Autobiographies and memoirs

The titles memoir and autobiography are sometimes used interchangeably but they are not actually the same. Autobiographies and memoirs are both written in the first person and both tell the story of someone’s life but whereas an autobiography is typically a chronological account of the writer’s entire life, a memoir concentrates on just one aspect or period of the writer’s life.

Autobiographies and memoirs – which are you going to write?

It is the difference between these two genres which may determine whether you achieve your dream of writing and sharing your personal story. Writing a full-length autobiography can seem a bit daunting (even if you start you may struggle to finish) and so a memoir is a good alternative particularly if you are a new or less experienced writer.

How to decide

Unless you have led a particularly exciting and unusual life, autobiographies tend to be the reserve of the famous simply because a year-by-year account of an average person’s life may not make great reading. A memoir, on the other hand, gives the writer an opportunity to pick out a special event or period and create something that is more focused and personal. Many writers go on to write a series of memoirs which they then combine into a full-length life story.

It’s your story

Whether you choose to write an autobiography or a memoir, the story is all about you and the interesting events etc. that have shaped your life and so your readers will want to know that it is you talking to them through your writing. Even ghost writers of celebrity autobiographies have to make the audience believe that it is the subject of the autobiography telling their own story.

Autobiography checklist

  • An autobiography is a chronological account/record of your entire life.
  • Because of the scope, an autobiography concentrates on the sequence of events rather than the more personal views and interpretations in a memoir.
  • An autobiography is presented more like an historic document with dates, facts and achievements.
  • An autobiography aims for accuracy both historically and factually.
  • Autobiographies are typically written (or ghost written) by famous people or celebrities because they are highly marketable by publishers but don’t let this put you off if you have your heart set on writing your autobiography.

Memoir checklist

  • A memoir concentrates on key events, themes, periods, experiences etc..
  • A memoir can be written by anyone – fame or an unusually extraordinary or eventful life are not necessary to produce an interesting memoir.
  • A memoir is a personal account of a special time, event or aspect of your life.
  • A memoir stands alone as a story although a series of memoirs could be combined to create a longer story.
  • A memoir still aims for accuracy but it is the truths related to the emotions and experiences conveyed in the writing rather than the presentation of dates and facts.
  • Although published memoirs are generally highly polished literary works, memoirs are also a great starting point for new and inexperienced writers because they can be as long or as short as you want thus giving you the opportunity to develop and hone your writing skills with each memoir/story you write.

Also check out You don’t have to be famous to write a memoir

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Autobiographies and memoirs – what’s the difference?
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