How important are the words ‘So What?’ in an autobiography?

An autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person.  An individual can add whatever they choose into their autobiography, but if a person decides to cater their autobiography to their own wants without considering the reader, their autobiography may not achieve very much success.  When someone begins writing their autobiography, they need to establish a main focus, or a theme, and they need to make an effort of not to straying away from that main focus.  Significant achievements are structured around this initial theme.  Autobiographers can still discuss their daily lives, but it is critical that they make clear their end goal (the bigger picture) as they go through details of their day to day life.  One of the most important rules for writing an autobiography is that it must be interesting to the readers, if it does not do this, then what is the purpose of it?

Here is what it comes down to, time is valuable, and the average person wants to preserve their time and invest it in the best way possible.  If an autobiography is scattered and filled with irrelevant bulk, no sane person will want to invest their time in reading it.  When one is writing about a specific event, place, or speech, they need to ask themselves “So what?” Did it really earn its place in the autobiography?  If it did, there needs to be an explanation why, the reason(s) why should match up consistently with the original theme.  If something has a crucial effect on one specific person, chances are, it will not have the same value to most other people, so the writer needs to give valid reason as to why it has worth.  Go to the roots of the issue, why is this a monumental item in your life?  Answer that, then ask, “So what?” and “Who cares?”

If one wishes to give long descriptions of something, fine, but they need to say why.  Why is this relevant to the narrative? Why did this specific item have an impact on the writer? What was it about this item that became a turning point in the writer’s life?  After all, it is a book about the writer, these questions need valid answers.  Why is this relevant to the reader?  The material should give the reader insights, if not insights into the life of the writer, then it should give the reader insights into the culture around the writer.

“So What?” is a critical question that should be asked continually throughout the process of writing an autobiography.

The conclusion chapter of an autobiography should summarize how the autobiographer achieved their main life goal (the focus), and if that goal was on achieved, then the writer should provide the account of how they substituted, or moved on.

What was Equiano’s attitude regarding his life in the British Navy?

Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa was born in Africa in 1745. when he was a small child, he and his sister were kidnapped by slave traders.  He was tossed around in Africa for about 13 months, he was then destined to board a slave ship and go to America, more specifically, Virginia.  The slave ship was horrifying and dangerous, he was haunted by a fear of not knowing what his future would be.  He had good reason to be afraid, this was a brutal experience.  Many died, many got severely ill, and all the slaves were headed to an unknown future.  He was acquired by another owner, then he was purchased by a man in the British Navy, and began an adventure that transformed his life.

As I read the few chapters about his life in the British Navy, it was fairly clear what his attitude was regarding the situation.  Most young boys have one of two main opinions of the military lifestyle.  The first group, believe it to be not worth what they would have to go through, and they do not take on this lifestyle.  The second group, get really involved, they develop interest in all of the adventurous events that made the world what it was today.  This second group spends time studying history and fantasying what it would be like to go back in time and see the action.  I believe Equiano, belonged to the second group, but instead of wondering what it would be like to see historical events, he was able to experience some of it first hand, while still in his childhood.

Equiano appeared to have an excited, and interested attitude toward his daily adventures in the British Navy.  At first, he said that he wished he were involved in a battle.  He had accepted the possibility of danger in a war, but that did not depress him.  “I longed to engage in new adventures and see fresh wonders.”  But along with this feeling of excitement came a sense of burning fear and anxiety, unknowing of what would become of him in the next few weeks, days, hours, or minutes.

His fears of what might happen to him in the future, were much worse prior to his voyages in the British Navy, but they were not completely absent after he had entered the British Navy.  Personally, I think this had something to do with him becoming a Christian, but that is debatable.  Most people in his position would have a high level of fear.  Think about it, he was on the seas preparing to defend England from the enemy.

Whatever his attitude of the situation was, it is clear that he was extraordinarily observant.  He paid attention to detail, and the reader gets a good verbal image of what’s going on around him.  His enthusiasm combined with his fear made the observation unique and easy to read.  He dis something that not very many writers can do, and that is give the reader the ability to look through his eyes.

What I must do in my note-taking to describe what is going on around me.

