Writing an autobiography is not everyone’s cup of tea, nor is an autobiography always the best format for sharing your message of inspiration, motivation, education, and encouragement with your readers.
When it is, however, knowing how to approach the issue of exposing yourself (and others) throughout the scope of your story can sometimes be challenging. Many writers struggle with discerning the appropriate balance between sharing yourself for the sake of the story and sharing yourself to get things “off your chest.”
Below are three important factors I have learned throughout my own writing journey. Each of them circles back to the foundational concept that I believe autobiographical writing should be: helping and inspiring others to become their best selves by sharing the unique story of you.
While history proves the human population is made up of widely diverse individuals, it also clearly shows we all have similar emotional battles and intellectual perspectives that overlap in many ways. Because we each walk a different life journey that is solely ours, sharing ourselves can be universally beneficial.
What you learned or experienced at age eight, for example, I might not have had the opportunity to learn or experience until I was in my twenties. Lessons I learned from a situation I experienced in my teens might not be something you were ever exposed to and subsequently never had reason to consider. This is why exposing ourselves through writing to help and inspire others is so valuable.
So, how do we do that?
Let’s delve in.
- What makes you real also makes you relatable.
While self-exposure can sometimes be awkward and uncomfortable, it gives your readers something relevant they can grasp. It puts you on their level, so to speak, because you are able to show through your story how similar you are as individuals.
Even if the situations and experiences discussed in your story are not directly applicable to your readers, the opportunity for them to appreciate the core of your message may be life-changing for them. How cool is that?
I believe the value of writing an autobiography is to reveal yourself in a way that connects you to your readers and cultivates in them the desire to self-evaluate to the extent that they discover themselves on a deeper level. That is where the true power of writing exists.
- Help the story with discretion.
Knowing how to share your message is important to the impact of that message. Readers usually know when you’re divulging details simply for the sake of dramatic effect. I am sure you have read your fair share of such content and have been able to easily discern between necessary and unnecessary details. Remember: the story will speak for itself to the extent you allow it to.
Spelling out the truth as you perceive it in a way that propels the story and letting the audience interpret the rest carries immense power. And saying less with clarity and conciseness often has more impact than trying to control what the reader would otherwise walk away with.
Additionally, readers generally prefer the freedom to make their own conclusions about what they read. Trying to manipulate your readers is rarely productive. If your coworker did X-Y-Z to cause division between you and your best friend, simply tell those facts and let your readers surmise the rest.
Expressing how your coworker’s actions made you feel or how they changed your relationship with your friend is much more impactful than focusing on and trying to dissect the negative behavior your coworker exhibited.
Say “Jane did X and it made me feel this way” versus “Jane did X because she was … (fill in the blank).” This guards you against defamation claims and misrepresentation because you’re focusing only on yourself and your experience.
- Be open and honest for the service of the work, not for shock value.
Sharing details of your life is essential for both your personal writing success and the inspiration of your readers. Because, again, motivating, encouraging, and educating readers to the end they are challenged to become their best selves is one of the foundational purposes of writing an autobiography.
But sharing details of your life that are not relevant to the inspiration of your readers is a waste of time and page space. And few of us have time for that.
Realizing others can benefit from sharing about both yourself and your life experiences is empowering. It will aid you in the sometimes difficult process of exposing yourself to others in ways you might not have ever done before.
It can be scary, yes, but it is worth it. Like me, and many others, you may feel like your life has not been “impressive” or that telling your story is more a vanity piece than a possible inspiration to others.
But as I mentioned above, we each walk a different journey in life that is uniquely ours, and sharing of ourselves can be universally beneficial. Just as you’ve been challenged and encouraged by hearing about other people’s lives, so you can spread a message of hope, healing, and inspiration to your readers by sharing about your life.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions, or to share the ways writing your story has helped you connect with your readers and inspire them to become their best selves.