A long time ago – okay, as far back as the 1990s – an autobiography was something someone wrote after they had reached a certain age and had accumulated some life experience and sage wisdom that they could share with their readers.

As I said, that was back in the day.

Nowadays, anyone – from a 17-year-old singer to a reality television show participant – can churn out an autobiography to boost their public image and, of course, keep their tills ringing.

If you would like to write your life story, you must be clear about why you’re doing it. The following tips will help with the planning and structure.

Determine your readership

Having a clear idea of your intended readers makes it easier to write the type of autobiography you think they will be interested in. While it is tempting to believe that your story will be of interest to everyone, the truth is that it will be of interest to a select group of people only.

For example, Richard Branson’s autobiography is of great interest to entrepreneurs, who have much to learn from his business experience. But it is unlikely to be quite as riveting for someone who is not that way inclined.

So, think about your intended audience – your readers – before putting your fingers to the keyboard.

Do some research – read other people’s autobiographies and biographies

Take a trip to your local bookshop or library and take note of autobiographies written for your target audience. Have a read: what works and what doesn’t? Why? In what way has the author’s writing style or technique enhanced or hampered the book? Can you apply the same principles to your book?

Decide on a theme

Your autobiography should be driven by a theme. Having a theme keeps you focused on the premise of your book and gives your readers something they can take away from it. Without this, it stands in danger of being unwieldy and lacking structure, which you don’t want.

So, if you were a soldier and were writing your autobiography, your theme could be ‘Soldier of Christ’, and you would draw parallels between the physical battles and the spiritual battles you fought as a soldier and as a Christian, and how they each affected your life.

Structure your autobiography

A well-structured autobiography is like a stream. It flows well and takes the reader on a journey. When they have finished reading the book, they close the last page with a satisfied sigh, more than a little hungry for more.

Structure your autobiography by breaking your chapters into seasons or critical periods in your life. Many autobiographies written by Christians take their inspiration from biblical references. Thus you might find chapter headings such as ‘Glory days’ or ‘The Jeremiah promise’ in their books.

The way you choose to structure your story is up to you. But beware of using gimmicks or ‘trying to be different’. For the most part, this doesn’t work.

Find an editor

When you’ve finally finished writing your autobiography, you’ll need an editor to help you refine it and make it fit for publication. Try the Society for Editors and Proofreaders Directory, and do a search for Christian editors.

Follow these steps and you should be well on your way to writing a winning autobiography.