The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Random Autobiography

My students wrote random autobiographies a couple of weeks ago. On Friday the kids had a writing buffet, which meant they got to read several of the poems written by their classmates, after which they commented on them via written feedback. Their poems were mind-blowing. For most of them, it was their best writing so far.

In case you've never written a random autobiography, here are the rules:

  • The way you order/organize your memories should be random. The moments in your life should come zinging out at the reader, in an unpredictable, willy-nilly order (not chronological). 
  • The piece usually ends up a free verse poem.
  • Other than those uptight, rigid rules... there are no rules.

Below is a poem I wrote as a model for them.

When I was four, I loved dogs so much,
when I got a bad staph infection
and we had to give all my stuffed animals
and our dog Duchess away,
I cried.

For years…

For years I’d look out my bedroom window
and yearn for another dog...

we got
another dog,
we named her Lady.

After that, my crying for a dog stopped,
and I’ve had a dog ever since.

Sledding down the hill when I was 10,
I loved dodging the trees
as I flew like a rocket.
Snow in my boots,
my mittens caked with ice and muddied snow,
I’d sled for hours.

The danger was part of the fun.

Riding a bike when I was 12,
I’d think about riding with no hands.
I wanted to be just like the cool kids,
with their hands up in the air
while they coasted down the street.
I’d lift my hands off the handlebars
for just a second
until scared,
I’d grab them again
and hold on tight.

There were some dangers I dared to do.
Others, I was too chicken to even try.

When I was nine I spent a whole day in a cave.
Sliding down clay-slick hills,
crawling through cramped spaces,
exploring the cool pools of water.
That night, my mom threw away the clothes
I’d worn in the cave.
The reddish-brown stains had become permanent,
a reminder of my underground fun.

When I was 6, I took a tour at Bonfils Elementary
on my first day of 1st grade.
The teacher said to our class,
as we stood in the hall,
“Here is the lavatory.”
My eyes got as round and big as pie plates.
A science lab!
A place to do experiments!
I was antsy with excitement,
until I learned that lavatory
was just another word for a bathroom.

When I was 8,
I went up and down my street
on my skates.
The key hung on a dingy, frayed shoelace
around my neck.
After I took the skates off,
I could still feel the vibration,
my feet thrumming over the cracked sidewalk
even though the skates were put away
in the closet.

Skating made me feel free…

When I was four my grandfather spanked me.
It was the first and only time.
I didn’t listen to him,
didn’t use the fudgsicle wrapper
to catch the drips,
and he got mad.

My hard head got me into lots of trouble.

I could also write about learning to ride a bike
when I was 7
and getting into an accident.
I could share how I once had a 12-foot pet
boa constrictor wrapped around me when I was four…
which made me fall in love with snakes.
I could also write about my first airplane trip to Ohio,
by myself,
when I was 12,
and my aunt and uncle got the date screwed up
and forgot to pick me up.

But no,
I think I’ll save that for another poem...

How about you? What memory or memories would you include in a random autobiography?


  1. This is so interesting. What fun you give your students! I passed it on to the Writing Guild...thought they too might like to play with the idea even though I am not going right now. Have a good day.

    1. Claudia--I hope your writer friends enjoy... This is the kind of piece that can worked on, on and off, for a long time.

      And back at ya--have a wonderful rest of the week.

  2. I thought up six driveway-laps worth of memories, but now that I'm done walking, they escape me.

    Maybe the time my mom caught me walking along my grandpa's roof when I was in 2nd grade? Or perhaps my 3rd grade special moment, when I announced to the class that Miller Highlife was one of our Presidents?

    1. Val--As a 3rd grader, you must have made your parents SO proud. ;)

  3. When I was 8 my Grandad bought me a second hand bike. He painted the bike with some paint he had in the garage. Then he painted the kitchen with the same paint. The paint was bright orange.

    1. Sarah--A bright orange bike... That must have been a sharp set of wheels. I'm sure that bicycle was painted with love.

  4. When I was 6, or maybe 7, I saw a car down the road and thought I could beat it so I darted into the street.

    I thought wrong. :-)

    1. Cathy--So what happened? You get hurt or just seriously scared? (Obviously you were lucky.)

  5. What a great concept for inspiring young writers. Another great exercise is to write a paragraph or two and then convert it into a poem by cutting a few words.
    No wonder you love pups!

    1. Linda--I've used your suggestion before--changed prose to poetry when it wasn't working in paragraph-form. Sometimes, a piece MUST be a poem instead of prose.

      And yes, my love of dogs is decades-long.

  6. What an awesome poem! I'll bet the kids came up with some terrific offerings.


  7. What an awesome poem! I'll bet the kids came up with some terrific offerings.



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