How to write a book about yourself

➡️  An autobiography is a book about your entire life up until you write your book, while a memoir focuses on a specific event or time period in your life.

➡️  Autobiographies and memoirs are almost always written in the 1st person. They should include emotive descriptions of key events in your life, as well as background information about your past and hopes for your future.

➡️  Self-publishing is a powerful approach for memoirists and autobiography writers. It allows you to share your story with greater freedom than traditional publishing.

Everyone has a story to tell. Whether you’ve travelled the world, danced with movie stars, or brought up an incredible family, many people have fantastic life experiences they want to share with the world. Writing a book about yourself is a powerful, rewarding way to revisit and record some of the most important moments in your life.

But writing a book about yourself can be daunting. You need to be able to craft your experience into a story. That means writing a book that’s full of suspense, intrigue - and real-life experience.

This guide is designed to help you learn how to write a book about yourself - and get it published.

What is a book that you write about yourself called?

Let’s start with the basics. Books about the author’s life typically fall into one of two categories: memoirs and autobiographies. While there are some similarities between these two formats - the major one being that they’re both subjective, first-person accounts of real-life events - there are also some key differences.

What is a memoir?

A memoir is usually focused on a specific event, or a particular time period of a person’s life. For example, your memoir could focus on your formative adolescent years, or a traumatic event that affected you. Memoirs are often written by non-famous people about larger-than-life events.

What is an autobiography?

An autobiography usually recounts the writer’s entire life up until the point the book is written. Autobiographies are usually reserved for celebrities and other famous figures.

What is a biography?

A biography is an account of a person’s life written by someone else. Biographies can be authorised or unauthorised. Authorised biographies have the cooperation and approval of the person the biography is about. Unauthorised biographies, meanwhile, rely on external sources for their information.

How to start writing a book about your life

Writing a book takes a lot of time. It’s extremely rewarding, but can be frustrating - particularly if you’re not sure where to begin. These 4 steps will help you take the plunge into writing a book about yourself.

  1. Make sure you’re ready - Delving into your memory can be exhilarating, joyful, and painful - so make sure you’re emotionally prepared for the experience. Take some time for self-reflection before you begin planning your autobiography or memoir.
  2. Make a list of the events in your life you want to include - If possible, take a few minutes to journal about these events as you list them. This can help jog your memory and stir up emotions that will help you write vividly and honestly.
  3. Tell your loved ones you’re writing a book about yourself - This is especially important if they’re going to feature as identifiable characters in the story. They may have some reservations about their inclusion in the book, so make sure you’re on the same page before you start writing.
  4. Plan your story - If you haven’t written a book before, mapping your memoir out in advance may be beneficial. An outline can help you stay on track, and give structure and pace to your story. The importance of these elements can’t be underestimated, so planning your book puts you in a strong position to start writing.

What to put in an autobiography or memoir

If you’re writing a book about yourself, you probably already know which key moments you want to include. But it’s important that you take the time to build up context and intrigue in the reader, so you’ll also need to give them some background information about you.

Here are 5 key components every autobiography and memoir should include:

  1. Your childhood and adolescence - Your formative years will help your readers understand the actions you take and feelings you have in later life. Make sure to explore the events that shaped you in your early years.
  2. Key life events - These events are the reason you want to write your autobiography or memoir - so be sure to give them the colour and depth they deserve. Write honestly. Give readers details that help them understand and envisage the situation.
  3. Information about the other characters in your story - The real people in your life who feature in your book also need some backstory. That said, it’s important to discuss the details you’re including in your book with your friends and family before you publish it.
  4. Episodes of despondency - Without some degree of grief or loss, most stories would be pretty boring. So even if you’re happy, successful and rich now, it’s important to include moments of failure or sadness you’ve experienced in life. This gives the reader a more rounded view of you, and helps them to sympathise with your story.
  5. Your hopes for the future - Even when the book is finished, your story continues. Ending your autobiography or memoir with a hopeful message is a satisfying way to tie things up.

How to write an introduction for an autobiography or memoir

As in any book, the introduction to your autobiography should be intriguing and make the reader want to learn more. That means you don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning of your life. In fact, unless you had a particularly interesting birth, it’s probably best to skip ahead to a more pivotal moment.

