How to Write an Autobiography (17 Quick & Easy Secrets) – Your life story has value, merit and significance.
You want to share it with the world, but maybe you don’t know how. Maybe you are reading this article for a purpose beyond coincidence.
In this article, you are going to learn the fastest method for writing your autobiography, and we are going to cover everything you need to know quickly with examples and plenty of free, downloadable, done-for-you templates.
There is simply no easier or faster way to write your autobiography.
The 17 secrets for how to write an autobiography are sprinkled throughout this article exactly where you will need them.
Let’s get started!
What is an Autobiography?
Before you can know how to write an autobiography, first you must know the definition.
An autobiography is the story of your life, written by you. It covers the full span of your life (at least, up until now), hitting on the most significant moments, people and events.
When you write your autobiography, you write an intimate account of your life.
Memoir vs. Autobiography: Are They The Same?
It’s common to feel confused about a memoir and an autobiography. I used to think they were the same thing.
But, nope, they’re not.
They are pretty similar, which is the reason for all the confusion. A memoir is the story of one part of your life. An autobiography is the story of your full life (up until now).
What is the Difference Between an Autobiography and a Biography?
An autobiography is when you write about your own life. A biography, on the other hand, is when you write the story of someone else’s life.
So, if I write a book about the life of the President, that’s a biography.
If the President writes a story about his or her own life, that’s an autobiography.
What Should I Include in an Autobiography?
If you are scratching your head, baffled about what to include in your autobiography, you are not alone.
After all, a big part of how to write an autobiography is knowing what to put in and what to leave out of your life story. Do you focus on every detail? Every person? Won’t your autobiography be too long?
A good way to think about how to write an autobiography is to use the Movie Trailer Method.
What do movie trailers include?
- High emotional moments
- The big events
- The most important characters
When you plan, organize, and write your autobiography, keep the Movie Trailer Method in mind. Watch the YouTube video above for examples of how to write an autobiography using the Movie Trailer Method.
When wondering what to include in your autobiography, focus on what would make the cut for a movie trailer of your life:
- Most important people (like family, friends, mentors, coaches, etc.)
- Significant events (like your origin story, vacations, graduations, life turning points, life lessons)
- Emotional moments (When you were homeless, when you battled a life-threatening condition, or when you fell in love)
- Drama or suspense (Did you make it into Harvard? Did your first surgery go well? Did your baby survive?)
Suggested read: How to Write an Ode (Step-by-Step with Examples)
How to Write an Autobiography: Templates
Want the quickest way to organize and write your autobiography in record time? You can literally write your autobiography in 7 days or less with this method.
The secret is to use done-for-you templates.
I have personally designed and collected a series of templates to take you from a blank page to a fully complete Autobiography. I call this the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint.
And it’s completely free to download right from this article. 🙂
In the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint, you get:
- The Autobiography Questions Template
- The Autobiography Brainstorm Templates
- The Autobiography Outline Template
Here is an image of it so that you know exactly what you get when you download it:
How to Write an Autobiography: Step-by-Step
When you sit down to write an autobiography, it’s helpful to have a step-by-step blueprint to follow.
You already have the done-for-you templates that you can use to organize and write an autobiography faster than ever before. Now here’s a complete step-by-step guide on how to maximize your template.
- Order your sections (from medium to high interest)
- Order the ideas in each section (from medium to high interest)
- Write three questions to answer in each section
- Choose a starter sentence
- Complete a title template
- Write your autobiography!
Brainstorm Your Autobiography
The first step in writing your autobiography is to brainstorm.
Give yourself time and space to write down the most significant people, events, lessons, and experiences in your life. The templates in the How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint provide sections for you to write down your brainstormed ideas.
This will help you organize your ideas into what will become the major sections of your book.
These will be:
- Your most significant events and experiences.
- The people who impacted you the most.
- The challenges you have overcome.
- Your achievements and successes.
- The lessons you have learned.
The “other” sections on the second page of the Brainstorm template is for creating your own sections or to give you more space for the sections I provided in case you run out of space.
As I brainstorm, I find asking myself specific questions really activates my imagination. So I have compiled a list of compelling questions to help you get ideas down on paper or on your screen.
Order Your Sections (from medium to high interest)
The next step is to order your main sections. The main sections are the five (or more) sections from your Brainstorm templates (Significant events, significant people, life lessons, challenges, successes, other, etc). This order will become the outline and chapters for your book.
How do you decide what comes first, second or third?
