Many people have thought about writing a book based on their lives. While it’s exciting to imagine telling your story, the challenge lies in sitting down at the keyboard and getting it done. First-time writers can be overwhelmed by the task of organizing their projects and using their time efficiently. Often they’ll make a promising start, then bog down after a chapter or two. Writing is time consuming work that takes commitment and focus. It’s harder than it may seem.
Many would-be writers turn to collaborators for help. An experienced co-writer will be able to sit down with you, plan your project, and guide you through the process of getting your novel written. Another alternative is to hire a ghostwriter, who works behind the scenes to help craft the book you want in your own words.
Whether you choose a co-writer or ghostwriter, you will retain complete control over the story. You can have them add or change parts of the story, and you have final approval over every word that goes onto the page.
John Perry, an accomplished author and biographer, explains the process of writing an autobiographical novel and how a co-writer or ghostwriter can help you put your vision on paper.
Before you start writing, the best thing to do is to sit down and outline your book. It’s best to structure your story in classic form with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Whether to Fictionalize Events and Characters
As you begin, you have the choice of presenting people and events exactly as you recall them or taking some measure of artistic license. If you write unflattering things about people who recognize themselves in your book, you may lose friends (or even open yourself up to legal action). John Perry advises writers to think carefully about this decision before getting started. By fictionalizing some characters and events, you have the freedom to embellish facts to make them more interesting. If you want to include episodes that may upset some of the real-life characters, at least change their names or make other alterations to avoid conflict down the road.
Making Sense of the Story
Even if you have decided to write the story of your life exactly as you remember it, you still need to structure your outline carefully. As you follow your inspiration, it’s easy to find yourself floating from scene to scene with little overarching structure. If readers can’t follow the narrative easily, they’re likely to give up and put the book down.
True or fictional, the best stories are built around a central conflict and how that conflict is resolved. The more growth and development your main character (you!) shows, the more interesting and compelling the story will be for your reader. You are writing in order to share your wisdom and life lessons. The best way to showcase them is by revealing how your beliefs and character developed over the years, and what the results were of those developments.
Describing Settings and Characters
Telling the reader what happened is only part of your task as a writer. Don’t simply relate the facts and leave it at that. Describe the characters. What do they look like, sound like? How do they walk? What makes them unforgettable or at least interesting? Give the reader a mental image of every character in a scene. And while you’re at it, set the scene. Give your reader the details. What does the room look like? Take us there! As you stand in the scene, what do you hear? What do you smell? Is there a breeze? Is it luxurious? Shabby? Again, help the reader paint a picture.
On the other hand, don’t go overboard with your descriptions. If you spend half a page describing a person or a sunset, unless the detail is necessary to the scene and you do a superb job with it, your readers will start to drift. “Purple prose”, or overly descriptive writing, is one of most readers’ pet peeves, and justifiably so.
Make Yourself Relatable
As you portray what’s happening on the outside of your character’s life, don’t forget to write about the inside. Sending your main character on life’s journey without revealing their emotions and thoughts will make it seem like a robot narrator is in charge. Though sharing your inner thoughts may be frightening, emotional vulnerability is a key component in connecting with your reader. It encourages them to invest emotionally in your story as well.
After your novel is complete, your manuscript will need to be professionally edited. You can choose from a developmental editor (who makes suggestions about plot, continuity, and other creative variables) or a copy editor (who corrects spelling, grammar, and other technical points) or use both during the course of your creative process. If you partner with a publishing company to get your book in print, the publisher may provide these editors for you.
It’s true that some writers tackle their project completely alone, and it’s possible to produce a good book this way. But most would-be autobiography writers don’t have the time or experience to succeed without help. A co-writer or ghostwriter can be a crucial resource. A publishing partner who knows the business also gives you a huge advantage. With a professional in your corner, your work is far more likely to be published. It is possible to self-publish the finished product on Amazon or another Internet-based publisher, but your work will not have the stamp of approval that it would receive with a publisher’s imprint on the outside and the professional polish of a co-writer or ghostwriter on the inside.
An experienced author will have contacts within the publishing industry, and it will be easier for them to help you shop your novel around for agents and publishers. This step can be excruciatingly difficult for first-time authors.
Choosing Your Options
Writing a book based on your life is a uniquely rewarding experience. You will have the opportunity to reflect on the events that have shaped your life and your personality. The process can also be emotionally difficult at times. Having a co-writer or ghostwriter will keep you on task and help you follow through and finish strong.
John Perry encourages everyone who wants to write an autobiography to get started and make that dream a reality. And remember that a professional co-writer or ghostwriter is always ready to help.