If you have considered writing down your past and preserving it for yourself, friends, family, future generations and possibly general readership, then both memoirs and autobiographies are great opportunities to share your story with the world. Both memoirs and autobiographies are often grouped together at the bookstore, online or otherwise. But what is the difference? Which one should you write?
Today I’d like to take a closer look at memoirs and autobiographies to help you determine which genre will suit you best as someone with an important story to tell about your life.
The English word memoir comes from the French word mémoire, which means memory. Taking book form, it is a collection of accounts that you can write recalling your own past experiences. A memoir is organized around a theme and is relatively narrow in scope.
Memoirs have been written about individuals’ experiences with their career, involvement in politics, living through an historical event, overcoming hardships, participating in glamorous industries, being a refugee, drug use, boxing, being in the military, etc. But since every individual and their life experiences are unique, there is absolutely no limit as to what your memoir could be about.
An autobiography is a written account that you can write about your own life. It typically begins with your birth and continues through various periods of your life until the current moment of writing. An autobiography aims to present a more complete view of one’s life than a memoir does.
Many famous people have written autobiographies (or in many cases, had them ghostwritten), but you don’t have to be famous to have had a life story that deserves to be told through an autobiography.
Which Genre Is the One for Me?
At this point, you may already have a preference for one writing genre over the other. Or you may still have an open mind with regards to whether your story will best be told through a memoir or through an autobiography. Either way, let’s explore a couple of factors that will help you make your decision, or help you to confirm that you’ve chosen the right one.
To begin, take stock of your own preferences and your own goals for your story. What exactly do you want to write about? What subjects do you want to preserve for the future? Do you have a takeaway message for readers? What do you want to convey to others through your writing?
Now consider the main audience for your story and what might align with the audience’s interests. For example, would your grandchildren enjoy hearing about your life’s journey, including your childhood and how you met their grandmother or grandfather? Would people in your industry prefer to hear about your climb to the top of the corporate hierarchy, but without all the details of your love life? But remember, this is your story and you get to tell it the way you want.
Whether you write a memoir or an autobiography, it will be a gratifying experience that will allow you to reflect on and be proud of your life’s journey thus far, and share it with the audience(s) you choose. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
Fact or Fiction?
Let’s say that 10 people witness a crime. Afterwards, investigators question all of the witnesses. They receive 10 different versions of the events. So which version is correct? Maybe all of them, maybe some of them or maybe none of them.
Since memoirs and autobiographies inevitably discuss real events and real people, I encourage you to present an account that is as true to the events as experienced by you as possible. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also one of the things that makes memoirs and autobiographies so powerful as a form of writing. Your story is your story and you should be proud to put pen to paper or fingers to keyword and share it.
Your own memory is an impressive tool and the primary source for writing of this kind. I also encourage you to fact check a little and fill out your recollections using other available sources. They may include:
- The Internet (great for finding the name of that little town you visited long ago),
- Old journals (if you have them, they can provide invaluable details of things you once observed but that you may have forgotten about over the years),
- Photos (they can help confirm what you remember about the way someone looked) and
- Conversations with others who were also there (who may recall additional details that give your memories greater context).
No matter what kind of life you have led, writing a memoir or an autobiography is a great way to share your important story with the world.
Dudley Court Press
If you’d like help with your memoirs, check out this video.
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