I recommend placing the sections in order of interest. Ask yourself, “What’s the most fascinating part of my life?”
If it’s a person, then write the name of that section (Significant People) on the last line in the How to Write an Autobiography Outline Template. If it’s an experience, place the name of that section (Significant Events) on the last line.
For example, if you met the Pope, you might want to end with that nugget from your life. If you spent three weeks lost at sea and survived on a desert island by spearfishing, that is your ending point.
Then complete the Outline by placing the remaining sections in order of interest. You can work your way backward from high interest to medium interest.
If you are wondering why I say “medium to high interest” instead of “low to high interest” it is because there should be no “low interest” parts of your autobiography.
But wait, what if you met the Pope AND spent three weeks lost at sea? How do you choose which one comes first or last?
First of all, I want to read this book! Second, when in doubt, default to chronological order. Whatever event happened first, start there.
Here is a screenshot of how it might look:
Order The Ideas in Each Section (from medium to high interest)
Now, organize the ideas inside of each section. Again, order the ideas from medium to high interest).
Within your “Significant People” section, decide who you want to talk about first, second, third, etc. You can organize by chronological order (who you met first) but I recommend building to the most interesting or most significant person.
This creates a more compelling read.
Keep in mind that the most significant person might not be the most well-known, most famous, or most popular. The most significant person might be your family member, friend, partner, or child.
It comes down to who shaped your life the most.
So, if your “significant people list” includes your dad, a famous social media influencer, and Mike Tyson, your dad might come last because he had the biggest significance in your life.
Write Three Questions to Answer in Each Section
Ok, you’ve done the heavy lifting already. You have the major sections organized and outlined.
Next on your autobiography to-do list is to choose and write down three questions you are going to answer in each section. You can write your questions down in the provided “boxes” for each section on the template outline (or on another piece of paper.
This is easier than it might seem.
Simply choose one of the sample autobiography questions below or create your own:
- Why did I choose this person/event?
- What does this person/event mean to me?
- How did I meet this person?
- Where did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
- How did it happen?
- What is the most interesting part?
- How did I feel about this person or event?
- How do I feel now?
- Why does this person or event matters to me?
- How did this person or event change my life?
- What is the most challenging part?
- How did I fail?
- How did I succeed?
- What did I learn?
Questions are the perfect way to write quickly and clearly. I LOVE writing to questions. It’s how I write these blog posts and articles.
A great resource for how to write an autobiography is The Book of Myself: A Do-It-Yourself Autobiography in 201 Questions.
Choose a Starter Sentence
Sometimes the hardest part of any project is knowing how to start.
Even though we know we can always go back and edit our beginnings, so many of us become paralyzed with indecision at the starting gate.
That’s why I provided sample starter sentences in your How to Write an Autobiography Blueprint.
Here are the story starters:
- I began writing this book when…
- Of all the experiences in my life, this one was the most…
- I’ve been a…
- My name is…
- Growing up in…
- It wasn’t even a…
- It all started when…
- I first…
- I was born…
Keep in mind that you do not need to begin your book with one of these story starters. I provide them simply to get you going.
The key is to not get bogged down in this, or any, part of writing your autobiography. Get organized and then get writing.
Complete a Title Template
At the top of the How to Write an Autobiography Outline is a place for you to write your book title.
Some authors struggle forever with a title. And that’s ok. What’s not ok is getting stuck. What’s not ok is if coming up with your title prevents you from finishing your book.
So, I provided a few title templates to help juice your creativity.
Just like the story starters, you do not need to use these title templates, but you certainly can. All you need to do is fill in the title templates below and then write your favorite one (for now) at the top of your outline. Presto! You have your working title.
You can always go back and change it later.
How to Write an Autobiography Title templates:
- [Your Name]: [Phrase or Tag Line]
- The [Your Last Name] Files
- Born [Activity]: A [Career]’s Life
- The Perfect [Noun]: The Remarkable Life of [Your Name]
Examples using the Templates:
- Christopher Kokoski: Blog Until You Drop
- The Kokoski Files
- Born Writing: A Blogger’s Life
- The Perfect Freelancer: The Remarkable Life of Christopher Kokoski
Write Your Autobiography
You have your outline. You have your title. All that is left to do is write your autobiography. But before you start typing, there are a few tips and tricks to share on how to craft the most riveting book.
This is the easy way to remarkable writing.
How To Write an Autobiography (All the Best Tips)
Now that you are poised and ready to dash out your first draft, keep the following pro tips in mind:
- Be vulnerable. The best autobiographies share flaws, faults, foibles, and faux pas. Let readers in on the real you.
