How challenging can it be, writing about one’s own life? As it turns out, quite challenging indeed! However, with some useful pointers, we bet you could not only do it, but do it quite well!
It is important to understand that, though they are often used interchangeably, an autobiography, biography and memoir are fundamentally different from each other. Understanding this makes it easier for the writer to decide how they want their story to be told. At their most basic, all three fall under the non-fiction category. But that is where the similarities end.
Both a biography and autobiography are chronological narratives spanning a lifetime, but the writing process and expression of the story are in contrast with each other. The task of writing a biography is often taken upon by someone who has been intrigued by another person’s life story. Biographies are most popularly found in history sections of stores, with devoted scholars paying tribute to the protagonist, sometimes with the help of the subject’s surviving family. One famous literary example is The Life of Charlotte Brontë, written by Elizabeth Gaskell, who referred to her own friendship with Brontë, as well as the letters the Jane Eyre author wrote to a friend before her death in 1855.
Autobiographies can very well make do without the formal air. The unique element of this form is outside the story, i.e., the voice of the writer. No one can tell your story better than yourself! The autobiographer also has the liberty to insert stories which would not be included by a traditional biographer, who would have a more fact-based approach. Zorba has previously published The Ascent of a Rural Boy by Dr. T.C. Jain, who chronicles his life journey from a remote village in Rajasthan, to working as a consultant with the World Bank.
The Ascent of a Rural Boy
Memoirs are bite-sized autobiographies. Depending on which aspect of your life you have chosen, your memoir could either take the readers on a roller-coaster ride of various emotions, or lend a nostalgic filter to comparatively sober but insightful moments. There’s no rule on what the focus of a memoir should be, but most people use it as an opportunity to write about trying times, often lending inspiration and motivation. Zorba Books is proud to have published such a memoir with Dr. Padma Bandopadhyay, who wrote down her story of being the very first lady Air Marshal of the Indian Air Force in her book, The Lady in Blue. Another memoir published by us is Karachi Halwa, a witty recollection by an Indian diplomat of his stay in Pakistan in the early 80s.
The Lady in Blue: The Memoirs of India’s First Lady Air Marshal
It is a myth that these three forms can only be written by or about someone famous or very significant. Everyone’s life has something to offer, something to teach, and something that can inspire others. An ordinary life can have extraordinary experiences. So, what should you keep in mind before embarking on this beautiful and exciting journey of recalling and reliving your own life, of sharing your private life with the public?
- You can start by making a timeline, or rather, a graph of your life. This small exercise will help you recognize the ups-and-downs which will be needed to frame a narrative.
- While it is good to keep track of dates, most memoirs and autobiographies are unique because each writer sticks to their own emotional truth. So don’t underestimate your side of the story. Write down your past and present perspective on life events that have shaped you.
- Think of a title which essentially, promises a story to the reader.
- If one image alone could summarise your story, what would it be? Brainstorm with family and close friends, and get an idea of what symbolizes you as an individual. You can refer back to this when you start looking up ideas for your book cover!
It takes a special kind of artistic discipline to write in any one of these genres. If you are looking for some motivation, here is a list of some more life stories:
- Motivational Steps: Rags to Riches Story by Ramesh Pandey
- The False Spy by Major Nirmal Ajwani (Retd.)
- Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight? by Mohan Gopinath