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How to Plan an Autobiography


An autobiography can provide insightful information to future generations, allow you to reflect on your life or simply provide an exercise in narrative writing. You don't have to be a celebrity or live a life filled with intrigue to write about yourself. Instead, the key is to tell a coherent story and to make the information you offer interesting, compelling and relevant to a wide variety of readers.

Know Your Audience

The tone, style and content of your autobiography should be determined primarily by your audience. If you're writing for future generations of your family, for example, you might want to provide lots of family history on each person you mention in your autobiography. If you're writing for a class, you'll need to stay focused on the topic assigned to you. If you're a business professional or industry leader, your work probably needs to focus on how you've achieved your success, rather than on family information.

Choose Your Focus

No autobiography can include every detail of your life, and trying to do so will lead to a disorganized and unfocused mess. Instead, contemplate the story you want to tell and boil it down to a single thesis statement. Are you sharing stories of family hilarity, triumph over adversity or a rise to the top? Focus on the most significant life events that tell these stories, then focus on telling these stories with clear, fascinating detail.

Map Your Life

Before you put pen to paper, make a map of major life events and people connected to those events. Write down any connections or themes that unite these events. This process gives you a clear idea of how and when you'll need to introduce main characters, and it can help you remember events and put them in proper order. It also ensures that you don't waste time writing about something that you ultimately decide is not relevant.

Create an Outline

After you've mapped connections between life events and characters, decide how you want to structure your story. You could begin in the present, and then use flashbacks to revisit the past. You can also go in chronological order, ending with the present and emphasizing how the past has shaped the present. Create a clear, detailed outline and ensure each section of your outline is relevant to the primary topic and message of your autobiography. When you begin writing, avoid straying away from your central outline or your story could get confusing.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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