An autobiography is an account of  person’s life written by that person.  That means that if a person plans to write an account of their life, they had better make sure to pay attention to what is going on around them, and then transform those observances into notes.

From the list of autobiographies I have read, I have noticed that when a writer uses succinct material to deliver the main point of the story in minimal words, is much more memorable than when the writer takes pages to describe one small point.  In order to have the ability to deliver a short message in minimal writing, the writer must have a good summary of what happened, which means they need to have taken effective notes.  If the writer is going to write in more detail, and include more material, their job will be much easier if they take effective notes.

A good way to take accurate notes is to keep a daily journal.  By writing the highlight events, speeches, or even personal feelings, will provide a large advantage when it comes time to write my autobiography.  This only takes at the most about 10-20 minutes of the day, and eventually it will be well worth it.  This is not an effective strategy if you write like the following on a daily basis: “I woke up this morning, I went to work, I had a rough day and I came home.”  One must be creative, and write about the things that have a larger impact on their life, the things that make them better off, or worse off tomorrow.  I keep a journal, and sometimes I have to ask myself “so what?”  Why is this relevant?  When and if I can answer both of those questions, I write down the answers to both.

A good autobiography, along with many other things, must have the ability to create verbal images for the reader.  To achieve this, the writer must be observant of their surroundings.  It is important to provide the reader with enough information of the scene, so that they can verbally see what is going on.  This does not mean overwhelming amounts of detail about every object that surrounds the scene.  Detail is important, but it must also keep the reader engaged.  This means that one must take the time to identify the important points of the scene, and include those.

Another important point of an autobiography is the ability to generate the sympathy of the reader.  Recently, I started thinking about my notes, then putting myself in the position of the reader, and thinking of whether or not it is relevant.  Why would someone care? It makes me think deeper when I take notes, and since doing this, my skills have developed substantially.  I am confident that I am doing a good job of consolidating the high points.

With today’s technology, there are so many ways to take daily notes digitally that can help tremendously with organization.  It is a matter of finding what is right for you, and what is most effective.  If one plans to write an autobiography, they need to plan in advance, daily notes are essential to relevance accuracy, it is important to develop good note-taking strategies.


Has any event in your life had the same impact that learning how to read had on Douglass’s life? If not, why not?

Frederick Douglass was born as a slave in Talbot County Maryland in the early 1800’s.  Like many other slaves, no one knew the exact date or year of his birth.  Later on in his life, he found a way of liberation and became an abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman.  From a young age, he knew that he could not spend the entirety of his life in bondage.  He was convinced that literacy was his golden key to liberation, therefore it had a major impact on his life when he learned to read and write.

If you imagine yourself in his place, with no hope of freedom, until you are introduced to the possible opportunity of getting a key to liberation.  Just think of the fire he must have felt inside him, that this might be his chance to put the corrupt system of slavery behind him.  He was first taught the very basics by his mistress, but when she discovered that it was not only illegal to teach a slave to read, but also risky, she refused to teach him and forbade him to learn.  This did not stop him, slowly but surely he learned how to read and write, some of his techniques of learning were quite clever.  He was determined to learn, no matter the consequences.  Learning to read, impacted his life in a way that nothing else could, literacy became the foundation of his future.

Personally, I do not think that any event in my life has ever had an impact on me in the way that learning to read had on Douglass.  The main reason for this is that I have not faced the same problems as Douglass did, I have never been desperate to escape a system so evil as slavery, or anything that compares to that.  Several events in my life have strongly impacted me, but not in the way learning to read impacted Douglass.  Learning to read was a form of unlocking his future, a bright future, it unlocked the hope of not having to spend his life getting beat to death in a field.  I am privileged to live in an era and a society where there is no darkness like that of slavery, I have the opportunity to learn, and do what I choose without facing the challenges that faced Douglass.

Some might say that he somewhat exaggerated the situation by saying that literacy was his source of liberation, and technically that may be true.  But learning to read and write gave him not only essential skills, but it also gave him hope, which brought determination, and I think this hope and determination he built early on, was a large part of his successful liberation.



As a writer of an autobiography about life in the woods, would you spend more pages describing an ant war or loons? Why?

