Would you ever consider writing an autobiography?
It wouldn’t be an easy task, the stringing together of 100,000 or so words in an order that may adequately describe one’s life. So why would you do it?
Perhaps it is better to start with why you wouldn’t write an autobiography.
Most people will never do it because they simply don’t have the skill. It necessarily takes a writer to write an autobiography worth reading, but most of us aren’t writers. On the other hand, those with the skill may not live lives they consider worth writing about. Hence the propensity for biography rather than autobiography. A good autobiography is likely to be written by a multi-talented person: someone with writing skills, but with a life outside of the study. This is a combination not found in abundance (giving rise to the ghostwriting profession).
And while you may be a good writer with a good story, that isn’t enough. It also has to be a story that you are willing to tell.
You can write a biography about anybody. You can do your research, dig up lost information, connect the dots, present an interesting angle or thesis, and all without taking much personal risk. As an outside party, you will likely draw on as much evidence as possible, and try to form an objective view as an observer would.
An autobiography or memoir on the other hand is an inherently personal affair. You are the ultimate source of knowledge on the subject. Any story you chose to tell cannot help but be ‘tainted’ by your participation in the event. It is said that an autobiography offers the author the chance to recreate history, an impulse that most of us are too weak to fight. How nice would it be to have the ‘final say’ on matters, to be the sole voice of authority on our life’s events?
Indeed, the obvious answer as to why you would write an autobiography is that you are an egomaniac, and perhaps a control-freak to boot. Enter political figures.
How much you can trust your own memory is a question most people (especially egotists) don’t ask themselves, as to doubt your perception is to doubt your grip on reality - a very unnerving state. We tend to want to believe what we recall, but our brains also tend to delete/modify that which hurts us most. Thus, our memories often paint a rosier picture of our past than the reality at the time, but we are fooled into believing them. To try and self-analyse in an objective manner is a tremendous feat, and we shouldn’t be surprised that autobiographies would tend to portray their authors in a more favourable light than third-party accounts.
But perhaps that is simply the price that must be paid in order to crack open the autobiographer’s head and feast on the goo inside. In what is a voluntary account, one without guarantees of profit but with a degree of personal risk nonetheless, we are perhaps obliged to extend a little leeway to an autobiographer with regards to the truth. Do you not want to be entertained after all? Embellishment may be considered de rigueur in the work of an autobiographer. So long as we are reading with full disclosure as to the inherently biased nature of the author (i.e. so long as we know we are reading an autobiography), are we really in any position to demand 100% factual accuracy?
As the movie disclaimer goes, the best we can hope for is something ‘based on a true story’. You’ll have to use your own judgment after that.