Everyone has their own life story to tell and can write their own biography. You don’t have to be famous for that. Writing your own biography will help you find your own identity, gain insights into your life, and process events. You can speak out and also inspire and encourage others with your life path and your decisions. How is it called so beautiful? Life is lived forward and understood backward.
What is a biography?
A biography is a book in which a person’s life story is described in detail by an outside person. The main character is therefore not the author of the biography but can contribute to its creation and give the order to have a biography written about him/herself. The biography includes all major life events in chronological order – from birth to the time of biography – and is written in the third person.
“Biography” is also often used as a generic term for various literary works about a person’s life. Surely you have already heard of memoirs and autobiographies in this context – but what is the difference between a classic biography?
Types of biographies
There are different types of biographies. In addition to the classic biography, these are particularly interesting for authors:
- The autobiography is the best-known form of a biography. In contrast to the classic biography, you yourself report chronologically on your life story. So you write an autobiography from the first-person perspective. The focus here is on the development of one’s own self.
- In a memoir, the focus is also on one’s own self. However, you focus on certain stages of life and not your entire life path.
- In memoirs, you also describe selected memories. But it’s less about your personal development than about the external circumstances and events that brought you to a certain point in your life, such as the peak of your career. So, in your memoirs, report on the stage of life for which you are best known – typically in a relaxed narrative style and peppered with interesting anecdotes.
- In an autobiographical novel, reality and fiction merge so that readers cannot see which sections of the book are based on true events and which are not.
If you want to write a book about your life, decide in advance what kind of biography is suitable for you.
What belongs in a biography?
In an autobiography, you write chronologically about the most important events in your life so far – from birth, school days, professional life, relationships, and family life to the present time. How detailed you go into the individual stages of life and experiences and what focus you set is up to you. You decide for yourself what you want to write about in your biography. It’s your life, after all.
How long does a biography have to be?
There is no specification as to how long your biography must be. Depending on which stage of life you are in, how old you are, and how much you have already experienced, you can automatically write a rather shorter or longer biography. It doesn’t matter how many pages your bio ends up with. It is much more important to prepare your life story in an interesting way.
Why do you want to write your own biography?
Consider not only what kind of biography it should be, but also why you want to write your own biography. There are many reasons to write down your life story. Which one is yours?
- Review life
- Capture memories
- Recognizing connections in life development
- Dealing with strokes of fate or traumatic experiences
- Document personal experiences of historical events
- Sharing knowledge and perspectives
- Inspire and encourage other people
- Create a souvenir for the family
- Writing a book as a hobby
It is also crucial for whom you will write the biography or autobiography. Are you creating your book project exclusively for your personal use, for example as a gift for your family members, or do you intend to publish your biography and reach many readers? Because when publishing, you must be strictly careful not to violate the rights of others.
What do I have to pay attention to when writing about other people in my biography?
If you write a biography about your life, it will not be possible to avoid reporting on other people in it. But this is exactly how you enter uncertain territory if you not only want to have your biography printed for yourself but also publish it.
It is imperative that you do not restrict the rights of third parties when writing about others in your biography. This refers in particular to the general right of personality (Art. 2 sec. 1 in conjunction with V.m Art. 1 sec. 1 GG). These include, but are not limited to:
- the protection of the private, secret, and intimate sphere,
- the right to the spoken and written word,
- protection against distortion and suppression of statements,
- the right to one’s own image,
- the right to informational self-determination, and
- the right of personal honor.
So if you want to tell about other people in your biography, give funny anecdotes, or, for example, print private photos and letters, you need the publication rights and must ask the named or depicted persons for written permission. After all, you don’t want to be sued later, do you? Therefore, when publishing your autobiography, deal sufficiently with the legal bases in advance or seek legal advice from an expert.
In the case of autobiographical novels, the legal basis is less problematic, as fiction and reality are usually not separate.
How do I write a biography?
Now that you are familiar with the basics, in this section, we will give you a guide on how to write a biography. You will receive important tips on how to collect and organize your life memories, write an exciting biography and revise your text.