Henry David Thoreau was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, and naturalist.  In his young adult years he decided to go live in the woods near Walden pond to study life closer and try to discover the simple lessons of life.  He spent 26 months living alone in a small shack he built himself along the shore of Walden pond.  After his venture of life in the woods, he returned to work at his family’s factory, he spent 8 years writing an account of the 26 months he spent at Walden pond he titled this book “Walden.”  The book did not gain any real attention until after his death in 1861, it is now considered a substantial piece in American literature.

Throughout the book, he went into great detail of his fascination of nature surrounding him.  At times, the reader may get the sense that he is in a trance with nature.  He will go on and on about a lake, an ant fight, or loons, his writing starts to sound like the narration of a nature documentary that lacks scientific facts.  He goes into poetic detail about simple aspects of nature, that are very dull because they do not really make sense.  Personally, I do not think things should be included in one’s autobiography unless they had a major effect on that person’s life.  Perhaps ant wars and loons were a big part of Thoreau’s life, but if they were, he does not say why.

As the writer of an autobiography about life in the woods, I would spend more pages describing loons instead of ant wars.  Ant wars are nothing foreign to me, where I live, I often see two ants fighting.  Whether they are fighting over a female, or food, I have no idea, and it really does not mean anything to me.  Which means it would waste both my time, and the time of the reader to add it in my autobiography.  I would perhaps spend some time talking about loons because they are beautiful birds, and they are not common where I live.  They are fascinating especially to someone who is not familiar with them.  While they are interesting, I would not spend pages to describe them and their actions, at the very most I would devote a paragraph to them.  When someone reads an autobiography about a person, they want to learn about that person.  If the birds changed my outlook on life, then yes, perhaps I would go into detail about them.

An autobiography about life in the woods should somewhat be based around living in the woods, but that does not mean it should be about the woods.  If there is something in nature that is of great importance to the writer, or something that revolutionizes their outlook on life, then by all means, they should discuss it, but it is important to discuss why the particular scene was important, otherwise it has no purpose in the autobiography.

How important is it for a person to summarize his philosophy of life in an early chapter of an autobiography?

What is an autobiography?  An autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person.  When you are trying to learn about someone, a biography can bea very helpful tool because the author of that biography spent a lot of time studying the particular person.  But, think about it, what if you could read an account of the person’s life, that the specific person wrote.  That would be a much more accurate insight into the person’s life and how they interpreted the world.  An autobiography is a powerful tool if written in the correct way, but there are many people who write autobiographies that never get any attention because they do not deliver their philosophy on life in a clear message.  It is important when writing an autobiography to consider the reader, and do everything you can to help the reader understand who you are and what is going on.

It is incredibly important for a person to summarize his philosophy on life in an early chapter of their autobiography, for many reasons.  Without doing this, there is a very low chance that the autobiography will be successful, and there is an even lower chance that it will have an impact on individuals.  There are two main reasons why this is an important step in the development of one’s autobiography.

The first reason being that no one will show interest, nor will they even bother to even read the autobiography.  When you walk through a bookstore or library you realize how many books there really are.  Even at all of those places in your area combined, there is an incredibly low percent of books displayed on their shelves.  Basically, there are a LOT of books in the world, most of which have benefits and reviews that are very appealing to most readers.  In today’s world, you had better be clear with your autobiography or people will simply no invest their precious time in it.  You must summarize your philosophy of life in the beginning chapters so that readers know where you stand and what you mean by your writing.  If readers do not understand why certain things are important to you they will not bother to read your autobiography.

The other main reason is more about gaining the trust of the reader and having an effect on their life.  To truly impact the life of the reader, you must summarize your philosophy of life in an early chapter.  When you are open with people about where you stand, and/or what you believe in, they are probably going to trust you, even if they do not share your beliefs or standings.  If you just start talking, people will see this as simply babbling if they do not know why you are saying these things.  If you start talking in a way that is easy to read and logical, you still need to summarize your philosophy of life, because people will not really take this information unless they know they can trust you.

All in all, it is incredibly important for a person to summarize his philosophy of life in an early chapter of his autobiography.