If you want to write a biography, you don’t have to wait half a century. There are enough examples of young people who have something to say. In some cases, it is something very beautiful, in others it is something very stressful. There are many reasons why a person decides to write his / her biography. However, you don’t have to be a celebrity to write a book about your own life.
How do you write a biography?
Athletes, stars, young entrepreneurs, activists like Greta Thunberg, but also refugees, sect dropouts, or people who had to overcome severe personal crises – they can all tell something that interests, inspires, or encourages other people. However, it is not possible to include every detail of life in a biography. That’s why writing a biography is also about the art of omission. Therefore, you should first determine what is particularly important to you before you start writing your biography.
So you should be clear about where your focus is: do you want to become a famous author with a book about your life or do you write it for friends and acquaintances? This decision influences everything else: Do you want to try it at a publisher or do you decide to self-publish and/or only want to write an eBook? Do you proofread a book or have a friend proofread it? To decide that, you have to be very aware of your motivation.
Difference Between Biography and Autobiography
The general difference between autobiography and biography writing lies with whoever is writing the book. An autobiography is a review of your own life. A biography, on the other hand, can also be written by someone who has never met the person portrayed in person. However, many find the prefix “auto” too bulky, which is why they simply say “write my biography” instead of “write an autobiography”.
However, autobiography and biography have one crucial thing in common: Both are based on sources such as documents, photos, conversations, etc.
In general, writing a biography is about reporting as completely and authentically as possible. However, if you only want to present a certain aspect, for example how you mastered a stroke of fate, then it is better to write “memories” or “memoirs”.
In contrast to writing a biography, you can use memoirs to tell about what you like at the moment, without having to claim completeness. However, memoirs are mostly written by personalities who have achieved something great. In their memoirs, they do not present their complete personal career, but rather concentrate on the historical moment. For the not-so-famous people, the memoirs are then called “life memories”.
Finally, you can write an autobiographical novel in which elements are omitted, added, or changed. In contrast to biography writing, the autobiographical novel mixes fact and fiction. It is not clear to the reader which parts are true and which parts are fictitious. In this case, by the way, you should take advantage of a novel proofreading service if you decide to have a professional proofreading service.
Writing your biography: when and why?
Writing a biography can help to process events, give meaning to one’s own life story, or encourage other people with one’s example. There are no special conditions for writing a biography, such as minimum age or a certain level of fame. Anyone who wants to share their experiences and keep their memories can tell their story.
In sociology, biography work is a recognized research approach. The basic idea is that writing gives people access to their creativity, which they in turn can use to shape and cope with their lives (cf. v. Engelhardt, 2018).
In addition, biographies are interesting for sociological research, as they always provide insights into a particular society and milieu. For example, Prof. Liebold from FAU Erlangen shows how such texts can be analyzed using documentary methods. To this end, she researches current autobiographies of the business elite and works out specific patterns of self-portrayal by elites (cf. Liebold, 2018).
Another sociological focus is the “Memory” archive. The eyewitness interviews are about how people experienced history and how historical experiences were processed.
Writing a biography: structure + concept
Before you start writing your bio, you should decide whether you want to publish your book or whether it should remain private. In the latter case, you need to take into account that readers are unfamiliar with your story. It may be helpful to add a timeline or a chronological overview to your biography.
Writing a biography is also easier for yourself if you work with a timeline. You can use it to visualize the main characters and main lines. It is also suitable for planning time leaps or flashbacks.
Usually, the structure of a biography is quite straightforward: the book begins at birth and ends at the time of writing the biography. However, there are attractive alternatives. Your first memories could just as well be at the beginning. Because who remembers when they were born? Or you start with an event that changed your life and moved you to write your biography.
A foreword and an epilogue round off your biography.
Life path in chapters
Of course, when writing a biography, it is advisable to structure it according to the normal stages of life, i.e. birth, childhood, youth and school time, career. However, it is much more exciting for the reader if you orientate yourself on your most intense experiences when writing your biography. As a result, you should above all work out defining sections, i.e. friendships, crises, professional or private turning points, possibly also social events.
In addition, the book is more pleasant to read if you divide it into subsections. Therefore, when you talk about your profession, you can, for example, start with a section about career choice. After all, it’s interesting to read how you got into the job in the first place. Did you have any other career aspirations? Who were your role models? Next, you can add a separate section about your education and a section about your first years of employment. Perhaps you have changed company, retrained, and started all over again?
The modern paths of life are no longer as straightforward as the paths of previous generations. Aside from structuring your biography writing, dividing the chapters into subsections will also make it easier for your reader to follow you.
See also: Julius Caesar Biography: Facts & History
Checklist: Which stations are important?
Although a biography usually spans the life path from birth to the time of writing the biography, in the end, you decide for yourself how much you want to share. Therefore, instead of sticking to a strictly chronological sequence, you can start your biography with a decisive experience. Of course, what you find interesting can differ from what the reader finds exciting. That is why we have put together a checklist for you, which stations you should consider in your biography:
- Formative experiences
- Professional and personal turning points
- Important people in your life
- External circumstances such as the zeitgeist or important political events
- Recurring questions
Researching and writing the biography
Research plays a central role in writing a biography, just like if you want to write a crime thriller or a non-fiction book. The reason for this is that biographies have to “stand up to the test of truth”. So try to reconstruct the facts as precisely as possible and back them up with suitable documents. (see Laferl, Tippner 2016)
Some stylistic rules apply to writing a biography. One of the basic rules is that you should stick to one tense (present or past tense) and one perspective (e.g. first-person narrator).
If you plan to publish your biography, you have to observe personal rights. Therefore, you should have the consent of the people who will appear in your book. Before you start writing your biography, you should also obtain the publication rights for photos, letters, etc.
By the way, don’t worry if you get writer’s block. Whole books have been written about how such blockages can be overcome. The bottom line is the core wisdom: The “writing genius” only exists as a myth. “Writing is a craft that one learns through persistent, regular practice and continuously develops it.” (Vedral, Ederer-Fick 2015). For you that means in concrete terms: stay tuned!
FAQ writing a biography
Does that mean writing a biography or a biography?
Both spellings are correct. The Duden recommends, however, the spelling with “f” instead of “ph”, so write a biography.
Can I write about others in my biography?
If you want to publish your biography, you need the consent of the people portrayed. Otherwise, you could be sued for violating personal rights in your project to write a biography.
Can I use my résumé as a guide when writing a biography?
Writing a résumé is based on completely different criteria than writing a biography. A curriculum vitae usually consists of 2 pages in A4 format and presents the most important facts from the person’s life in tabular form. When writing a biography, however, it can be helpful as a timeline.
Can I hire a ghostwriter to write my biography?
The ghostwriter can assign all rights of use to the book when writing a biography. Something like that can be regulated by contract. On the other hand, he cannot give up his authorship, because this is not assignable under law.