Interview Yourself for Your Autobiography
As you embark on the massive task of writing your autobiography, documenting the highs and lows of a lifetime, it’s often difficult to sift through the mass of material available to you. Conversely, it’s easy to overlook periods and events that will give great insight into who you are as a person. Answering the following questions will help as you plan what to put in and what to leave out.
Before You Were Born
To set the scene on the incredible subject of your life, you could consider beginning before you even existed. Even if you decide against this, it’s essential that you know as much as possible about the world that you were born into. This information can then be references as you write to give readers more context.
What stands out about your family? Are there any noteworthy/eccentric characters?
What stories are passed down through generations?
What kind of upbringing did your parents have? Working class? Strict? An unfamiliar culture?
How did they meet? What challenges did their relationship face?
How were they impacted by the social/political status quo?
You might plan to write your whole autobiography from memory—you’re the authority on the subject after all—but speaking to the people who know you is a great source of information, and it could lead to interesting revelations. This is especially interesting if you choose to cover your baby and early childhood years. But make sure that you are selective in your choices. Look for defining, original stories, specific only to you. Think about how this information relates to the adult you.
What have you been told about your birth?
What kind of baby were you?
Do you know about all of your firsts (words, steps, etc)?
What are your earliest memories?
What stories do your parents tell about your baby years?
How do these stories relate to the person you became?
When exploring your childhood, again, be selective and self-analytical. We are essentially gazing into the depths of the footsteps that led up to the person you became, so choose your episodes carefully. A chronology of childhood landmarks is far less compelling than a series of events selected for their pertinence to your development.
When was the first time you became aware of …
… the lure of your future profession/passion?
… the way you differ from those around you?
… the hidden depths/true nature/hypocrisy of the people in your life?
What events were fundamental in forging your outlook on life?
What episodes in your childhood are noteworthy for their dramatic or entertainment value?
How are you going to make readers laugh or cry?
How are you going to make readers care about you and your life?
What kind of teen were you? Well-behaved? Rebellious?
Who was your first love?
When was your first kiss?
What were your passions?
Who were your teenage icons?
How did you spend your time?
How did your academic career unfold?
How did you relate to the people in your life?
How did you perceive yourself and the world?
How did you see your life unfolding, and how does that compare to the reality?
As you move into adulthood, it is even more important that you are selective about your content, as you are dealing with so many years. The mistake would be to cover every era in equal detail, perhaps opting for a few chapters for each decade, when some years and decades are always more compelling, interesting, informative, heart-breaking, etc. than others. This is doubly true if you are tailoring your autobiography to a certain market and there is great interest in certain aspects of your life.
When you look back over your life, which events stand out as your …
Which moments of your life have …
taught you the most?
changed you the most?
surprised you the most?
What is your biggest regret?
What is your greatest accomplishment?
What has made you the person that you are?
My emotional ghost-writing experience, telling a story that needed to be told.
Even the title, ghost writer, makes the profession sound mysterious and covert; a ghost-like presence swoops in unseen, does the business and is soundlessly away. In reality, ghosts are an important part of the publishing industry, widely used by agents, publishers and individuals with an idea for a book and no one to write it.
Interview yourself for your autobiography. A useful resource for autobiography writers.
If you’re thirty-nine, less than happily single and looking for a good biography, try reading about Gandhi or Cher or one of the Spice Girls. Oliver Sacks is not for you.
Good question …