Before You Were Born
To set the scene on the incredible subject of your life, you could consider beginning before you even existed. Even if you decide against this, it’s essential that you know as much as possible about the world that you were born into. This information can then be referenced as you write to give readers more context.
What stands out about your family? Are there any noteworthy/eccentric characters?
What stories are passed down through generations?
What kind of upbringing did your parents have? Working class? Strict? An unfamiliar culture?
How did they meet? What challenges did their relationship face?
How were they impacted by the social/political status quo?
You might plan to write your whole autobiography from memory—you’re the authority on the subject after all—but speaking to the people who know you is a great source of information, and it could lead to interesting revelations. This is especially interesting if you choose to cover your baby and early childhood years. But make sure that you are selective in your choices. Look for defining, original stories, specific only to you. Think about how this information relates to the adult you.
What have you been told about your birth?
What kind of baby were you?
Do you know about all of your firsts (words, steps, etc)?
What are your earliest memories?
What stories do your parents tell about your baby years?
How do these stories relate to the person you became?
When exploring your childhood, again, be selective and self-analytical. We are essentially gazing into the depths of the footsteps that led up to the person you became, so choose your episodes carefully. A chronology of childhood landmarks is far less compelling than a series of events selected for their pertinence to your development.
When was the first time you became aware of …
… the lure of your future profession/passion?
… the way you differ from those around you?
… the hidden depths/true nature/hypocrisy of the people in your life?
What events were fundamental in forging your outlook on life?
What episodes in your childhood are noteworthy for their dramatic or entertainment value?
How are you going to make readers laugh or cry?
How are you going to make readers care about you and your life?
What kind of teen were you? Well-behaved? Rebellious?
Who was your first love?
When was your first kiss?
What were your passions?
Who were your teenage icons?
How did you spend your time?
How did your academic career unfold?
How did you relate to the people in your life?
How did you perceive yourself and the world?
How did you see your life unfolding, and how does that compare to the reality?
As you move into adulthood, it is even more important that you are selective about your content, as you are dealing with so many years. The mistake would be to cover every era in equal detail, perhaps opting for a few chapters for each decade, when some years and decades are always more compelling, interesting, informative, heart-breaking, etc. than others. This is doubly true if you are tailoring your autobiography to a certain market and there is great interest in certain aspects of your life.
When you look back over your life, which events stand out as your …
Which moments of your life have …
taught you the most?
changed you the most?
surprised you the most?
What is your biggest regret?
What is your greatest accomplishment?
What has made you the person that you are?
Follow Hayley Shaw, Ghost @hayleystories
Interview yourself for your autobiography. A useful resource for autobiography writers.
I contacted ‘LGBT She-Ra’ a few weeks back to see if she would do me the honour of sharing her life story, to potentially create a memoir together. I should add at this stage that ‘She-Ra’ is not her real name. It does, however, reflect what an absolute warrior she is – a warrior of the heart.
Hello! Just a quick post today to put a call out to anyone who has a real-life, flesh and blood, pen and ink penpal. I’m not talking about long-distance Skype or Zoom, emailing or any other online platform. Do you – or does anyone you know – still sit down to write a letter, slip… Read more
“You’re in the river,” she says. “It’s choppy, too choppy, wild. It’s throwing you around. You’re drowning.”
What the hell is she trying to do? My panic intensifies, grows colour around it, as I’m thrown around by the unyielding current. How is this helping?
Good question …
“We could get dressed up, move the sofa, put the light out, grab the opera glasses and Frazzles.” (Our snack cupboard was looking a bit bare.)
So we did. I in my long pinstripe jacket and bowtie, hair oiled back and moustache drawn on with eyeliner pencil. She in her flapper dress and boa. I have no idea where she found the peacock feather to stick in her hair, but it was a nice touch.
It’s almost as if we spend our lives guarding our darkest secrets, shielding ourselves from the gaze of others, but what if these authentic parts are our most beautiful and human?
It’s such a small, frivolous thing to be thankful for when the world has been brought to its knees by influenza’s older, demented half-brother, with a chip on his shoulder and daddy issues.
If I don’t write every day, I lose confidence, and then I can’t write, because, like most creative people, I am quite mad.
I’m a buzzed-up giant. The washing machine in my head is spinning my clothes for the 800th time although they’re already clean. I’m a whirr. I’m polo-mint breath puffed onto an eyeball …