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How to Write a Biography: Writing from the Heart

Categories: Brian Klems' The Writer's Dig Tags: Brian Klems, online editor blog.

The most important thing that you as a biographer can do is to write from the heart. Write only about someone you have deep feelings for. If you care deeply about your subject, either positively or negatively, so will your readers. If you take on a biography about someone you couldn’t care less about, possibly for the money, or because you have received a good contract, the readers won’t care about your subject either, and probably won’t finish reading your book.

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ABond Marilyn Monroe on the Couch Front-smA psychotherapist based in New York City for over 37 years, Dr. Alma Bond left her successful practice in the early nineties to follow her calling as a woman’s biographer and women’s fiction writer. She has published 21 critically acclaimed books using her experience and knowledge as a doctor. Her personal life of being involved in film, TV, books, and other media has helped her set major ground with her popular On the Couch series, as well as her other novels. For more information, visit: almabondauthor.com

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You can take a number of approaches to writing from the heart. For example, you can write about someone you already love (or hate), and want to share your feelings about that person with others. (All of my biographies except one—my least favorite, but I’m not going to tell you which one – fall in this class.)

Or you can write about a person you would love to be. I would dearly love to be an opera singer, but unfortunately, I cannot sing. So I wrote “The Autobiography of Maria Callas” to vicariously share the life of an opera singer. In another instance, as a child, I desperately wanted to be a movie star. What more satisfactory subject could I possibly find to satisfy this unobtainable desire than Marilyn Monroe? So I wrote my newest book, a fictional biography, titled Marilyn Monroe: On the Couch. And wouldn’t it be great to be the wife of the president of the United States (or the president herself) and be at the center of the world, hence my book “Jackie O: On the Couch” and “Michelle Obama, A Biography.” Whose movies, plays, or TV shows do you look forward to seeing the most? What were the best performances you have seen on stage, screen, or TV in your life? (Mine in a long lifetime are Lawrence Olivier in “King Lear,” Paul Robison as Othello, and Judith Anderson as Lady Macbeth. Also, have you heard Judy Garland sing “Old Man River?” I have never heard anything like it.

What is it about your all time favorites that makes you remember them? Use that insight in your biography. But make sure your insight comes through to your readers, without describing it academically. My all time favorite author is Sigmund Freud, particularly in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” But I don’t want to write his biography because I don’t find his life as enthralling as his books.

As you do your research, select details to write about that you find particularly interesting. It is far more important to write in an engaging manner than to dwell upon historical dates and facts. Your readers will remember the former, and not the latter.

That is not to say that research is not important. In fact, I read over 100 books in researching “Jackie O” (most of them bought on Amazon for under a nickel). If you’re like me and still prefer to use physical books for your research instead of digital material, make sure to clearly mark the passages you want to use, so when you are doing the actual writing, you won’t have to reread the entire book, but can simply refer back to your marked passages. This approach is far quicker than taking the time to write the desired material on index cards.

Lastly, find the style of writing that gives you the most pleasure, and stick to that style. I happen to love writing my “On the Couch” series, and probably will stay with them as long as I am around, because as long as I am around I will be writing. As many writers have said, “I’d do this for nothing.” And many often do.

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Follow me on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Check out my humor book, Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl.
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