Writing an Autobiography: Format, Steps & Tips Video

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  • 0:00 Autobiographies
  • 0:38 Formatting
  • 2:32 Steps to Success
  • 3:45 Tips & Tricks
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Have you ever thought about writing down the story of your life? Or, does the task seem daunting? In this lesson, we'll learn about autobiographies and their formats to show there isn't one right way to get our stories out from our minds and into the world.

Autobiographies

Everyone has a story. We are a compilation of them, and everyone's story is different. In this lesson, we'll learn about how to tell our stories using numerous strategies and formats, along with some tips and tricks to get our creative juices flowing.

An autobiography is a story about one's life written by the person. This person could be writing their story to learn more about their life, pass on their experiences, or engage others for entertainment. Whatever the purpose, the writer is attempting to convey their life experiences through the words on the page.

Formatting

There are many formats when it comes to writing about one's self. Let's take a look at some of the most common ones that can help you get started on your writing journey, including memoirs, vignettes, dramas, and more.

The traditional autobiography covers a person's life from birth to the present moment. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela are both examples of traditional autobiographies.

A memoir limits the information presented and, unlike the traditional structure, focuses on certain moments and/or themes in a person's life, such as historical, philosophical, religious, coming-of-age, adversity and many more. Popular works such as Angela's Ashes, Eat, Pray, Love, and Night are examples of memoirs.

Personal narratives or essays narrow the focus even more than a memoir, looking at one moment in time and expanding the experience through dialogue and imagery. We typically see this type of writing in the classroom and articles published in magazines or online blogs.

Vignettes are short chapters that cover one specific event at a time. A collection of vignettes can be published as a complete work. However, each chapter doesn't directly connect to the others. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is an excellent example of an autobiography in vignette format.

Graphic novels are unique, as they use drawn or cartoon panels to convey a true story. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Maus by Art Spiegelman are two examples of authors telling their stories through words and pictures.

Drama or scripts can explore autobiographical topics through dialogue on stage or in film. For example, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is a play that explores his rise to fame.

Steps to Success

While there isn't one way to write an autobiography, there are many pitfalls where one can get lost in the writing process. Here are some steps to organize your thoughts and writing.

1. Outline Your Thoughts

Write down key points that you know you want to cover before you begin writing. Figure out what you want to say before you lock yourself into a format.

2. Select Your Format

Before you begin writing, decide on the format you think would work best. If you want to focus on one moment in time, an essay, vignette, or memoir may be the best option. If you want to focus on a larger timeline, a traditional format or memoir may work for you. Give yourself some time to see what feels right. Outlining your thoughts should help you see the length of your piece and how each experience is connected, if at all.

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