As a writer/reviewer of Indie books, many new authors share their own stories about events that touched their lives with good intentions to reach out to others. I’ve enjoyed the work of these new authors, and applaud them for having the courage to take a personal experience and expose it to the public. I’ve written, interviewed, and tweeted about my own life, especially the tragic family incident that began my writing journey.
Biographies, printed or televised, remain a favorite genre of mine. I give sharp margins to the definitions of “autobiography” and “biography.” Biographies tell the story about a person’s life, while autobiographies are the authors telling the story about his/her life; sometimes called “personal memoirs.” But are autobiographies a good start for the new author? For the Famous, it’s understandable. For the rest of us, it’s questionable.
Some say that when writers begin, the first rule is “don’t write about yourself.” While I believe all authors write about themselves in one way or another, I do get the point. How many of us are so special that we can attract millions of readers? (Let me inject a certification: some Indie authors write for friends and family, and do not seek promotion; not the subject here). I’ll use my own autobiography as an example: I grew up poor, the kind of country poor with limited electricity/plumbing/no telephone, I didn’t have my own room, (what a disaster!), my too-young-to-be-married parents divorced after a stormy seventeen-year marriage when I was eleven years old, I had the same Farrah-hair obsession like other girls at the time, and when I finished undergrad college, I thought Duran Duran was classical music. I got married, we bought a house, adopted a couple of greyhounds that lived ten years each, my sister died in a domestic violence incident, and I started writing. I’ve dealt with infertility, overweight issues, became a workaholic, developed severe migraine headaches, and I feel blessed by having a great marriage, a job I love, and a great doctor that helps me deal with a hideous disease.
Mesmerized yet? I think a lot of authors can cut and paste to make their own autobiography. I’ll give another example: Our local newspaper does a very nice column on Sundays called “Sunday morning with…” usually a locally known person and they discuss their life. They all say the same thing: “All of my childhood, though we didn’t have much, we had love.” Really? I’m happy that these people had such great childhoods, but after a few of these autobiographical stories, it’s like a copying machine.
It’s not that the people’s lives aren’t interesting to me, the problem is, they tend to all be interesting in similar ways. Does one have to be molested by a fiend uncle to get attention in the writing industry? No. Does one have to be born poor and have a rags-to-riches story to have an interesting life story? No. Does one have to be already well-known in the world because of work involving great talent, inventions, elected officials, or famous for being famous? Probably.
All of us new authors have our own life stories to tell, but the reality is that few of us have a story that grips a large number of readers. I think many new authors use autobiographical experiences to get their point across, like marriages, parenting, recovery from alcohol/drugs, and fertility/domestic violence. The experiences stand, but the entire life stories stand on shaky ground. All of us have had bad experiences in one way or another, and with having so much in common, it takes a real shocker to capture the attention of large numbers of readers.
So, new authors go forth and write. If you use your own life experiences, go for it. If you tell your life story and it captures the audience of more readers than the life of Dick Winters (from “Band of Brothers”), that’s a tough act to follow, but would certainly be an exemplary achievement. But there’s a middle ground; use part of your life story to add to your writing, to strengthen the story, and as an unknown, use caution when writing just about yourself. As special as we’d all like to be, we’re the most special to the people in our personal lives. No reader is more important than the people we love, and that’s who makes us writers.