- Skip the boring parts. There is no need to detail every meal, car ride, or gripping trip to the grocery store. Unless you ran into the Russian Mafia near the vegetables or the grocery store is perched on the side of a mountain above the jungles of Brazil.
- Keep your autobiography character-driven. This is the story of YOU!
- Be kind to others (or don’t). When writing about others in your story, keep in mind that there may be fallout or backlash from your book.
- Consider a theme: Many autobiographies are organized by theme. A perfect example is Becoming. Each section of the book includes “becoming” in the title. Themes connect and elevate each part of the autobiography.
- Write your story in vignettes (or scenes). Each vignette is a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end. Each vignette builds. Each vignette should be described in rich sensory language that shows the reader the experience instead of telling the reader about the experience. Each vignette is immersive, immediate, and intimate.
- Include snippets of dialogue. Use quotation marks just like in fiction. Show the dialogue in brief back-and-forth tennis-matches of conversation. Remember to leave the boring parts out!
- Choose a tone. Some autobiographies are funny like Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. Others are serious such as Open by Andre Agassi. Your story (like most stories) will likely include a mix of emotions but choose an overall tone and stick with it.
- Don’t chronicle, captivate. Always think about how to make each section, each chapter, each page, each paragraph, each sentence more compelling. You want to tell the truth, but HOW you tell the truth is up to you. Create suspense, conflict, and mystery. Let drama linger until it becomes uncomfortable. Don’t solve problems quickly or take away tension right away.
How Do I Format an Autobiography?
Most autobiographies are written in the first person (using the pronouns I, me, we, us). Your autobiography is written about you so write as yourself instead of pretending to be writing about someone else.
Most autobiographies are also written in chronological order, from birth right up to your current age, with all the boring parts left out.
That doesn’t mean you can’t play around with the timeline.
Sometimes it’s more interesting to start at a high moment, backtrack to the beginning and show how you got to that high moment.
Whatever format you choose, be intentional, and make the choice based on making the most compelling experience possible for your readers.
How Long Should an Autobiography be?
There are no rules to how long an autobiography should be but a rough guideline is to aim for between 200 and 400 pages.
This will keep your book in line with what most readers expect for books in general, and will help get your book traditionally published or help with marketing your self-published book.
How to Write a Short Autobiography
You write a short autobiography the same way that you write a long autobiography. You simply leave more out of the story.
You cut everything down to the bones. Or you choose a slice of your life as you do in a memoir. This often means limiting the people in your book, reducing the events and experiences, and shrinking your story to a few pivotal moments in your life.
How to Start an Autobiography
Watch the video for a creative jolt to your muse machine.
The truth is that you can start your autobiography in any number of ways. Here are four common ways to begin an autobiography.
- Start at the beginning (of your life, career or relationship, etc.)
- Start at a high moment of drama or interest.
- Start at the end of the story and work backward
- Start with why you wrote the book.
Good Autobiography Titles
If you are still stuck on titling your autobiography, consider going to Amazon to browse published works. You can even just Google “autobiographies.”
When you read the titles of 10, 20, or 50 other autobiographies, you will start to see patterns or get ideas for your own titles. (HINT: the title templates in the Autobiography Blueprint were reverse-engineered from popular published books.
Also, check out the titles of the full autobiography examples below that I have included right here in this article.
How to Write an Autobiography: Full Autobiography Examples
I have always found examples to be extremely instructive. Especially complete examples of finished products. In this case, books.
Below you will find examples of published autobiographies for adults and for kids. These examples will guide you, motivate you and inspire you to complete your own life story.
They are listed here as examples, not neccearly endorsements, although I think they are all very good.
The point is that you don’t have to agree with anything written in the books to learn from them.
Autobiography Examples for Adults
- A Promised Land (Autobiography of Barack Obama)
- If You Ask Me: (And of Course You Won’t) (Betty White)
- It’s a Long Story: My Life (Willie Nelson)
- Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography (Rob Lowe)
- Becoming (Michelle Obama)
Autobiography Examples for Kids
- This Kid Can Fly: It’s About Ability (NOT Disability) (Aaron Philips)
- Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid (Mikaila Ulmer)
What to Read Next
Thank you for reading my article on How to Write an Autobiography.
Now that you know all of the secrets to write your book, you may want to get it published, market it and continue to upskill yourself as an author.
In that case, read these posts next: