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Writing Your Autobiography: A Guide for Seniors

Seniors have a lifetime of experiences, memories, and wisdom to share. They have lived through historical events and hold personal sentiment for friends and family members that their loved ones have no memories of, or only a few. For many seniors, writing an autobiography is a chance to pass on their family history and anecdotes to future generations. The information shared in an autobiography is an attempt for seniors to connect their children and their grandchildren to the past and their ancestors. 

Along with the sentimental value, the challenge of writing an autobiography and expressing thoughts in writing can provide therapeutic benefits to older adults. It can relieve stress and depression, and according to U.S. News, “writing about emotionally charged subjects also can improve mental health, including symptoms of depressionanxiety, major depressive disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans. 

So How Can You Get Started?

Writing an autobiography is a big event. The hardest part is getting started. You have a lifetime of memories and experiences that you want to share, but how do you organize them in a way that is readable and makes sense?

  1. Make A Definite Plan – The first thing you need to decide is how to get your story out of your mind and on paper. There are so many options! If you struggle with computers and writing with a pencil, the choice is not off the table. You can use a voice recorder and speak your story to have it transcribed later onto paper. You can produce video recordings. You can ask a family member to help with getting your thoughts in order. Whichever way you need to do it, you can! 
  2. Finding and Organizing the Memories – Gather everything you can find. Photos, letters, newspaper clippings, souvenirs, anything that can trigger memories about your life and your journey. Talk to old friends and family members to relive certain moments with them. Look up information about historical events during your lifetime and think about what you were doing during those times. Explore your past daily routines. There may be a lot of research during this portion of writing your autobiography, but it is a beautiful journey. 
  3. Categorize Events and Themes of Your Life – You do not have to structure your autobiography from beginning to end. You don’t have to create a timeline. If you want to, you can. But it’s best to start by grouping information in an outline. Here is an example:
    1. My Parents
    2. Life In New York
    3. How I Found Dance
    4. My Spiritual Foundation
    5. Children and Parenting
    6. Finding Love
    7. Losing Love
    8. Happiest Childhood Memories
    9. Family Traditions

“Along with the sentimental value, the challenge of writing an autobiography and expressing thoughts in writing can provide therapeutic benefits to older adults.”

Each category provides detail, dates, personal reflections, the political world at that time, your financial state, and family dynamics. Describe what your relationships were life, what you were afraid of, what helped you overcome hardships, and what led you to become the person you are. 

4. Don’t Think That You Are Alone – There are so many resources available to people who want to write. There are courses, books, and groups that provide support and valuable resources to those who want to learn how to write a memoir. You can learn more about the writing process, gather ideas from others who have moved forward in their autobiographical endeavors, receive feedback from other writers and readers, and find help organizing your own story in a creative and riveting written format. 

 5. Explore Yourself – Ask yourself questions throughout the autobiography. You can even add a category called Writing Prompts. You can go back and add these in different sections of your autobiography as you see fit, or the answers to your questions can be its section altogether. You might ask yourself:

      • “What was I taught about religion and spirituality?”
      • “Who was the person I most admired?”
      • “What historical events have happened in my lifetime?”
      • “Do I have any regrets, and would I do anything differently?”
      • “What was my childhood home like?”
      • “Do any smells, songs, or sights trigger memories in your life?”