Can anyone write an autobiography?
Writing an autobiography might feel like the sort of thing that celebrities do. (Or else get their ghostwriter to do for them). But actually, self-published autobiographies and personal memoirs are more popular than ever. The truth is, anyone can do it, and I’d go so far as to say, everyone should do it.
Thanks to the boom in self-publishing, it’s easier than ever to get your personal story out into the world, whether that’s for a small audience of family and friends, or a larger readership. There are all sorts of great options for design, print and self-publishing that will give you a finished book that looks just like a professionally published book.
Who’s going to read your personal story?
I don’t think anyone lives an objectively uninteresting life. In fact – whisper it quietly – most of us probably live far more interesting lives than those celebrities whose biographies fill up the supermarket bookshelves. Even if we haven’t scaled mountains, attended red carpet premiers, or achieved sporting glory, the raw stuff of our lives matters to someone…
I don’t think many of us would turn down the chance to learn more about the people who matter to us. It’s shocking to think how little I know about the lives of some of the most important people in my life, and it’s a crying shame that so many of them have never told their stories.
Writing an autobiography gives unparalleled insight into lives lived, loves won and lost, and wisdom gained. If you think about your own life, I’ll bet there are things that your partner, your friends, your children or relatives just don’t know about you that they really should. (We can gloss over the things they don’t need to know!)
In my experience as a ghostwriter, I know that most would-be personal story writers suddenly find that writing an autobiography suddenly gets much easier when they know who they’re writing it for, and why. So let’s look at some of those reasons in more detail…
Why do people write autobiographies?
I’m going to give you four very practical reasons why you should consider telling your life story. But first, I’d like to look at some of the deeper, existential things that motivate us all. Yup, this is the big stuff, from understanding ourselves, to facing up to our fear of death!
Writing an autobiography helps people make sense of their life
As we’re living it, life often seems annoyingly disconnected. Less like the plot of a coherent film, more like a series of storyboards from different films that don’t quite fit together.
Sometimes, it’s only when you start joining the dots of your life that it all starts to make sense. At a distance, you can see how all of life’s disappointments pushed you in a certain direction, or added up to something more, something better.
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.Soren Kierkegaard
I love how that process of writing your life story can make your life seem all the more meaningful and connected. For me, it’s one of the big benefits of writing your story. Revisiting your life, and seeing it from a new perspective brings fresh understanding, acceptance, and even compassion for the life you’ve lived and the choices you’ve made.
Writing an autobiography helps you leave something meaningful behind
When I lost a good friend far too soon in his life, one of the hardest parts of carrying on was not being able to share things with him. Silly, inconsequential things, I’ll grant you, but they were the things that mattered to us.
Writing our life story for the people we leave behind is a kind thing to do. It can’t ever take away the sting of loss, but it can at least give people a sense of ongoing connection. Our words will always be there for friends and loved ones to dip into. In its own way, it can help to keep that feeling of connection alive. And it can bring such a sense of joy knowing that, whatever happens, our personal story can go on inspiring, amusing, and entertaining people we love.
Writing an autobiography gives you a little bit of immortality
I can’t promise you that writing an autobiography will take the fear of mortality away, but one of the big benefits of writing is that it can tackle some of the associated fears.
For many people, the idea of leaving our nearest and dearest with things unsaid is one of the scariest things we have to face up to. But telling your story, and showing your readers just how much they mean to you is a wonderful way of confronting that fear.
Your book can be your love letter to the people who really matter, leaving them in no doubt as to how you feel about them. That’s a wonderful thing for them to get to read, and just as importantly, it’s a comfort to every writer knowing they’ve left nothing important unsaid.
Writing an autobiography helps us express the things we can’t say
Even among our nearest and dearest, some of us are pretty blooming terrible at just telling them quite how much they mean to us. And with good reason. It isn’t just about sparing our own embarrassment; it’s about sparing theirs.
If trying to express what we feel is awkward and falls flat, writing it down is better. Because that’s when we’re at our most eloquent and poetic. It’s when we’re best able to say what we want – or allude to it – in a way that helps them to see it, feel it, and understand us properly. No embarrassment. No awkwardness. Just the purity of the written word and unfettered expression.
Four good reasons to write your autobiography
I don’t think there are too many bad reasons for writing your autobiography. Even confessionals and revenge stories can work if they’re written in the right ways. But writing your life story for the right reasons will make the whole process that much easier – and a whole lot more satisfying.
As well as the more conceptual, existential reasons we’ve just discussed, here are four very practical reasons why you might want to consider writing your life story…
Writing an autobiography to help others
It is an astonishing and altruistic thing to write your autobiography to help others.
Whatever experiences you’ve survived, articulating the lessons you’ve learned can be enormously helpful to anyone undergoing a similar experience. I’ve worked with people who have told brave and honest stories about abuse, bereavement, mental health issues, racial discrimination, and illness. But they all set about telling their stories – and being unflinchingly honest about their experiences – because, as many of them told me, “If just one person reads this and feels better, I’ll be happy.”
I can’t think of many better reasons to tell your story.
Writing an autobiography as therapy
If there’s one thing that can make suffering bearable it’s knowing that one’s pain, and endurance can help others. But getting your experience down in writing can help you too.
Anyone who has been through tough times or experienced trauma knows how easy it can be to carry that pain through life. It isn’t always easy to unburden oneself, particularly for us Brits with our impressive but-not-always helpful sense of reserve baked in.
But, as described in this article on the Imperfect Ink website, there are lots of great reasons why writing can help you to feel better.
The more we write about the things that hurt us the less power they hold over us. Writing your autobiography can help you move on in your life, unburdened by the things that have held you back. It’s one of the biggest benefits of writing.
Writing an autobiography as a gift
When you really don’t know what to buy for the friend or relative who has everything, but you want to mark a special occasion, consider giving them your life story. I don’t think there’s a better way to show someone you care than by sharing something so very personal.
As well as building a legacy for your family, your autobiography can deepen your relationships with friends and family, and even encourage others to share their stories.
If you’re in a hurry to meet a special occasion, you might want to work on your personal story with a ghostwriter, just so you can guarantee getting finished in time for their special day.
Writing an autobiography to raise your profile and spread your expertise
You can write your autobiography for many reasons; you can even use your book to raise your profile and demonstrate your expertise…
Lots of people view writing an autobiography as a purely pragmatic exercise. A business book or memoir can do lots of positive things for you or your brand and company. It can function like the ultimate CV or business card. It can be given to prospective clients to show off your understanding and insight. It can sit on Amazon, generating interest and sales over a long period.
People who really understand their niche are never afraid to divulge some of their secrets, and a business book is one of the best ways of demonstrating your expertise in a crowded market.
How to find someone to write your autobiography
If, after reading all of this you feel compelled to write your autobiography, I wish you the best of luck, and I can promise you that, if you stick to your task, it will be one of the most satisfying things you will ever do.
You don’t have to go it alone, of course. If you find that you just don’t have the time to devote to writing an autobiography, you can certainly ask someone like me to help you.
An autobiography writer or personal story writer will work with you to make sure that even if you’re not actually writing your autobiography, it will still be your story, told in a way that feels right to you.
If you’d like to talk to me about that process, book a slot and we’ll have a free half hour ghostwriting consultation.