How to Start Writing a Book About Your Life Story

Picture of Julia McCoy

Julia McCoy

Creator and Co-founder

How to Start Writing a Book About Your Life

You’ve lived an incredible life filled with unique experiences, challenges, and triumphs. You’ve always wanted to share your story with the world, but where do you even begin?

Writing a book about your life can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right guidance and a little bit of courage, you can start putting pen to paper and bringing your memoir or autobiography to life.

I know how it feels to have a story burning inside you, waiting to be told. As someone who has walked this path before, I’m here to help you take those first crucial steps.

Together, we’ll explore the different types of life story books, brainstorm your most meaningful experiences, and create a roadmap for your writing journey.

So grab a notebook and let’s get started on turning your life into a compelling narrative that will inspire and captivate readers.

Table Of Contents:

Different Types of Life Story Books

When you’re learning how to start writing a book about your life, it’s important to understand the different types of life story books out there. Knowing the difference between an autobiography vs. biography vs. memoir will help you decide which format best fits the true story you want to tell about your life history and experiences.

An autobiography is a nonfiction narrative that covers the author’s entire life, from birth to the present day. It’s told in the first person and aims to give a comprehensive account of the writer’s personal history and life events.

A biography, on the other hand, is written by someone else about another person’s life story. It’s still a nonfiction book, but it’s told in the third person and often involves extensive research and interviews to piece together a full picture of the subject’s life experiences and achievements.

A memoir is a bit different from both an autobiography and a biography. Rather than trying to capture the author’s entire life story, a memoir focuses on a specific period, event, or theme in their life. It’s a form of autobiographical writing that allows the author to explore a particular aspect of their personal history in greater depth, often with an emphasis on the emotional journey and lessons learned along the way.

When I was writing my own memoir, I found it helpful to read examples of all three types of life story books to get a sense of the different approaches authors can take when writing about real life.

Some of my favorites include Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (autobiography), Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (biography), and Wild by Cheryl Strayed (memoir).

Brainstorm and Free Write About Your Life Experiences

One of the biggest challenges people face when starting to write a book about their life is figuring out where to begin. After all, you’ve got a whole lifetime of experiences, memories, and stories to draw from – it can feel overwhelming trying to decide what to focus on and how to structure it all into a compelling narrative.

That’s why I always recommend starting with a brainstorming and free writing exercise. Grab a notebook or open up a blank document on your computer, set a timer for 20-30 minutes, and just start writing about your life experiences without worrying about editing or judgment.

Set a Timer and Write Freely

The key here is to let your thoughts flow freely and get as much down on paper as possible. Write about the moments, people, and events that have shaped your life story and made you who you are today.

Focus on specific life events that stand out in your memory, whether they’re big milestones like graduations and weddings, more personal moments like a meaningful conversation with a friend, or a solo trip that changed your perspective.

Focus on Specific Life Events

As you’re free writing, try to zoom in on the details that make each experience unique and memorable. Use your five senses to describe what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt in each moment. The more specific and vivid your descriptions, the more engaging your writing will be for readers.

Write Without Editing or Judgment

Remember, the goal of this exercise isn’t to produce polished, publication-ready prose. It’s simply to get your creative juices flowing and start exploring the raw material of your life story.

Don’t worry if your memories are hazy or if you can’t remember every detail – just write what comes to mind and trust that more will surface as you continue the process.

By letting yourself write without editing or judgment, you’ll start to see patterns and themes emerge in your life experiences.

You may be surprised at the forgotten moments that suddenly take on new meaning or the connections that form between seemingly disparate events. This is all valuable information for your book and will help you start to shape your life story into a cohesive narrative.

Consider Your Audience and Purpose for Writing

As you write your life story, it’s important to keep your target audience in mind.

Who do you envision reading your book, and what do you hope they’ll take away from it?

Are you writing primarily for family and friends, or do you hope to reach a wider audience?

Understanding your target readers can help you tailor your writing style, tone, and content to better resonate with them.

Identify Your Target Readers

When I was writing my memoir, I had to think long and hard about who I was writing for.

At first, I assumed I was just writing for myself and maybe a few close family members.

But as I got deeper into the process, I realized that my story had the potential to resonate with a much wider audience – people who had gone through similar experiences or who were grappling with the same big life questions.

Once I had a clearer sense of my target readers, I was able to adapt my writing style and focus to better speak to their needs and interests.

Determine Your Reason for Writing

There are many reasons why people choose to write books about their lives, from preserving family history to inspiring others with their stories of resilience and growth. Take some time to reflect on your own motivations for writing.

Are you hoping to leave a legacy for future generations? Process and make sense of your own experiences? Or share your wisdom and insights with others?

