1. thelimoman
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    thelimoman New Member

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    Writing my autobiography!!!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by thelimoman, Mar 28, 2011.

    Hey everyone, I just signed up to this forum and wondered if I could possibly get some advice about my autobiography which I am currently writing.

    I have made several attempts to start writing it over the years but never got past the first chapter. This time though is much different - I have written the first four chapters in the last 3 days!

    I'm just wondering - do I need to slow down a bit or should I just write, write, write? Also, how long should a typical chapter be?

    My first chapter is currently 1,700 words, chapter 2 is 2,700 words, chapter 3 is 2,800 words and chapter 4 is 4,000 words.

    I'm also having trouble deciding about names of people I have mentioned in the book. I will be revealing a hell of a lot of information throughout this book about people from my life that others do not know and I wondered, should I change their names? If so, do I do that myself or wait until sending it to a publisher and ask them to change names? That is of course if I do end up sending it to a publisher, also a little unsure what to do when I eventually finish writing!

    OMG, I'm so confused, hahaha!

    Any opinions would be gratefully appreciated.
     
  2. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    The general feeling - around here at least - is that you should just plough on with the writing and worry about perfecting what you've produced later.

    Standard procedure is to use real names unless there's an acute reason not to - it will cause undue pain for others still alive or provoke unwanted legal attention.

    If your remembrances are of the sort: I had that Tom Cruise in the back of my car the other day, not using the real name would likely be disastrous in terms of readability and sellability.
     
  3. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stop worrying about chapter length - there is no set rule. If a publisher wants you to lengthen or shorten a chapter I am sure he will discuss that with you.

    When writing your autobiography try to avoid using the 'I' word, as in "aren't 'I' wonderful 'I' did this and 'I' did that".

    Imo it would be best, not to make yourself the centre of attention. I don't know what your story is about but if you can give a eyewitness account of what is happening around you so that the reader can see what is going on through your eye's rather than what you did or didn't do.

    Have your read any autobiographies written by 'ordinary' people? (I take it you are ordinary- maybe with an extraordinary tale to tell). There are quite a number of ab's out there.
     
  4. thelimoman
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    thelimoman New Member

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    Thanks!

    Thanks for the input.

    With regards to the names - there are going to be revelations (sexually) about certain people that people wouldn't otherwise know, that is why I was considering changing names to protect their identities!

    As for the "I" factor - yes I do mention it a lot, but I think it will help people more because they are my experiences, therefore people will know I am talking about things I see and do - if that makes sense?

    As for what it is about, well that is a huge variety actually - including things like child abuse, foster care, high school, sexuality, friendship, drugs, employment experiences, etc!

    I have read a few autobiographies of a similar kind to my own such as Dave Pelzer's books "A child called it" and "The Lost Boy!" I have also read "The Kid" by Kevin Lewis and a couple of other similar books which I can't recall the titles of right now.

    It was reading those kind of books that prompted me to originally start writing my own and making several failed attempts at doing so, thus leading me to where I am now!
     
  5. barnz
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    barnz Member

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    Seeing a lot of "I" would get on my nerves very quickly, be careful when writing in first person! Plus, I'd recommend reading more than a few autobiographies in order to get the feel of the style and voice that the authors utilize.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...just write for as long as you have time for and words that need to be written...

    ...there's no such thing as 'should' in re chapter length... some successful authors' books have 2-3 page chapters and some are near book-size... that said, the shorter size is ok for fiction, but doesn't work as well in memoirs/autobiographies...

    ...since this is a non-fiction work, changing names won't make much sense, will it?... besides, the people in your life will know who you mean anyway, so if they don't like what you say about them, they can sue you no matter what fake names you've used...

    ...if you're lucky enought to snag a publisher, they're not going to do that for you... in fact, if it looks like there's a chance of people you write about suing, i doubt you'll get a publisher to take the book on in the first place...

    ...first of all, why are you writing it?... is your life so unusual that total strangers will pay good money to read about you?... or are you doing it to avenge poor treatment by some in your life and want to 'out' them?... the second reason probably isn't going to get you anywhere other than sued for defamation of character or worse, if you self-publish it, but the first might have some chance with paying presses, if you're a good enough writer...

    ...this seems to hint at the second reason above and doesn't bode well for its chances... changing names won't do much [or anything] to protect their identities, since both those people and anyone who knows you will know who you mean, right?...

    ...bottom line is that you should go ahead and write this if:
    1.you've a unique enough story to tell that strangers will pay to buy it
    2.you can write well enough that strangers will read it
    3.you need to write it as a catharsis anyway, and won't care if it never gets published
     
  7. thelimoman
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    thelimoman New Member

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    Wow!!!

    Wow, that's quite a reply! Thanks for posting. With regards to readability, take a look at the first few paragraphs from my book and tell me if it "grabs" you enough to warrant me to continue writing or not...



    I remember sitting on the back seat of my Nan’s red Volkswagen Beetle, looking behind me out of the rear window and wondering if I would ever see my friends again! It was April of 1985. I was 5 years old and it was after school. We had just broken up for the Easter Holidays. Our teacher had given everyone in the class a Cadbury’s Crème Egg and I sat there next to my Brother, Kieran and my sister, Emma, eating that very same egg that had been given to me.

