Collins, C., Petermeier, H. 2009, Creating an Autobiography: Starting the Process, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS 09-02

Where were you born? Have you ever been married or had any children? What was your career? These and many other questions can help you draw upon your lifetime memories and create an autobiography for you, your family and friends. Creating an autobiography helps older adults write about their lives in a way that can enhance social and family networks and improve their self-esteem, important factors in maintaining physical and mental well-being. This writing and sharing process can add meaning to seniors’ lives by helping them better understand the past and present.

The life history process comprises four incremental action steps: thinking, talking, writing and sharing. This process offers a way to tell your story, both as a means of being heard and as a means of providing your family with a document of historical val-ue. Both the process of life review and the autobiographical final product can produce great mental and emotional benefits. Now, you might be thinking:

“My life isn’t that interesting.” No one’s life is fascinating every minute or every day. But there are many things that contribute to the fabric of your life stories that are interesting. Older adults have had many interesting experiences—Depression Era, World Wars, the invention of television and witnessing the first trip to the moon.

“Who would want to read my story?” Ask yourself, “How interested would I be in reading a page, a paragraph or even a sentence that my parents or grandparents wrote about their lives?” Your children, grandchildren or nieces/ nephews would be just as fascinated by details of your life.

Get Thinking

First, get thinking about recounting your life. Consider different approaches to an autobiography, including the possible scope of the work—from one-page sketches to book-length manuscripts. You may tell your story in a variety of traditional written formats as well as in poetry, cookbooks, plays, art, photo albums and songs. There is no wrong approach—create your story in your own style!

Then think about what aspect of your life you would like to memorialize, beginning an-ywhere you deem important. New ideas may take shape as you the read newspapers, watch television or chat with friends. Hearing others reminiscing about their lives sparks ideas in those who are listening and reminds them of incidents from their own lives. Just remember that your story is important—to you, your family and friends!

Get Talking

Many people love to talk, so after some reflection the major challenge is to transition to writing. To help this process use this list of questions that include far-ranging topics such as:

  • What were crucial turning points in your life, the decisions you made, the consequences?
  • Describe an incident you remember from your school days.
  • How did your family spend vacations or celebrate holidays?
  • How did you meet your spouse?
  • Where have you lived?
  • What is special or unique about you or your family?
  • What major world events influenced your daily life?
  • What newspaper headline can you still see in your mind?
  • Did you have a hobby or favorite pastime?
  • Do you remember your first driving lesson, date or job?

Ready to Write?

Start by writing about one topic, event or life situation. Remember to use dates, places, names and other specific details. Add poignant memories, insights and emotions.

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