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Autobiography

We all realize that our life is full of stories-episodes and incidents that have influenced us and helped shape the person that we are. Our life is also about struggling to make sense of ourselves and our many and varied experiences. The unique experiences and viewpoints of a person’s own life form the essence of autobiography. From the Puritan tendency to examine oneself for signs of salvation to Benjamin Franklin’s inventory of methods for attaining moral perfection, self-examination has been an important feature. One can do a little of his/her own self-examination by writing an autobiography.

 

What is an Autobiography

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An autobiography is the story of a person’s life written by that person. Autobiographical writing
  • Tells the story of a memorable event, person, period, or situation in the writer’s life
  •  Is an account of the writer’s significant events in the past, his/her achievements in the present, and speculation about what his/her future will hold
  • Is a recollection of events either in chronological sequence or at random, moving back and forth in time
  • Offers readers a direct, personal connection with the author more than any other form of writing
Define Autobiograpy
Two examples of an autobiography are Beryl Markham’s West with the Night, about growing up in South Africa, and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, a firsthand account of a Jewish family trying to hide from Hitler’s soldiers.

Look at the below example:

The above example is an excerpt from the autobiography written by Benjamin Franklin for his son. This autobiography written by him works as a beacon light and guides his son in all matters of importance.

Let’s look at more examples. 

Benjamin Franklin
"Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to know the circumstances of my life, many of which you are yet unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a week's uninterrupted leisure in my present country retirement, I sit down to write them for you."
  • St. Augustine – Confessions          
  • Mahatma Gandhi – My Experiments With Truth
  • Benazir Bhutto – Daughter of Destiny
  • Barack Obama – Dreams from My Father

How to Write an Autobiography

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It is essential to know while writing an autobiography that it is full of the writer’s own experiences. Hence, when writing yours, it is important to think back on the events, choices, and actions that shaped your life. You will want to describe the memorable events, people, periods, or situations of your life. It is also important to know that the more details you include, the more real and interesting your autobiography will be.

After deciding to write an autobiography, one needs to follow certain stages of writing to come up with an interesting and informative autobiography. Those stages are
  • Prewriting
  • Drafting
  • Revising
  • Editing and Proofreading

Prewriting

1. Explore ideas:

An autobiography is a sketch of the writer’s entire life. It is important to:

Make a “timeline” of your life, starting at birth, extending to the present.

Note important incidents and dates in chronological order on a timeline. List as many incidents as you can think of.

You can refer to the sample timeline given below:

Examples of Autobiography

To jog your memory about significant incidents in your life, browse through photo albums, diaries, and journals; watch family videotapes; and interview your family members, friends, neighbors, and teachers.

2. Choose an incident:

An incident is a specific occurrence, usually one that takes place over a short period of time, from a few moments to a few days. The incident you choose to narrate might be a moment of crisis or a moment when you felt inspired, but choose the one that you think are the most important or most interesting that best reveal what you were like at that time.

To decide what part of your life you would like to narrate, draw a "road map" of your life, starting at birth and extending to the present. At points where you think the course of your life changed in an important way, draw a turn in the road. Look over your road map and select the topic that draws your interest the most and isn't too private to comfortably share with others.

Look at a sample “road map” below:

Autobiography Example

3. Consider your Audience and Purpose:

Knowing who your readers will be and why you want to tell them your story can help you decide how and what to tell. Perhaps you will have to decide if you want to limit your audience or you do want to reach a wider audience, so that you can select incidents that you don’t mind sharing. For example, if you want to share your autobiography with your family or friends, you may want to include lots of “inside information.” If, on the other hand, you plan to share your narrative with a general audience, you may have to explain in detail the characters and the events you describe.

Ask yourself: what is the purpose in writing an autobiography? You might want to bring a difference in the mindset of the people or you might want to share a lesson you have learned or you might want your future generation to know about you.

4. Identify Basic Story Elements:

An autobiography has many of the same elements of a fictional story-setting, characters, and conflict. To develop your idea and bring your story to life to your readers, you will have to identify the basic elements of your story.

