Why write an autobiography?
Sharing your life story has never been easier
There are many ways your personal story can be written: an autobiography, a biography, or a memoir of a particular period in your life.
Everyone has a story to tell: be it trials and tribulations, successes and failures, a triumph over adversity – anything and everything can be written about. Autobiographies are no longer the preserve of the rich and famous – they are accessible and affordable and form a legacy for family and friends to enjoy for generations to come. Whatever your story is, detailing your experiences and feelings in written form is of real value to both the reader and storyteller.
Writing a memoir can be a cathartic experience that some people use to set the record straight. Others simply celebrate their journey, connect with others, and honour loved ones. Re-living memories is an enjoyable experience for most, but most people will have had difficult and painful experiences that they want to share and doing so often brings empowerment and a sense of release. Some people, particularly people who’ve been successful in their careers, like to tell the story of how their hardships shaped them into the successes they are today. Whatever your reason and whatever your story, anyone can write a memoir at any age.
Memoir vs. autobiography
Traditionally, memoirs and autobiographies were distinct from each other. Autobiographies were accounts of people’s lives, centred around names, dates, facts, and places. Memoirs detailed a specific period in the subject’s life, with a greater focus on thoughts and feelings and the circumstances surrounding pertinent events.
Both autobiographies and memoirs tell a life story and there is now only a slight difference between them. Telling a chronological life story in autobiography form, detailing the emotion felt and the impact of certain events is a great way to engage a reader and compel them to continue reading.
Ultimately, it is up to the story-teller how he or she wants the story told – there is no format that must be adhered to. Telling a story chronologically is perhaps the easiest for the reader, but some people choose to tell a series of stories in no particular order.
Autobiographies: for not-so-ordinary folk
It is a common misconception that only the rich and famous can have their stories written and put into print. This is no longer the case – the advent of self-publishing has enabled everyday people to write their stories or pay others to do so for them. Anyone, of any age, can tell their story, and it is not unusual for people to have several autobiographies. Sportsmen such as Wayne Rooney and celebrities such as Jordan have done this, finding they had many more stories to tell after the initial book.
I have had the honour of writing autobiographies for some fantastic people, all of whom were in their 80s and 90s. Their long and fascinating lives detailed living in countries such as India, South Africa and Argentina as children, and the horrors of war, poverty and of losing loved ones. One gentleman told a harrowing story about how he’d been reconciled with his mother after being brought up in an overcrowded children’s home, having been born in a workhouse and been given away by his mother at a few weeks old. I felt privileged to have been given the opportunity to chronicle these very personal events, and their families were extremely grateful to have their relative’s history captured in a treasured book.
Good times, bad times, resentments, remorse, betrayals, nostalgia, joy, sadness, and disappointments – writing an autobiography is a way of capturing all kinds of emotions and feelings, and interpreting and interacting with the past and events that have shaped our lives. It is common to hear people claim that their lives are "unremarkable” - but once they begin their story it is often anything but.
There really is no such thing as an “ordinary” life – everyone has an extraordinary tale to tell, and an autobiography is a great way preserve it. Telling your story will strengthen your sense of purpose and help you understand the impact you’ve had on the world, and maybe even inspire others.