Sitting down to write a book is a daunting task. Moreover, you intend to write about yourself—scars and all—which makes the challenge ahead seem even more terrifying.

When writing a book about yourself (be it a memoir or an autobiography), you are essentially stripping yourself bare and presenting your naked self to the world for all to see. Although everyone has a story inside of them, it is no wonder that so many of those stories are untold.

However, writing your story needn’t be so scary. Although the fear of failure or ridicule may swing like a pendulum above your head, with a bit of preparation and forethought, you will find that getting your story down on paper is not as difficult as it initially seems.

The Difference Between Memoirs and Autobiographies

Before you begin writing in earnest, knowing what you’re writing is helpful. Many would-be authors mistake marketing their life story as an autobiography when it is, in fact, a memoir, and vice versa. And while the focus either way is on recounting one’s personal experiences, there are a few key differences between them.

Memoirs

Memoirs are focused less on objective consistency and more on subjective or experiential consistency to convey a message or theme. To this end, they are typically written about a single, specific event or period rather than the author’s entire life story.

These events and places in time have shaped the author in some way – yours might be a traumatic encounter, long buried, or turbulent adolescence that continues to define your worldview to this day.

Autobiographies

In contrast to memoirs, autobiographies recount an author’s entire life until the book is written. Although many who write autobiographies play fast and loose with history and facts, the stories (unlike memoirs) are typically presented as objective truth.

Autobiographies usually aren’t written by non-famous people. Due to their emphasis on presenting “facts,” autobiographies can sometimes read like textbooks. Without a capital-B Big Name on the cover, very few people would want to read the history of a (lowercase) person with no claim to fame.

Before You Start Writing

Although it can be tempting to dive in at the deep end and start writing immediately, you should take a few preliminary steps before committing to this daunting ordeal. The battle is won before it is fought, after all.

Spend Some Time Self-Reflecting

Naturally, writing about yourself involves a certain level of self-assessment. First, however, before you can begin telling your story, you need to get to know your main character—you.

For many people, self-reflection can be painful for several reasons. It could be that some bad things have happened, or you’ve done a few bad things yourself. Revisiting those memories is difficult, but it is the first crucial step to writing your story.

If you have the means, consulting a therapist could be of great help, even if you do not currently suffer from mental or emotional turmoil. In addition, a professional opinion can lead to some unexpected epiphanies and catharsis, which will inform your writing.

Make Sure You’re Ready For the Task Ahead

Aside from navigating the difficult path of personal discovery, you will also need to set aside some time to write your book. Writing a book is like walking down a long and winding road filled with obstacles—although the road eventually ends and the blocks can be overcome, you will not get anywhere without a healthy amount of time on your hands.

Your responsibilities should come first, however. Whether you are a single mother with a baby to care for or a student with many assignments to complete, make sure that you focus first on the things that need to be done before you start writing.

Decide On Your Genre and What You Want to Include

Once you’ve grasped your personal history and how it has defined you, you must decide what to include and leave out. Unless you plan on writing an autobiography, some events can likely be left out entirely or otherwise referred to in passing.

For example, although our childhoods represent some of our most formative years, if you had a relatively uneventful upbringing, it is better to simply start your story at the moment things start happening. However, a little background can be nice—too much, and you risk drawing out the subject.

Once You’re Ready to Write

By now, you should have a pretty good understanding of your main subject (you) and the themes or messages you would like to convey (the events that shaped you and what you learned from them). So then, with some spare time on your hands, you’re just about ready to start writing.

Spend Some Time Journaling And Free-Writing

With your pen in hand, you may finally reach that blank page only to find it staring up at you expectantly. All of a sudden, the thoughts, feelings, and ideas you spent so long sorting through seem to dissipate before you, and all that’s left is a taunting empty page.

This predicament is known as “writer’s block,” and it’s a b*tch to deal with. However, it can be overcome or otherwise avoided by writing consistently every day.

To start, spend a few minutes daily writing about a significant 24-hour period in your life. Don’t focus on form—your prose skills will develop naturally. Instead, focus on conveying your particular emotions during that fateful day.

This will get your creative juices flowing as you think of new ways to describe certain feelings – even if you don’t refer to these events in your book, writing them down will still sharpen your skills.

How to Write a Book About Your Life

Outline and Organize Your Story

After a few free-writing sessions, you may unearth a few new memories you would like to include in your book. With these in mind, along with the memories you decided on previously, you will need to organize them into a coherent, cohesive narrative that will speak to your audience.

Since you’re writing about your life, the plotline is technically already there. However, you can consider other structures as well—telling your story out of order can have a significant effect if you manage to pull it off.

Regardless, spend some time planning out your book, even if you end up winging it anyway.

Do Some Research

Writing a book (a good one, anyway) is about 90% research and 10% writing. Good research not only informs your writing but also lends you some credibility, even if the story you’re telling is your own.

Fortunately, by now, you’ve already completed a significant amount of research by self-reflecting. Now all that’s left is to iron out those little details. For example, you may have a character named Gerard the Scotsman in your story. Gerard the Scotsman—funnily enough—hails from Ireland, only … which part of Ireland was that, again?

These details may seem insignificant initially, but they give your writing an added level of realism, which helps significantly in immersing your readers. Ways in which you may conduct your research include:

  • Listing memories that seem as clear as day
  • Get second opinions and quotes from your loved ones or those involved in your story
  • Revisiting specific locations, if possible.
  • Identify your “characters” and setting

Identifying which people to include or emphasize and which to leave out is crucial. For example, although you may have fond memories of your high school English teacher, if they aren’t pertinent to the story you’re trying to tell, don’t feel bad about leaving them out.

Because you will most likely write a memoir instead of a broad, sweeping autobiography, you have a lot more room to be detailed—take your time describing the people you come across throughout your story.

The same applies to your setting as well. Again, leave out the extra and give greater emphasis to the essential elements.

Include Dialogue

Reflective writing often takes the form of a stream of consciousness. That is to say, some memoirs read more like inner monologues than actual stories.

While this could work in theory, it is better not to get too absorbed in your inner thoughts and feelings. The best way to break up your soliloquies is the inclusion of dialogue. Give the others in your story room to speak, giving your audience more perspective.

Add Some Speculation

Unfortunately, some events occur randomly, without warning or foreshadowing. In these cases, hindsight is a beautiful tool, but even so, it can only answer so many questions.

Luckily, speculation is an equally brilliant tool that can be used to fill in the blanks whenever you write about something that can’t be explained.

For example, suppose your parents divorced after fifteen years of marriage without any real explanation. In that case, it can be helpful to speculate about what exactly it was that eventually caused the dissolution of their partnership. Maybe your father was too distant; perhaps your mother engaged in a secret affair that was never addressed.

Prepare for the Worst

Recounting events, traumatic or not, from your own subjective point of view can sometimes cause a stir when someone who remembers things differently gets hold of your writings. This is to be expected. Where possible, try to accommodate the other person’s point of view—they might have brought something up that you had overlooked before.

Otherwise, don’t be afraid to tell your story the way you want to.

Conclusion

The final piece of advice is this: Commit to your story.

Writing a book is a fickle process—there will be ups, and there will be downs. However, the end result can be incredibly fulfilling. Even if you do not end up publishing your memoir or autobiography, it will still form part of your legacy.

Whether or not your book is successful, you will still be a success for completing it. And that in itself is all the reward you need.

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