Questions to Ask When Writing an Autobiography
Writing your autobiography can seem like an overwhelming task. To break it into manageable pieces, ask yourself questions that will separate your life into ages, experiences and important events. Interview yourself just as you would another person if you were writing their life story.
Why Are You Writing?
Autobiographies can be written many different ways. Asking yourself about your motivations for chronicling your life will help you decide the best way to approach your project. If you want future generations to know all the names of their ancestors and how they were connected to one another, a people-based autobiography may work best. If you want your grandchildren to learn from your experiences, an experience-based life story may be the way to go.
Where Have You Lived?
Listing the places you have lived is a natural way of separating your story into chapters. Under the name of each place you lived, note your age when you lived there and any important events that occurred while you were there. If you lived in many cities or several different countries, it will be important for your descendants to know not only the facts but also how these moves affected you and shaped your life. If you lived in the same town all your life, people will be curious to know what was special that made you stay there, but the focus of your story will be more about people and events than the place.
Who Are the Important People in Your Life?
Draw yourself a family tree that shows where you fit in the family. Include siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Highlight those who were especially important in your life; people will want to know why. Were you close in age? Did you share common interests? If you lived down the street from one cousin and across the country from another, that would explain why you share so many more experiences with the nearby cousin.
What Were Your Most Memorable Experiences?
Some events and experiences are so life-changing that they stand out right away. Jog your memory for others by thinking year by year. What are your earliest memories? What was memorable when you were 8, 10 and 12? When did you leave home for the first time, and why? Whether it was for military service, college or a job change, leaving affected your life. What were the circumstances surrounding your marriages and the births of your children? Tragedies shape one's life, too, so think about deaths, job losses, wars and natural disasters and the effect they had on your life.
What Was the Best Day of Your Life?
Bertram Ellis, a writer who has held workshops on memoir writing for over 20 years in Canada and Florida, often gets people started by asking them to write about the best day of their life. From there, he helps them go backward to write what happened leading up to that day, and to go forward to tell what came later. This is a good way to begin what can seem like a daunting task.
- Lifetime Memories and Stories: Writing an Autobiography
- Family Search Blog: 52 Questions in 52 Weeks
- Bertram Ellis; Nonfiction writer and memoir workshop leader; Punta Gorda, FL
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.