Tips for Autobiographical Writing

Many people feel intimidated or overwhelmed at the prospect of writing about their memories and themselves. This is understandable. But please don’t let these feelings stop you. 

At the beginning, don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or what anyone else will think about what you’re writing. Just write about the memory the way it wants to come out. You can always go back later and revise the spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You are also free to put aside or tear up any writing that you don’t want anyone else to see. Just writing about a particular experience can be therapeutic.

  • Don’t think too much when you write your first draft. The first thing that comes to mind is the first thing that comes to your mind for a reason—it wants you to pay attention to it. Just keep writing, preferably without stopping, until everything that wants to come out is down on paper or on the computer screen.
  • Write as you speak. Trying too hard to sound impressive can make you sound pompous or snobbish instead.
  • Explain any slang or jargon that you use. (Jargon is terminology that has specific meaning for a particular profession or occupation.) Also, include a short definition or description of items that future generations may be unfamiliar with. (Kids today already don’t know what a record album was, and they surely have no idea of what a rumbleseat might have been.)
  • Don’t just describe events or people. Be sure to include how you felt about the experience you’re describing.
  • To make your writing come to life, describe your memories in as much specific detail as possible. Were the flowers in your grandmother’s garden roses, peonies, or zinnias? Were those flowers colorful, or were they masses of light yellow, gold, burnt orange, hot pink, and candy apple red? It often helps when writing description to think about the five senses—touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing—and include as many details for each as you can remember or as are appropriate for what you’re describing. 
  • We don’t remember only sensory details about our experiences; we store our memories with the emotions that accompanied the event. In fact, you’ll probably notice that, as you write about your memories, you’ll experience the same sadness or happiness, the same churning gut or sweaty palms that you felt way back then. Don’t worry about this; it’s a normal reaction. To give your writing depth, include these emotional aspects in your discussion of the experience.
  • Above all, be honest.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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