Getting clear on your purpose can help you stay focused and motivated throughout the writing process.

Adapt Your Writing Style Accordingly

Once you have a sense of your target audience and purpose, consider how to adapt your writing style accordingly. If you’re writing primarily for family and friends, you might choose a more informal, conversational tone, with plenty of personal anecdotes and inside jokes.

To reach a wider audience, adopt a refined yet relatable style that highlights common themes and engaging wisdom. Balancing elegance with authenticity will help connect your words to those you’re hoping will resonate.

Create an Outline and Structure for Your Life Story

Once you’ve got a big pile of raw material and have defined your target audience, it’s time to start putting some structure around your life story.

Creating a book outline is a crucial step in the writing process as it helps you organize your thoughts, identify key themes and events, and create a roadmap for your narrative.

Decide on a Chronological or Thematic Structure

There are a few different ways you can approach structuring your life storybook.

One option is to use a chronological structure, starting from your earliest memories and moving forward through time. This can be a good choice if you want to give readers a clear sense of the progression and evolution of your life experiences.

Another option is to use a thematic structure, where you organize your chapters or sections around key themes or lessons learned rather than a strict timeline. This can be a powerful way to highlight the deeper meaning and significance of your life events and create a more engaging read.

Whichever structure you choose, the key is to identify the key events and turning points in your life story that will form the backbone of your narrative. These are the moments that changed you in some fundamental way, whether it was a major life decision, a personal loss or triumph, or a moment of clarity and insight.

Identify Key Events and Turning Points

As you’re outlining your book, think about how each of these key events builds on the ones that came before and sets the stage for what comes next.

Look for patterns and connections that emerge across different periods and experiences.

Create a Narrative Arc

Finally, consider the overall narrative arc of your life story.

What is the central message or theme that ties everything together? How do you want readers to feel at the end of your book? What do you want them to take away from your experiences?

By spending time crafting a strong outline and structure for your book, you’ll be able to turn your collection of life experiences into a powerful and cohesive story that resonates with readers on a deep level. It takes some work upfront, but trust me – it’s worth it.

Gather Memories and Mementos to Jog Your Memory

Writing about your own life can be a deeply rewarding experience, but it can also be challenging to remember all the details and nuances of past events. That’s why it’s so important to gather memories and mementos that can help jog your memory and bring your story to life on the page.

Talk to Family and Friends

One of the best ways to do this is to talk to family members and friends who were present for key moments in your life. They may have different perspectives or remember details that you’ve forgotten, which can add richness and depth to your writing.

Look Through Old Photos and Journals

Another great resource for jogging your memory is old photos and journals.

If you’re like most people, you probably have boxes of old photo albums and scrapbooks tucked away somewhere, just waiting to be rediscovered. Take some time to go through them and study the images. Look at the expressions on people’s faces, the clothes they’re wearing, the settings and backgrounds. All of these details can help trigger memories and emotions that you can then channel into your writing.

If you keep a journal or diary, that can be an incredibly valuable resource as well. Reading your own words from a particular period can transport you back to that moment in a powerful way, helping you remember not just what happened but how you felt and what you were thinking at the time.

Visit Memorable Locations

Finally, consider taking a trip to revisit some of the key locations from your life story. Walking through your childhood home, visiting your old school or workplace, or retracing the steps of a memorable trip can all be powerful ways to jog your memory and reconnect with your past experiences.

Take lots of notes and photos while you’re there, and pay attention to the sensory details that stand out to you.

What do you see, hear, smell, and feel in each place? These details will help bring your story to life and make it feel more immersive and engaging for your readers.

Develop Your Writing Voice and Style

One of the most important elements of a compelling life story is a strong, distinctive voice. Your writing voice is the unique way you express yourself on the page, conveying your personality, perspective, and style.

To develop your voice, practice writing in a way that feels natural and authentic to you. Read your work aloud to see how it sounds, and experiment with different tones and approaches until you find one that clicks.

Find Your Unique Voice

When you’re writing a book about your life, it’s crucial to find your unique voice. This is what will make your story stand out from all the other memoirs and autobiographies out there.

Think about what makes your perspective special. What experiences have shaped you? What insights do you have to share?

Let your personality shine through in your writing.

Show, Don’t Tell

To bring your story to life, focus on showing rather than telling. Instead of simply stating facts or emotions, use vivid sensory details and anecdotes to immerse readers in your experiences.

For example, instead of writing “I was nervous before my big speech,” describe the sweat on your palms, the butterflies in your stomach, and the way the microphone felt heavy in your hand.

These concrete details will help readers connect with your story on a deeper level.