    We were off to our new house in Hornby Avenue – a new start in a different neighbourhood. We had lived in Chestnut Grove for probably about 3 years and I still don’t remember much about living there, just a few shattered memories and several pieces of a puzzle that I have yet to finish.

    Our new house was in a nicer neighbourhood than the previous one, yet it was still on a council estate. I remember that first night in my new bed – my Mum and her husband, John, had got bunk beds for my brother and I. I had never slept so high before so the top bunk was a big luxury for me and I was very excited about it.

    I must have rolled over at some point in the night, forgetting how high I was – I fell out of the bed and landed on the floor with a thud. We hadn’t got any carpet yet so it was just bare floorboards. The initial impact had hurt enough, but the sting from the nail my hand had landed on hurt even more. I cried and my Mum came in to see what the fuss was about.

    She was not impressed that I had woken her up with my crying and slapped me round the head. This just made me cry even more but my Mother was less than sympathetic. She left the room and returned a few moments later with a flannel for my hand. She threw it at me and told me to get back to bed. I mopped up the blood with the flannel and returned to my bed, sobbing myself to sleep.

    I never have been able to understand why my Mum had treated me like that. I still can’t remember her actually hitting me at any point before that night and I still wonder if that was where it all started.
     
  8. barnz
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    barnz Member

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    Again, the first person sounds really pretentious to a modern reader! The sentence structure leaves a lot to be desired... it all begins with "I" or "We" or "Our." So does the passive voice. Keep writing, but remember to work on that writing!
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i did... and, sorry to say, i don't see that as a hook that could grab readers and make them have to go on reading... to be brutally honest, as an agent, a publisher, or just an ordinary reader, i probably wouldn't bother reading past the first sentence, certainly not beyond the first paragraph...

    aside from the blah detail of the beginning, it's simply not written in a compelling fashion, not even close to professional quality... btw, that's a common problem with autobiographies by folks who are not accomplished writers, so don't feel too badly about it...

    you need to study how the bestselling autobios of this type are written and see if you can make this not read as if it was written by someone who's too young to be writing one...

    barnz...
    as for first person, how can anyone write an autobiography from any other pov?... though i agree that beginning too many sentences with first person pronouns should be avoided... however, i don't see 'passive voice' used there... where did you see any?...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  10. alter-ego
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    alter-ego Banned

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    I was mentioned by name in a friends book a few years ago. She told me about it, and I had a call from a fact checker with her editor who just asked a few details. I don't remember her asking permission and I certainly never signed anything. So maybe if your book reached a point where it was picked up by an editor that's what they would do in regards to people you mention.

    Like others have said, if you are just an ordinary person, you are going to have to write a very strong story to compel people to want to read it. Have you considered murdering a few people? Notoriety seems to help sell common peoples autobiography's (joke)

    If you want to read a semi autobiographical book. Take a look at Shantaram. It's the story of an Australian guy that is doing 12 years for robbery, he escapes jail and flees to India. I'm not sure its even semi autobiographical, the stories in it are so obviously made up and can at best be only very loosely based on his real life. He also has what I think is a very amateur style of writing. But if you look the book up, its been very successful and people rave about it being the best thing they have ever read! Go figure the public!?
     
  11. Bay K.
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    Bay K. Contributing Member

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    -- I know one can write an autobiography at any age, but I suggest leaving it off until one is, at least, middle-age.
    Then, you'd be relatively rich with experience and understood quite a bit about (your) life.

    -- For sensitive names you don't want to mention, say, "whom I'll call ..." to show that you're changing their real names.
    But let places, time and events be as accurate as possible.

    -- It's a freaking autobiography, so, of course, 'I' is gonna be quite prominent.
    This is darn right unavoidable.
    Writing in anything other than a strong 1st person POV would be ridiculous.

    -- As to amount of words, quality not quantity.

    Good luck.


    -------------------------------------------
    Be good, wise and strong
     
  12. barnz
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    barnz Member

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    Let me clarify, I'm not arguing for him to write an autobiography in anything other than first person, if you'll refer to my first post in this thread. My point is that in order to draw in a modern reader, it's necessary to bury that first person perspective to the point where the reader doesn't notice it, at least in the opening hook. Also, that there is more to sentence structure than starting with "I," "Our," or "We." First person is fine, it's just hard to suck a reader into the story that begins with "I."

    As for the passive voice, on second reading it's not as widespread as I thought, but "I must have rolled," "She was not impressed," are passive, and at the beginning of a paragraph. Just be careful!
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    those are not 'passive voice' at all... passive would be:

    (something/someone) must have rolled me [passive]
    vs
    i must have rolled [active]

    and

    it did not impress her [passive]
    vs
    she was not impressed [active]
     
  14. barnz
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    barnz Member

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    I stand corrected, regardless, my original point stands.
     
  15. thelimoman
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    thelimoman New Member

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    Wow, what a debate this has become eh! Thanks for all the suggestions everyone, I'll keep them in mind!
     
  16. barnz
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    barnz Member

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    No problem sir! It sounds like you've had quite a few experiences so far on this old rock. Best of luck to you and your endeavors!
     
  17. thelimoman
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    thelimoman New Member

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    I've decided to press on with the writing and have just spent the last 2 hours writing chapter 5 - another 3,700 words and my total word count is now approxiamately 15,000.

    Going well for now, let's hope it continues!!!
     

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