Random Autobiography

writing recipe logo_1.png

Serves: One

Cooking Time: 10 minutes, 12 seconds

Perfect for 

  • Helping you see your life from all sorts of interesting perspectives.

  • Being surprised by memories you forgot.

  • Discovering the memories that are important to you.

  • Growing writing love.



  • Nothing that you don't have in your pantry already - something to write with and something to write on.


Writing Prep

1. Know the meaning of random and autobiography.  Traditional autobiographies are usually chronological.  Random Autobiographies are not.

2. Read mentor text aloud.  I first learned about Random Autobiographies when I was a Fellow of the South Coast Writing Project.  (THE BEST group of writing teachers ever! National Writing Project, GO!) I believe my mentors in that project learned of the idea from Kim Stafford's book, The Muses Among Us.  I've also seen the same idea described by Linda Rief as a Rambling Autobiography in her books, The Quickwrite Handbook and  100 QuickwritesBoth of these books have lovely examples of Random Autobiographies,  but I offer you my version here:


Lorrie Tom’s Random Autobiography

                     I remember saying, “I do.”

I flew in a helicopter, hiked with grizzly bears, fell out of a raft,

and crawled over rat nests in a Canadian cave. 

That was some honeymoon adventure!

I look for the moon every night.

I believe seeing a dolphin is good luck.

I used to think seeing 11:11 on the clock was good luck.

I remember my Great Grandma’s stories

about growing up on a Claremont orange ranch.

I can still feel her gentle fingers rubbing my neck

as I sat at her feet and listened.

I used to carry a red, patent leather purse everywhere.

I used to dance in front of the sliding glass door after dinner.

I remember fighting with my brother about TV shows. 

He wanted Speed Racer.  I wanted Get Smart.

I remember reading Gone With Wind on a family trip to Yellowstone. 

I couldn’t put the book down for three days. 

Missed most of the beautiful scenery.

I love the space between my two front teeth

even though dentists always want to fix it.

I used to wear high heels, but I’ve never had long fingernails.

I’m thankful for modern medicine

and the doctors who kept my little daughter alive.

I’ve learned that being a teacher means being a student, too.       


3. Discuss form of text: list, short sentences or fragments.

4. Notice sentence starters you can borrow for your own piece:

  • I was born in (season, month)…

  • I am told that…

  • I loved to…

  • I've held a...

  • I have seen...

  • I remember...

  • I have heard...

  • I used to...

  • I've learned that...

  • I remember how it felt to...


Time to Get Cooking

1. Write your Random Autobiography using the Quick Write Method.

  • Quick Write means: Write for 10 minutes, 12 seconds without stopping or talking. (Studies show that 10 minutes, 12 seconds is the perfect amount of time for this piece.) 

  • Quick Writes grow writing love because:

    a. Writing fast for a short period of time helps you outrun the inner voice that says, “You can’t write.  You are bad at this!” 

    b. Tell yourself, “I don’t have time to listen to that critical voice.  I’m gonna go for it!”

  • Keep pen/pencil/keyboard moving the entire time.

  • If you get stuck, write I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck until you aren’t anymore.  Cross that part out later.

  • Don’t worry about spelling.

2. You can begin with the line starters, but they are suggestions and not requirements.  You can also repeat line starters more than once.

3. Pro writer tip:  Let the last idea inspire the next one.  This is a fun way to discover surprising and forgotten stories from your life.  This is one of the great joys of writing. 

4. Pro Tip: Do this recipe over and over again. You'll never write the same one, and it also serves as a list of story ideas that you could develop into longer pieces.  Oh la la!


Share Your Words

1. When you are done, read your piece aloud – to a real live human, your dog, or your bathroom mirror.  It’s essential to hear your writing aloud.  You’ll hear what works. You’ll hear what doesn’t work. 

2. If you do read this to a real live human, ask them to tell you a word, phrase, or sentence that stands out to them (this is called SAYBACK ).  Don’t ask for or receive advice about revision or editing.  Just absorb what someone likes about your writing and say, “Thank you very much.”

3.  Select one line you like the best – or one that moves you the most - or one that stands out the most.  I call these golden lines.  It’s good to notice what you are already doing well as a writer.  Often, if you get response from a human, your golden lines might be the same! That’s fun and tells you a lot about what readers think is good writing. 

a. I’d even suggest making a collection of all your golden lines in a journal.  Over time, you’ll see a pattern of all your writing awesomeness!


Mixing It Up

Write a Random Autobiography of the Future.  Skip ahead 25 years, and write like you've lived those years already.  It's fun - kinda like write your own elegy but you're still alive.  Much better.

In my Random Autobiography, I mentioned exploring a cave in Canada.  Here I am after surviving a guided exploration of Rat's Nest Cave.

Rats Nest Cave.jpg

It's also the day after I flew out of the raft in a class IV rapid on the Kicking Horse River (we renamed it the Kicking Ass River, but I digress).

Thank goodness my beloved took our "til death do us part" vows seriously and pulled me out of the rushing water.

Over the years, I've written about 30 Random Autobiographies, and I always seem to include a line a two about our exciting honeymoon (for 18 of those versions).  However, new memories keep popping up, too...and that's when the magic happens.  Surprising yourself creates energy, interest, and enthusiasm. And that leads to writing love.

So, writers, are you up for it?  Write one. Write another. If you're really bold, send me a copy.  I'd love to write back and tell you the lines I love!  

Always writing,