Help & advice

How to write your autobiography - part 3

So far I have asked you to think about your family, the place you lived as a child and your early schooling.

 I cannot stress how important it is to be as detailed as you can, it is the little insights that are the most revealing to future generations. My great-grandfather’s letters are full of such nuggets. He describes the food, and the fact that when he went into a bar in New York it was their habit to give him a bottle and a glass and charge according to how much he drank.


  “Should you patronize a drinking saloon as I did in New York for brandy having a had a very nasty touch of diarrhea (sic) you ask for simply brandy drinks and the bottle and glasses are invariably put before you to help yourself – almost all Yankees chew smoke, the latter religion I strictly believe in.”

When writing to his sweetheart, Emillie (sic) Reid he would describe the fashionable things the American women were wearing.


“The “ Shemale” portions of America during hot days mostly rejoice in shaker bonnets and in the morning “kalliker” dresses very straight down a la town pump style but the bonnets are  good, I believe to protect from sun. I guess you can’t see any face till they turn around.”


“Some few rejoice in hats of two patterns. First pattern much worn. Second ditto used “sum” .

“The fashionable color (sic) in St Joe (St Joseph Missouri August 1868) may be said to range from Royal Blue to Deep Red including yellows and pinks, brown and other tints, as a matter of course being of the number so various are the colors worn they in fact dress very much like the “Lowther arcade dolls” -  only they don’t wear pink shoes and their eyes and tongues move without pulling a string.”

These are not earth shattering facts but they reveal how observant Walter was and gives a rich impression of what it was like living in American in the late 1860s, just two years after the end of the civil war.


So, even though you may not think a description of your school uniform and what the classroom was like, I can assure you it will fascinate your grandchildren and future generations of your family. For instance, my first school insisted that a pocket was sewn into the enormous blue knickers we had to wear as part of our uniform - to store a handkerchief! Can you image, as a six year old, I had to haul up my tunic dress to get at my hankie – couldn’t happen now.

You may find that you want to check your memories with family members – but beware it is astonishing how very different family members’ memories can be.  For instance, my sister and I have totally different memories of our childhood holidays. But your memories are your memories and you don’t have to alter them because they are not exactly the same as others in your family, or school.


Go through the same process for your senior school. Who were your friends? Who were your enemies – if you had any. Were you happy? Who was your favourite teacher? Why were they your favourite?

Did you go to college, or university, or did you learn in the university of life? These are just a very few of the memory jogging questions in the autodotbiography system, which is designed to make it as easy as possible to create a beautifully written and lavishly illustrated book of your life story, for your family.


The next thing to think about is your working life. When I started on local newspapers, at the age of 19, we worked on old fashioned typewriters and had wartime utility furniture, lino on the floor and everyone, except me, smoked like chimneys. At lunchtime we would go down to the local pub and have a couple of drinks. Now newspaper offices are almost teetoal and no-one smokes, at least not in the office. Things are so different and well worth recording.


Another important point to take into consideration is how much you reveal.  There may be parts of your life that are too painful to write about, or some things that are just too personal. No-one is going to force a truth serum down your throat. This is supposed to be a pleasant experience, so write the truth but you don’t have to write the whole truth if you don’t want to. Your family will be delighted to have whatever you feel like sharing.


For many of us our romantic life runs in parallel with our early working days. So, the next thing to think about is that.  Who was your first love, how did you meet your husband/wife/partner? Describe meeting your in-laws for the first time, if you can remember. Describe your wedding day and, if you had one, your honeymoon.


For most people what then follows is having a family. The family growing up.

What were your family homes like? What was your family life like?

Take your family on a wonderful journey through your life, writing about the key events, your health, money, and anything else that you think might interest them. In autodotbiography there are also sections on pets, family recipes and cars/motorbikes. They are important to a great many people.


Finally, give your family the best advice you can on how to live their lives and pass on what you have learned during your life time.

Many of you will be competent on a computer and so you will have compiled these memories into a Word (PC and Mac) or Pages (Mac) and scanned the images you want to use to illustrate your book.


The next thing is to consider how you want to present it.

autodotbiography takes the hard work out for you, as it is not only a virtual ghost writer but also a virtual book designer. So all you have to do is put your memories into the system and it creates a beautifully written and designed hardback book with high quality printing, on high quality paper, designed to last for generations to come and become a treasured family heirloom.

There are other ways to self publish.  There are printers who will layout your book and print it but that generally costs from £2,000.

Companies such as Blurb and Lulu will print your book. In addition to the writing, you will need to do the design and work with their software. The costs for this service will depend on the number of pages in your book and the quality of paper and book cover that you select.

You could video yourself talking to your family. The only downside of that, as far as I can see, is the problem with updating the media – in my lifetime recordings have gone from film to tape and tape has gone from 2” to 1” to digital formats. First we were told CDs would last forever and then DVDs came along with more storage and now we have MP4 and other formats. The danger with videoing yourself, or making a voice recording is that the format won’t be readable in 100 years time – unlike my great-grandfather’s letters which have lasted 140 years so far.


How ever you do it, please JUST DO IT!

Give your past a future and delight your family with your memories.

If you doubt me, read this Sage magazine feature .

Or watch Dick Moon talk about his experience and what his family thought of his book

I only wish I had such a book of my mother’s and father’s lives, and my grandparent’s lives. I created autodotbiography as a tribute to them. Their books would be, without doubt, the most precious things I own.

If you would like to see what a completed book will look like click this link.

If you would like a free trial of autodotbiography to see if it is the right thing for you, the click on the link below.










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