This is particularly true if you’re writing a memoir. In a memoir, you’re writing about a particular time period or event you experienced - so your introduction should relate to that event.

Remember that your introduction sets the scene for the rest of your book, so it should be punchy, relevant, and captivating.

Tips for writing an autobiography or memoir

No matter what theme or tone your book will take, here are some useful tips for how to write a professional autobiography or memoir.

  • Write in 1st person - Use the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’ throughout your book. Not only is this the accepted perspective for this kind of writing, it also lends your work subjective authority. This is your story, so make sure the reader knows that by using the 1st person voice.
  • Read other autobiographies and memoirs - Reading published work that’s similar to the book you want to write will help you understand the conventions of autobiographical writing.
  • Do your research - Even though you’re writing about your own life, it’s possible that you won’t recall the correct details of every incident you’re recounting. Double check all kinds of factual information - such as dates, ages, and names - before you publish your story.
  • Write with the benefit of hindsight - You know things now that you didn’t know when the events took place. Writing honestly means being truthful about mistakes you may have made in the past, and acknowledging them with the information you now have.
  • Be emotive - You want your readers to understand what you felt at each life stage you’re writing about. Express your emotions in writing to give your readers a sense of empathy.

I want someone to write a book about my life

If you think your life story would make an intriguing read, but you want someone else to write the book on your behalf, you can hire a ghostwriter to write the book for you.

Unlike biographers, ghostwriters write your autobiography as if they are you. Often, you can decide whether or not to credit the ghostwriter. If you credit them, their name will appear on the cover alongside yours - for example: My Story by Joe Bloggs, as told to Jane Doe. If you choose not to credit them, their name won’t appear on the cover. Most ghostwriters charge more for non-credited work.

How to write a biography about someone else

Biographies are similar to autobiographies in structure, but the form is usually very different. Because biographies are written about someone other than the author, they are almost always written in the 3rd person, rather than 1st person. Biographies also tend to depend less on emotion and more on factual information, because the author isn’t writing about their personal experiences.

While research is key for autobiographical writing, it’s doubly important for biographies. If you’re writing a book about someone else’s life, you’ll need to ensure you have all your facts right. That means reading and researching multiple accounts of the same event to ensure you’ve corroborated your information. Biographical inaccuracies can discredit you at best; at worst, they can result in libel lawsuits. So if you’re planning to write a book about someone else, make sure to do as much research as possible.

Examples of published life stories, autobiographies and memoirs

Many famous and non-famous people have published successful autobiographies and memoirs over the years. Here are some bestselling autobiographies and memoirs from well-known public figures:

  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
  • On Writing - Stephen King
  • Becoming - Michelle Obama

Many self-published memoirs and autobiographies have also achieved mainstream success. Some examples of these include:

  • Grit: The Banter and Brutality of the Late-Night Cab - Karl Wiggins
  • When I Was Lost: A Mother's Struggle with Bipolar Disorder - Glenna Gill
  • Beautiful Affliction - Lene Fogelberg

Reading work by other writers is a great way to find out what works in an autobiography or memoir. It’s sure to help you avoid many of the common pitfalls of writing and self-publishing a book.

Penguin has a great list of the best memoirs of all time, as voted by their readers.

How to publish an autobiography

Autobiographies and memoirs from previously unpublished authors are notoriously difficult to market to risk-averse traditional publishers. But that doesn’t mean you should quit before you’ve begun.

Self-publishing is a great publishing option for memoirists who haven’t previously been published. With a self-published book, you’ll receive a higher percentage of royalties than if you’re traditionally published. Plus, there are lots of self-publishing companies out there who can help you get your book in front of a wider audience.

If you choose to self-publish your autobiography or memoir, you’ll be responsible for marketing, printing, and selling your book. This gives you much greater freedom around the content of your book, as well as your marketing and pricing strategy.

Find out more about the world of self-publishing in our writing advice.

Advice from a published writer
This article is always evolving and being updated regularly by our expert writers. Information featured in it has been fact checked and verified.
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