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.

Would Walden have been a better book if Thoreau had supplied more background information on his life?

Henry David Thoreau was an American poet, essayist, naturalist, and abolitionist from Concord Massachusetts.  For 26 months he lived alone in the woods along Walden pond,  in a small shack that he built himself.  He took up this lifestyle to get a closer look at what life really was, and to get a deeper understanding of the simple lessons of life.  After his stay at Walden pond he went back to live with his mother and work his family’s pencil factory.  He spent 8 years writing a book called Walden based on the two years and two months that he lived beside Walden pond, this book was not really noticed by the public until after his death in 1862.

I respect the fact that he was willing to dedicate himself for such a large portion of his life to write this book, but I will be honest in saying that this was not an efficient book in terms of delivering an important message to readers.  His writing is very confusing, he claimed to have lived the life of a hermit, when he relied on the stores in town to provide him with day to day necessities.  This was not a hermit lifestyle.  There are countless paragraphs that sound like pure jibber-jabber, they make no sense and leave the reader wondering what is going on.  There are several paragraphs that are absolutely ridiculous and illogical.  Thoreau made himself sound like somewhat of a lunatic in several different instances.

Maybe he had reason behind these statements that appeared to be useless and illogical, but if he had reason behind them, he never shared it.  If Thoreau had provided more background information about himself, and why he went to Walden pond, the book could have made much more since and and been a more effective piece of literature.

This man was a poet, and to understand a poem, you must understand the reason behind the poem, or at some level understand what the poet was feeling.  in my opinion, Thoreau spoke somewhat like a poet, and in this case the reader has no background behind what the “poet” was saying or what it represented.   The book was not a large piece of poetry, but the writing had somewhat of a poetic sound to it.  So, yes, Walden would have been a much better book if Thoreau had provided the reader with more background information.  If a person knows what they are reading and what it means they are less likely to get bored, and they might actually read with interest.

Thoreau said that great poets can be understood only by great poets.  While on most levels I do not agree, it may partially explain the reasons behind the poetic and illogical paragraphs in this book.  Perhaps only men like Thoreau can understand and appreciate the writings of a man like Thoreau, maybe the average person simply cannot appreciate his fantasies of life.

Was Thoreau dependent on the division of labor while he was living on Walden Pond?

Henry David Thoreau was a man with a different perspective on life.  He spent 26 months of his life living alone in a shack he built near Walden pond.  He supposedly took up this lifestyle to learn more about the simple lessons and messages of life, away from the world of business.  He never married, nor did he have any children, after his venture on Walden pond he went to work at his family’s factory.  Personally, I found his autobiography, so far, to be hard to read, and often my mind wondered away.  He spent 8 years writing this book, I respect his dedication, but honestly he could have done a much better job of organizing it and making it easier for the reader to follow.  Perhaps that is why this book got hardly any attention at first, it was not until he died that there was any real popularity.

So to answer the original question, yes, Thoreau was dependent on the division of labor while he was living on Walden pond.  To begin with, he bought all of the supplies to build his house from a store.  Stores must be owned and run by someone, all of the merchandise comes from factories which are operated by members of the division of labor.   Also, he states that he paid $28.12 1/2 for all of the supplies, this is money he must have earned prior to his stay at Walden pond, which means he depended on the division of labor to convert to this lifestyle.

Later, he returns to the store to buy common foods that most people find pleasurable.    Those things are produced by laborers, they are sold by laborers.  He depended heavily on the division of labor.  Honestly, I do not think he would have survived without it.  If he did, it would have been a rough experience for a man like him.  He also states that he dined out occasionally, I assume he is referring to a restaurant, if not, he must have meant something similar, this was not a hermit lifestyle.

He spoke of fishing.  Yes, it is possible to make your own gear to fish with, many people have, and still do.  You do not need to buy a rod, or line, or even hooks, but I highly doubt that he made all of his own fishing aids.  These are things he probably purchased, not necessarily, but I doubt he made everything out of natural materials.  He also bought clothing and household items, again, the system is simple, in order to get that stuff without making the materials and the items, the division of labor must exist.

He planted crops to earn money to pay for the items listed above, this, again, shows that he depended on the division of labor.

He was not a fan of the common workforce.  To briefly assess it, he thought of it as men slowly working themselves into the grave.  He was against the factory system, but after his 26 month stay, he returned to work at his family’s pencil factory.

How could I adopt Northup’s technique of using contrasts?

