Autobiography: an easy way to write your life story

OK, your autobiography may not be the next blockbuster on the New York Times best seller list, but for you to write down your own story is a wonderful gift and legacy to leave for your children, other family, friends and colleagues.

Most people think this is a great idea, but fall by the wayside when they ask themselves, “so where do I start?” Like so many projects, making the decision to do it and taking the first step is often the hardest part.  Should you start with your childhood? With your parents’ childhood? How do you introduce other relatives into it? It can seem like quite a daunting task.

Here, then, are some ideas to get you started and help you over those first few hurdles – getting your information together and a structure in place.

Telling some of your story in stories

People love to read good stories. And even if your only readership will consist of friends and family, you want your work to be entertaining enough to keep them turning the pages. Long narratives, no matter how peppered with sex, drugs, rock & roll, scandal and shopping, end up being very boring.

Obviously a long sequence of stories would get a bit tedious, too, but a combination of the two approaches can work very well. This means that you use the narrative as the main structure and hang stories off that, almost as illustrations or punctuation.

Chronological structure works best

Amongst professional authors (and ghostwriters) there are various different fashions in terms of how biographical material is set out. Invariably these fashionable approaches involve mixing up past, present and future, jumping back and forth from decade to decade in what seems like an attempt to keep the readers on his or her toes.

Those approaches can work, but they need to be done well. And as we’re looking here at simple ways of conveying your life story and possibly that of your family, leapfrogging decades is merely going to cause confusion. My advice is, stick to chronological order as much as you can.

This may involve a certain element of yo-yo mode if, for example, you write a chapter about one branch of your family from the year dot to the present date, and then move on to use the same approach to another branch of the family. But provided that you make clear when and where everybody fits into your past, it will work out OK.

Working through your structure

In my experience whatever you’re writing – from a business proposal to a full-length novel – the more effort you put into planning out its structure, and the more detail you can incorporate, the easier the work will be to write in the end.

Whether you use your laptop or a large piece of doodling paper and a pencil, it’s easy to start with just a list of chapter headings, like this:


  1. Where I was born and grew up
  2. My Mother’s background and family
  3. My Father’s background and family
  4. My siblings and how we got on when we were young
  5. My school days
  6. The teenage years
  7. My parents’ divorce and how I dealt with it
  8. University
  9. Mother’s new life with my stepfather
  10. My first proper job
  11. Meeting my partner and getting married
  12. Our children & what they were like when little
  13. My progressing career
  14. My hobbies
  15. Where we are today

Next, we want to add some detail, so I’ll show some example for chapters 1, 2, and 3. When doing this for real you would probably go on to add more and more sub-sections, so creating a very useful framework for your actual writing…

1.Where I was born and grew up
Eldest child
Spoilt baby
First sibling – how I felt jealous
Second sibling
What life was like at home
Family holidays
Family pets

2.My Mother’s background and family
Where she was born and raised
Her parents (my maternal grandparents)
Her ancestors
Her siblings
Her education and career
How she met my Father (her version)
What she wanted for their wedding
How she felt when she had me

3.My Father’s background and family
Where he was born and raised
His parents (my paternal grandparents)
His ancestors
His siblings
His education and career
How he met my Mother (his version)
How he coped with the wedding hysteria
How he felt when they had me

Great. Now, look through your list (which as I said should be rather more detailed than this) and see how many entertaining stories you or your relatives can recall, to act as “illustrations” to the narrative. Bear in mind the stories do not have to be funny; they can also be sad, poignant, tragic. What makes them “entertaining” is the fact that they appeal to readers’ emotions, e.g.…

1.Where I was born and grew up
Eldest child
Spoilt baby
First sibling – how I felt jealous (story: stealing my sister’s food)
Second sibling
What life was like at home (story: brother’s chemistry accidents)
Family holidays (story: caravan blowing over)
Family pets (story: dog chewing up brother’s course work)

