobiographical writing and hundreds of years after, many authors adopted his criteria which were well stated in the intro of his biography.

He stated: “No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty.”

Other noteworthy English autobiographies of the 17th century includes those of Margery Kempe, (which remained in manuscript and was not published until 1936) John Bunyan (Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666) and Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1643, published 1764).

Now you can see that this topic is getting more interesting. Now, let’s proceed to the types of Autobiographies.

Types Of Autobiography

Based on the approach used to compile the information and the aim of writing the autobiography; Autobiography can be further divided into three types.

  1. Spiritual autobiography

This is a detailed illustration of the author’s life before meeting God and his/her after encountering with God. This testimonial account is oftentimes accompanied by backsliding events. Such autobiographies endorse the author’s religion.

The foremost case is a spiritual autobiography of Augustine’s which was written as a Confession. Even though the spiritual autobiographical writing now includes other religious views apart from Christianity and Islam.

  1. Fictional autobiography

A fictional autobiography is a novel written as though a character were writing their own autobiography that is the character will serve as the first person narrator in a novel that narrates both the internal and external events of such character.  Examples of such characters are Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

  1. Memoirs

A memoir is narrower form of autobiography, which focuses more on a series of events built around feelings and emotions. It is a tool in the hands of politicians, who express their war ventures and exploits on paper, for example, Commentarii de Bello Gallico (written by Julius Ceaser). Ceaser’s memoir describes how he valiantly fought the local armies in the Gallic wars under the duration of nine years.

Several other examples are the memoirs of Leonor López de Córdoba (1362–1420), de Retz (1614–1679), Duc de Saint-Simon, Sir Edmund Ludlow and Sir John Reresby.

These above-mentioned types of autobiographies are stepping stones to our next destination, the methodology behind great autobiographical write-ups.

  • Discover a great reason to pen down your story

Getting a reason to do anything is the first step you should take whenever you want to start a new venture. Writing an autobiography could be very tasking if you have nothing pushing you and a reason to do it is all you need to push you.

EXTRA GIST: your reason will not only inspire you but also inspire your  readers. This is because no one cares about something until they discover a reason to care.

  • Supplement your reason with an experience

This article will only provide you the technical know-how but the best way to get a feel of what an autobiography looks like is to read one. There are many great autobiographies out there for instance; autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin, Maya Angelou, Katharine Hepburn, Billy Graham, and Nelson Mandela.

EXTRAGIST: Thomas Edison said “I saw farther than my colleagues because I sat on the shoulders of giants”.

  • Know your intended audience

Although your autobiography is about your life but you must understand that you are not the only one, who is going to read it. Whether fictional or non-fictional, knowing your audience is key.

If your autobiography is meant for your lineage, then the writing tone and level of revealed knowledge would be different. Some autobiographies are meant for keep sake while others are meant for the general public. Also, when writing for family members, some descriptions would be unnecessary but writing for the public demands detailed descriptions.

EXTRAGIST: knowing your audience would guide you when writing. It would prevent you from writing what would not be read.

  • Build your autobiography around a grounded concept

The best autobiographies in history are those, which were built around core concepts whether physical, academic or spiritual. If you are not spiritual or academic, then you should be able to tell your story in line with concepts like love preservation, Tenacity in times of hardship, success story and many more.

EXTRAGIST: This core concept will give your readers more reasons to pick up your book and finish it. See the concept as the main selling point.

  • Brainstorm your past

You would need to firstly sleep over your past and then, brainstorm over it. If there’s any facts you’ve forgotten and you want to include in your autobiography, its better you get the information right before inserting it in your autobiography. In cases of the name or the statuses of organizations you attended or worked with, check if such institutions are still in existence or have change their names or simply check the right date they occurred.

Talking with family members is a way of remembering the past and it would help you recollect the things you have completely forgotten.

Get past mails, letters and pictures that can make the autobiography come to life in the mind of the readers.

Below are the things you need to remember to write a good autobiography:

  1. Toddler days to Kindergarten
  2. Elementary School Years
  3. High School days
  4. College / University / Other Post-Secondary Education Years
  5. College Days
  6. Special events
  7. Turning Points
  8. Romance life / Courtship / Marriage
  9. Career
  10. Retirement Years (if you’ve retired)
  11. Your Family history
  12. Friends and loved ones
  13. Vocational Activities
  14. Recreation Activities
  15. Vacations
  16. Places Lived
  17. Home(s) Lived In
  18. Favourite Foods and Recipes
  19. Holiday Traditions
  20. Philosophies and Customs
  21. Triumphs and Awards achieved
  22. Clubs or Organizations you’ve attended
  23. Volunteer Activities
  • Organize your story well

Organizing your story in terms of events from childhood to the present is a chronological form of arrangement however some people prefer to use a non chronological arrangement, which is headed and directed by the themes used.

Whichever way, you have to outline your themes according to a particular order before starting your writing process. Outlining would make you specific, time conscious, content conscious and organized. Some people make notes on index cards and organize them into recipe box to that same effect but others prefer using computer tools. Whichever way, make sure you’re organized.

EXTRAGIST: Your outline is not the end path determinant because you might also remember some of the things you forgot and add the again after outlining. Make sure you are not so rigid with the outline. Be flexible.

  • Be focused

Being focused is the key to writing a great autobiography. Get a place that is cool before writing and if you live in a noisy environment, write at night when there is lesser noise. Surrounding yourself with pictures of your family members can also help you concentrate.

EXTRAGIST: When you concentrate, you remember more.

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  • Don’t be boring

Don’t just fill up your autobiography with details since it’s a not a journal. Try to include those amazing times you had with friends and family or even strangers. Relationship gist and encounters would do. Also you can even add a quote or joke that you heard from someone in one of your venture. You can also include embarrassing events that are quite funny.

EXTRAGIST: No one wants to read boring autobiographies. So do not fool yourself into equating your autobiography with a journal.

  • Proofread and Edit your work.

Proofreading might look tasking and in order to achieve a lot better results, you can tell your family members to help you proofread and point out your mistakes to you for better editing.

EXTRAGIST: You can hire an editor to that effect.

Final Thoughts

Writing your autobiography has made simpler in this article but the essence of writing an autobiography is to deprive blackmailers the audience. Once you’ve written your history just as it is, no one would be able to rewrite it for you in a bad way. Even if they do, it would be counted as irrelevant by the audience you’ve already captured to your side.

However, writing a lie because you want to be liked will earn you a bad reputation if your blackmailers can prove to the world that you lied in your autobiography.