Look at this sample story map:

Sample Autobiography Essay

5. Choose a Theme:

A theme is a message that readers can take from the story. It can be stated directly, or it can be implied. Authors of autobiographies don’t tell everything that has happened in their lives. They choose events and details that add up to the theme or themes they want to convey.

To come up with a theme, ask yourself “What main message about life or human nature do I want my readers to learn?”

6. Develop your Autobiography:

After you have identified the story elements of your story, make notes about those elements. Use these notes later as you draft your autobiography.

Drafting

Every autobiography similar to essay and biography of famous person includes introductory paragraph with thesis statement, body which contains several paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.

Introductory paragraph:

The introduction gives the reader an idea about what and whom he is going to read about. Hence, similar to biography, the autobiography should also start with a hook line to grab the attention of the reader.

Never start the autobiography with the routine introduction with birth details. It is always good to start with some interesting life incident first and then go back to birth details.

One may also try to come up with an introduction where one is talking about the place one is born in or the region, culture to which one’s parents belong.

Example:

No: I was born on january 5th, 1987, in Los Angeles, America. I am 23 year old, working as a manager in local stores.

Yes: It was a rainly night and I was walking alone on the road, when i suddenly happened to hear someone shout behind me, my name. I turned around fearing who he was. It was none other than my childhood friend samuel. I was surprised to see him after ages. He took me down into my memory lane and reminded me of the time we spent together. He was hardly one day elder to me, was born on 4th and i was born on 5th january, 1987, so we always celebrated our birthdays together..

After introducing oneself to the audience, one must now frame a thesis which must contain information about one’s purpose of writing autobiography and other details in one sentence.

Body Paragraphs:

Body paragraphs must contain birth time and place, likes and dislikes, overall personality, important events of life which would make the autobiography a very interesting tale to read.

If in confusion on where to start with, one may try to divide the life experiences into different time lines.

 Under the heading of “My Childhood” one may focus on points such as family, early childhood memories, adolescent life, school days.
Include details such as language spoken, holidays celebrated and others under heading “My culture”.
Include one’s experiences with various people and at various places, current occupation and many such details under the heading “My present life”.
Transition words and phrases should be used to maintain flow of the thoughts from one paragraph to another in autobiography. 
Should never include exaggerated incidents.

Conclusion:
  • Conclude autobiography talking about the current experience or incident highlighting current life.
  • Summarize main points and create an impression in reader’s mind about self.
  • One may also end the autobiography by stating about future aspirations and dreams.

Example:

One day, i will reach that point where i would be able to have my own chain of stores through out america..

That day is very near when i, with my hard work and dedication, will serve millions of Americans and my company's name will be heard in every household.

Revising

As you revise your draft, remember that your readers were not there when the incident occurred. Ask yourself: What do I need to add so that the experience will seem as real for them as it was for me?

Questions for Revising:

  • Does it have a definite beginning, middle, and end?
  • Does the beginning provide enough background information?
  • Are the events arranged in chronological order?
  • Do the details and dialogue bring the incidents to life?
  • Does the end explain the significance of the incident?

Editing and Proofreading

Go over your writing again, checking for errors in grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling. In real speech, people sometimes break the rules of grammar. You may do so in written dialog to make it sound like real speech. So, focus on the rules of grammar. 

Writing Prompt

When we have learned or mastered a new skill, we feel proud of our accomplishment. In your autobiographical writing, write about one of your major accomplishments. Tell your readers who helped you, where you were, how you felt while working on acquiring it, and how you felt after accomplishing it. Also, clearly reveal what this learning means to you.

Keep the following points in mind as you write your autobiography.

a. Write your essay in an organized way, presenting a sequence of true events relating ideas, observations, and recollections of learning a new skill.
b. Include details that describe people, setting, and actions.
c. Add dialogue that helps reveal your characters’ personalities.
d. Include your thoughts and feelings about the experience.
e. Make sure you stick to first-person point of view
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