Solomon Northup was born and raised a free African-American man in the state of New York.  He lived a good life, and brought up a family, life was good for him, until the day he was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  For 12 years he worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana.  He lived in the corrupt system of slavery until alas he found a way to write a letter to his friends in New York, they worked out the details and he was freed from the evil system, able to return to his life as a free American man.  He wrote an autobiography in 1853 that described in detail his 12 years in bondage.  In 2013, a movie based on his narrative was released, it won an academy award for best picture of the year.   As he narrates, it is clear that he was considerate of the reader and put forth effort to keep the reader engaged.  But something else played a big role in the strength of the narrative, what? Contrasts.

Northup’s use of contrasts is what excites the reader to keep reading, or in the case of the movie, to continue watching.  One of the biggest contrasts regarding the treatment of the slaves was positive sanctions vs. negative sanctions.  The slave owners who treated their slaves with respect, and treated them right, only beating them if, and when absolutely necessary, recieved more efficient work from their slaves.  Obviously this meant that they had more prosperous plantations.  But there were slave owners who almost appeared to take pride in beating their slaves, they treated them like objects, and nearly beat them to death many times.  The slaves retaliated, no matter what they did, negative sanctions were inflicted.  They did what was necessary, or what they were able, but they had no motivation to work harder, nothing to look forward to.

This was the major contrast of the narrative, but upon reading it, you will find that he often uses contrasts to strengthen and deliver his story.

Now, back to the main question, how can I adopt Northup’s strategy of using contrasts?  The first step is observation, I will definitely be going back to review this autobiography.  When someone learns something new, they must first understand what it is they are learning.  Taking time to understand why and how contrasts are used when creating a narrative is the first step to adopting this strategy.

Currently, I keep notes on the important events in my life, later on in my life, I will combine them together to create an autobiography of my own.  Another step I could take towards adopting his strategy is assessing contrasts as I note down important events in my life.  And using these contrasts to explain relevancy and to keep the reader engaged, will strengthen my narrative.

I have a lot to learn in the respect of using contrasts in my narrative, but after reading this, I have gained at least a general idea of the steps I should begin taking to train myself.  Northup created a good model, and provided a good basis of what is possible when using this style of writing.

Describe the differences between Northup’s response to separation from his children and Eliza’s response to separation from her children.

Solomon Northup was a born a free man, he had a strong work ethic, he lived a good life, and he was blessed with a wonderful family.  One unfortunate day, he was captured and sold into slavery, he told the traders that he was a free man, but they threatened him and warned him never to speak of that, so he kept his mouth shut on the topic of his freedom.  While in captive, he met several other slaves, among them he met a woman named Eliza and her two children Randall and Emily.  One of the biggest fears slaves faced was separation from their families, which was common.  Unfortunately Northup, Eliza, and both children had to go through the dreadful sorrow of losing their family.

Northup left his home with some men who supposedly had intentions of hiring Northup to play his fiddle in the circus, his wife and children were away on a trip for a few days.  He figured this would be a good opportunity, he saw no reason to leave a note as he intended to be back before his wife and children returned.  After a series of events, he ended up being robbed of his papers and sold into slavery.  His family had no idea where he was, because he did not leave a message.  As the autobiography says, he was separated from them for 12 years.  He often explained that as he laid down at night he thought of his sweet children.  It pained him to be separated from the most important people in his world.

While in captive Eliza soothed her children and reassured them of their future.  After some time, a buyer bought Randall  which tore Eliza apart.  She begged the buyer to buy all three of them, but he could not, Randall asked his mother not to cry, that he would be a good boy.  This filled both Emily and Eliza with sorrow, they would never again see their sweet Randall.  Another buyer chose to buy Northup, Eliza, and Henry (a fellow slave captive), Eliza begged him to buy her daughter too, so that they may stay together.  The buyer was touched by her pleads and made an offer to the trader, but the trader refused, Emily was quite a handsome young lady, and he chose to keep her until she was older and would bring him more money.  Eliza burst into tears, she explained that she would not be able to live without her children, but she was forced to go.  Leaving behind her sweet little girl that cried out for her to come back, but those cries soon faded away as they were taken off into the distance.  Eliza never again heard from either of her children, and spent the rest of her life depressed unknowing of the possible hardships her children were going through.

The love between a parent and their child is a strong force, it is hard for parents to cope with a dying child, or perhaps a missing child, but to lose your child due to a system so morally evil as slavery puts a whole new burden of grief upon the parent’s shoulder.  Eliza knew that her children would live hard lives, and that they would at times wish they were dead.  This brought upon her shoulders a burden of bitterly dreadful grief.  Northup loved his children dearly, he knew that there was a strong possibility that they would never see their father again, but he knew that they were safe and free, living their healthy lives at home in New York.  Honestly this revels the biggest difference of their responses to losing their children.  Eliza was more emotional and sorrowful, as she had reason to be.  Northup missed his family, but he knew they were safe and sound, with every passing day he fed a fire of burning hope that he would see them again.