Use Descriptive Language

Descriptive language is key to creating a rich, engaging narrative. As you write, focus on using specific, evocative words and phrases that paint a picture in readers’ minds.

Instead of generic descriptions like “the room was messy,” describe the overflowing ashtrays, the piles of clothes on the floor, and the stale smell of cigarette smoke. These details will help bring your scenes to life and create a more immersive reading experience.

Write Engaging Dialogue

Including dialogue in your life story can help break up long passages of narration and add immediacy and authenticity to your writing. When writing dialogue, try to capture the unique voices and speech patterns of your characters.

Use dialogue tags sparingly, and instead rely on actions and body language to convey tone and emotion.

For example, instead of writing “‘I can’t believe you did that,’ she said angrily,” try “‘I can’t believe you did that.’ She slammed her fist on the table, her face flushed with rage.”

Tackle the Writing Process One Step at a Time

Writing a book about your entire life can feel like a daunting task, so it’s important to break the process down into small, achievable goals. Set realistic targets for yourself, such as writing for a certain amount of time each day or completing a specific number of pages per week.

Celebrate each milestone along the way and don’t get discouraged if you have setbacks or slow periods.

Set Small, Achievable Goals

When I first started writing my memoir, I was overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the project.

How could I possibly capture my entire life story in one book?

But then I realized that I didn’t have to do it all at once. I set myself small, achievable goals, like writing for 30 minutes every morning or completing one chapter per week. Breaking the process down into bite-sized chunks made it feel much more manageable.

Write Regularly

To make steady progress on your life story, it’s important to establish a regular writing practice. Set aside dedicated time each day or week to work on your book, and try to stick to a consistent schedule.

You might find it helpful to write at the same time each day or to set a timer and write in focused bursts. The more regularly you write, the easier it will become to tap into your creativity and keep your momentum going.

Embrace the Messy First Draft

When you’re working on your first draft, resist the urge to edit or polish as you go. Instead, embrace the messiness of the process and focus on getting your story down on paper.

Don’t worry if your writing feels clunky or disjointed at first – you’ll have plenty of time to revise and refine it later on. The most important thing is to keep writing and trust that your story will take shape over time.

Revise and Edit Later

Once you have a complete first draft, set it aside for a few days or weeks before diving into the revision process. This break will give you some distance from your work and allow you to approach it with fresh eyes.

When you’re ready to revise, read through your draft slowly and carefully, looking for areas that need clarification, elaboration, or cutting.

Be ruthless in your editing, and don’t be afraid to cut scenes or chapters that don’t serve the overall story.

Remember, revision is a crucial part of the writing process and will help you hone your story into its best possible form.

Seek Feedback and Support

Writing a book can be a solitary pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. Consider joining a writing group or workshop where you can connect with other writers, share your work, and get feedback and support.

Many communities have local writing groups that meet in person, or you can find online groups and forums dedicated to memoir and life story writing.

Participating in a writing community can help keep you accountable, provide inspiration and encouragement, and give you valuable insights into your work.

Join a Writing Group

When I was working on my memoir, I joined a local writing group that met once a week at a coffee shop downtown. It was a diverse group of writers, all working on different projects, but we bonded over our shared love of storytelling and our commitment to the craft.

Each week, we would share excerpts from our work and give each other feedback and encouragement. Those meetings became a highlight of my week – a chance to connect with other writers, get fresh perspectives on my work, and stay motivated to keep writing.

Work with a Writing Coach or Editor

If you’re feeling stuck or unsure about your writing, consider working with a professional writing coach or editor. A coach can help you clarify your goals, develop your skills, and stay on track with your writing, while an editor can provide detailed feedback on your work and help you refine your manuscript.

Look for coaches or editors who specialize in memoir or life story writing, and don’t be afraid to invest in your writing journey. Working with a professional can be a game-changer when it comes to taking your writing to the next level.

Share Drafts with Trusted Readers

As you develop your life story, it can be helpful to share drafts with trusted readers and get their feedback. Choose readers who are supportive but also honest, and who have a good understanding of your goals and audience.

Ask them to provide specific feedback on areas like pacing, character development, and emotional impact, and be open to their suggestions and critiques.

Remember, feedback is a gift that can help you strengthen your writing and create a more powerful story.

It’s Time to Share Your Story With The World

Starting to write a book about your life is an exciting and transformative journey. By understanding the different types of life story books, brainstorming your key experiences, and creating a clear structure, you’ve laid the foundation for a compelling narrative.

Remember, writing your life story is a process. Embrace the messy first draft, write regularly, and don’t be afraid to seek feedback and support along the way. Your unique voice and experiences are worth sharing with the world.

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