2.My Mother’s background and family
Where she was born and raised
Her parents (my maternal grandparents) (story: immigrating from Poland)
Her ancestors (story: Nazi horrors in Poland)
Her siblings
Her education and career (story: getting excluded from school for smoking)
How she met my Father (her version) (story: the blind date that went wrong)
What she wanted for their wedding
How she felt when she had me (story: nearly named me Reuben after uncle, re: big nose)

3.My Father’s background and family
Where he was born and raised (story: no money so slept in a drawer)
His parents (my paternal grandparents)
His ancestors (story: distant relatives were Romany gypsies: how we found out)
His siblings
His education and career (story: how he regrets having dropped out of school)
How he met my Mother (his version) (story: taking 6 months to set up blind date)
How he coped with the wedding hysteria (story: getting drunk the night before)
How he felt when they had me

…and so-on. I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as looking like it will be a very interesting read!

By the time you have thought, remembered and written about everything on your list, you will be close to reaching your first draft…a superb gift for your friends and family and if you’re in business, a helpful and valuable contribution to your industry or area of activity. Good luck!

For further information on writing a personal autobiography, try these resources:

Now, let’s write some more about you:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published


photo credit: Renata Diem via photo pin cc




  1. Some great ideas to build your autobiography, you make it sound so EASY.

    • Thanks Lynn! Actually like so many activities, if you get the planning and structure right, actually doing it needn’t be so difficult. The more effort you put into preparation and planning, the easier it is to write the book.

  2. Structure … hmm that’s a big downfall, I find it very challenging, but now I see where you’re heading with this, it makes it much easier. Thanks Suze 🙂

  3. Absolutely, Jackie. So many of the authors I coach are full of enthusiasm and want to get straight into writing the book right away … and then are surprised when they run out of steam after about 10,000 words! Planning and structuring may sound boring when you’re raring to go and be creative, but actually it’s good fun and soooooooooo worth it … it means you don’t get that awful yawning gap in the middle where you don’t know which way to go from there.

    That even applies to fiction, too, although I don’t coach fiction – when I’ve written my own two lame (well not lame actually … very potty-mouthed comedy novels) I worked to a structure and it just rolled off the keyboard right to “The End.” And I’ve actually got a publisher who wants to do one of them, when I finally get around to doing my finished edit…

  4. Donna Spears says

    This is a nice guide to write an Autobiography. But the part that you include your Mother and Father’s background and family seems so hard to track. Specially when they personally don’t have enough memories of them.

    • No, that can be a problem, Donna. They only thing I can suggest is that you ask as many relatives and family friends about their backgrounds as possible, and build up a picture from that. But that information is secondary, really; your autobiography is essentially about YOU!

  5. Good morning, Suzan.

    Writing an autobiography for the amusement of future generations in the family sounds an interesting idea.My main concern is that – having observed the absolute avoidance of any reading matter by my immediate family, despite my concerted efforts to encourage bookworm behaviour during their childhood – it’s likely to be a waste of time and energy. And with the wonderful web-world to amuse and entertain, I fear the odds are stacked heavily against anything I put together becoming a family best-seller!

    But the concept of creating a composition that contributes to my industry or area of activity certainly has appeal. I’ve had a little think about this, but can’t quite see how it would fit – what would the working class life of a big bellied Brit have to do with an Austrian Alpine Holiday, I wonder?

    I’d be most grateful if would show me the way….

    What I can conceive, however, is how some of my more maniacal moments might translate into fun fiction for the over 50s (they would have to be around that age to appreciate some of the nuances!). So, my running title – or whatever it’s called – is ‘The Revelations of A Bawdy British Broad’. What do you think?

    Beat the socks of 50 Shades of Grey – for humour I add, not lasciviousness. Well…..

    Kind regards,

    Oh, just thought.. I like this. A new name and tag line – ‘Lascivious Linda, more laughs than Linda Lusardi!’ Or how about ‘The Belly with Brains’?

    OK – better go now. I have a maniacal moment about to occur!

  6. Hi there Linda

    I can’t wait to read your autobiography … E. L. James, eat your heart out!