Collect and organize memories
If you want to write your own biography, start by collecting as many memories and stories as possible. First, think of the important cornerstones, such as birth, schooling, education, marriage, and children. To do this, you can sketch a timeline as a visualization, which also serves as the first outline for your biography. Then fill in the gaps. Start calmly with the positive life events, as these can often be remembered better. Make a note of everything you can think of. At this point, you don’t have to sort out or formulate anything – bullet points are enough. If you get stuck, answer these questions:
- Which people and events have shaped me and my life?
- Who was at my side in important situations?
- Which experiences have changed me positively or negatively?
- Which changes came from myself and which from other people or circumstances?
- What decisions have I made consciously?
- What did I dream of? What has been fulfilled and what has not?
- What goals have I pursued? Have I reached them? Why or why not?
- What are my priorities? What is important to me?
- What do I wish for in the future? Am I missing something?
- How do I imagine my life in the further course?
Our memories are subjective and fade with time. Especially the first years of life we can usually no longer remember. Therefore, look for old letters, diaries, and photos and refresh your memories. Also, ask relatives and friends about the background of specific events. How did they experience these situations?
Then, look at your collected memoirs and look for a common thread in your story. This can be, for example, your career, your favorite hobby, or a certain place. Have you found a common thread? Then create a concept for your biography based on this by assigning your life story chronologically to different book chapters. The structure of a biography usually also includes a preface (prologue) and an epilogue (epilogue). The red thread and the structure in chapters give you a pattern and help you to write an exciting biography in the next step.
Writing an exciting biography – With these tips, it succeeds
The most important thing is done: You have collected your life memories and prepared them in a concept. Now you can start writing your autobiography. Take a look at chapter after chapter and just start writing. You will only edit your text afterward. That way, you stay in the flow of writing.
As a reminder: In an autobiography, you write the text from the first-person perspective, because this is about your life story. Whether you formulate the events in the present or in the past is a question of style. It is important that you stick to a tense. In addition, avoid long nested sentences and too many foreign words or technical terms. Instead, use clear and simple language.
A good writer does not just tell the events in turn, but also creates worlds in the minds of the readers. In English, this is called “Show, don’t tell!” and is also possible when writing a biography. Do not describe relevant moments and moods in your life as “beautiful” or “sad”. Write excitingly and vividly by remembering with all your senses the moment you want to report on. What did you see, hear, smell, taste, and above all feel back then? Do you find suitable paraphrases? Tell the situation so vividly with the help of sensory perceptions, descriptive adjectives, and comparisons that readers can visualize the moment. You don’t have to name and explain everything in a very small way. Trust your readers to be able to read between the lines.
When writing your biography, also think of the arc of suspense. Because dramaturgy plays an important role not only in a novel. Think of your life story as a novel with an introduction, the main part with conflicts and turning points, and a final part. Build up tension successively and give your readers a reason to continue browsing.
Write your biography as if you were telling your story face-to-face to someone who doesn’t know you yet – personal, structured, exciting, and, above all, understandable. The motto is your life, your writing style.
Revise the biography text
After you have written the first draft of your biography, it is now time to revise the text. Allow yourself a few days off and then face your text with a fresh look. When reading, first pay attention to the content logic of your story. Change sections, reformulate, shorten or supplement until everything is consistent. In the next rounds, for example, you look at spelling, grammar, and word duplications. Repeat this process as many times as necessary.
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How long does it take to write a biography?
How long it takes you to write your own biography depends on many factors. For example, how much time do you basically have daily for biography writing, whether you need to invest a lot of time in research, and whether you have written other books at all and are familiar with the creation process? So it can take you from a few months to several years to write a book about your life. Do I have to write my
Biography me or can I also have my biography written?
If you don’t want to write your biography yourself, you can also hire a biographer to do it. However, having a biography written is usually very costly. In addition, especially with an autobiography, it is more personal if you write about your life yourself.