Writing About Your Life

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(I’m not writing an one, but) I’m not quite sure I understand how people can write autobiographies about their life (probably redundant, but whatever).

Like how do you know what’s important? What people care about? What “scenes” from the days you were on Earth move along some sort of narrative that you’ve felt was important enough to share with everyone?

I’m having a hard time with my Camp novel this month. I mean, I wrote the first 149 words (milestone, woo!) and now I’m having a hard time writing the next batch of them. I did some very minor planning: a very basic list of important events that should probably be covered, but then I wonder if maybe some of them aren’t really integral to the storyline. 

Autobiographies miraculously span YEARS of peoples’ lives. My Camp novel is about my 18 month engagement and all the wackiness and stress that came with it.

Some of the scenes are months apart. How are you supposed to transition between them without being super choppy and hard to follow? Maybe a part of that comes with manipulating the timing a little bit (hence CREATIVE nonfiction).

Maybe I should stop worrying about all of this for right now and just WRITE THE DAMN STORY.

I’m unfortunately very good at making excuses for why I should give up on something. I’m a habitual complainer about my life, but I never do much to change it.

I’ve gotten so much great feedback about this project before I’ve even started it, and that should be more than enough motivation to get me to start writing. I’m just hyper critical about things I really care about. 

Or maybe I’m just loaded in self-pity.


How interesting it is that trying to write about my life now has me thinking about my life in such an introspective way.

But back to my original point — writing a true-life story is hard when it spans such a long period of time. I’m going to do my best to work through it, get a draft done. Then I’ll probably pick up some autobiographies and see how other people have managed to jam more than 18 months of somewhat disjointed pieces of a story into one cohesive novel. (If you have recommendations, I’d love to hear them.)

I KNOW it’s possible. I guess I’ve only ever written stories that span maybe a week or two. Just gotta get out of my comfort zone a little.

How’s your current WIP going? What struggles are you facing with getting the draft done? Let’s commiserate together.




17 thoughts on “Writing About Your Life

  1. My first two books started out very much based on my life, and what I would suggest is for the first draft, write everything YOU want to write, everything you need to get out for therapeutic reasons, everything you found interesting. Then when it’s time for the second (and third and fourth drafts), it will become more clear as you’re reading it what is actually interesting and/or what’s not working. By the time the 8th draft rolled around they were much farther from my actual experience and much more fun to read.

  2. Ben Franklin set the standard on writing an autobiography, he sort of set the tone for writers that came after him, when they tried to write a biography of Ben.

    I think an autobiography is best written towards the end of one’s life, sort of a final say. You can write about individual events you participate in such as when Caesar wrote about his Gallic Wars.

  3. Interesting! I would find it much easier to write a book about my life than a fictional piece! I do intend to write this very book about my life one day. Maybe think about it as a series of memoirs, or stories about your life, in no particular order, each one being a different chapter. And I’m sure your readers would be very interested in what you have to say, as it would be different from their own lives.

  4. I’m using Camp to edit a novel a wrote during a previous NaNo. It’s going better than I expected. I was going to do an hour a day of editing and I’m ahead of schedule. The novel is kind of about my life, except it is set in the year 2074 and is about a 12-year old and her family. So clearly I have managed to get some distance from it, finally, and it is starting to feel more like fiction.

  5. My life hasn’t achieved as many ‘milestones’ as to be expected for a woman my age, so I can’t fathom ever wanting to write an autobiography. However, I have lots of respect for people who do, for it presents different challenges. Don’t lose faith. Take your time. The words will come.

  6. My book for Camp is going along fine, thanks for asking! 😛 I hope everything works out for you and you get that book written! 🙂 I don’t know if I’d ever consider an autobiography … I have created several characters that resembled me and put them through similar things that I’ve gone through … but I don’t know about a strict autobiography. Hmm.

  7. Writing about your life is also difficult because you are dealing with real people (not to say that fictional characters aren’t real – I’d argue that if they’re well-written and we experience them as real, they exist…somewhere) who are still alive at the time of writing (well, in your case – right?). Writing is stressful of its own accord, but writing about people you might have to come face to face with (unlike, say, writing about that one crazy trip abroad where you met a tall, dark, handsome stranger who you will never meet again) is even more stressful. Because inevitably, some of them will want to comment on it. Not to tell you whether it’s good or bad, but to express their surprise at how you’ve described them. They marry (pun intended) the views expressed in the writing with the person. Obviously, because you are the writer, you take responsibility for what you say, but even if you’re trying to stick to the facts, it’s your writing, and your voice. If you felt stressed, angry, sad, treated like shit, treated like a queen, it still comes through. Does that make sense? As much as some people claim they might want to be immortalised in writing, they might get more than they bargained for.

    Also, if you get stuck, maybe juggle around with the form? For example, you could write it like a cookbook of recipes (on how not to plan a wedding) or one of those ‘For Dummies’ books ( http://www.dummies.com/Section/id-323904.html ). It might sound ridiculous, but a change in tone and structure might cast a different light on certain events and help you figure out where to put the emphasis? (Possibly… I have no idea if it will!)

    My project is turning out weird – it’s taken on a life of its own. It was supposed to be a story suited for the pre-teen kids of a distant relative (hence the penguins) .Instead, it’s becoming a grim tale of Antarctic exploration with a lot of existential angst thrown in…

  8. Don’t edit just put a page break between each incident or memory. I do the same, I really need to get to grips with Scrivener as I understand it helps put all the bits back together. Have you joined a cabin in Nano?

  9. I struggle with writing stories that span large chunks of time — even in the TOTALLY fiction sense! The first book I wrote was like 120k and spanned… two weeks, I think? Each day was like three chapters… it was ridiculous. Since then I’ve gotten better, spanning a few months and such — but from my probably-not-the-best-perspective advice, I agree with Christie Adams’ idea about putting a page break. Write down the memories, and you can always streamline later, or leave it like that! I’ve read books that are put together as memories, or starting up scenes with weeks (or months) in between. With a little backfill of details you may need (throughout the story going forward, of course), it seems to work out pretty well. Reader’s perspective, there.

    Also, I nominated you for one of those “random things about me” blogging hop things that run around WordPress. They’re pretty fun, but feel free to ignore. X-P


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