24 Oct What will you write, autobiography or memoir?
When you write about your life what kind of story will it be, autobiography or memoir? Although the lines are blurred there are differences between the two.
What’s an autobiography?
An autobiography is usually a one-off record of your achievements, which is why it is an attractive option for celebrities, entrepreneurs, and politicians. One famous life invariably links to another so the reader benefits from knowing a little about the characters before they begin. An unknown author will have to work harder describing the personalities and dynamics of the relationships in their book if they intend to publish it or expect their descendants not to be bored to tears.
An autobiography is often presented as a chronology but not always. Keith Richards opens his autobiography with a story from his thirties, then goes back to his childhood. This is one of those blurred lines, but as a rule, if you write about your life from the beginning to the present it’s called an autobiography.
What’s a memoir?
The memoir can be described as a subset of autobiography used to unpack an aspect of the writer’s life. Like their career, a relationship, an era or involvement in a life-changing cultural, social or political event. There are memoirs about everything from the swinging sixties to making money and jail time. You name it and it’s been covered but each one from the writer’s own unique perspective.
The memoir is normally the self-contained story of the writer’s involvement in the chosen episode or event where the focus is on the story and not the storyteller. The autobiography is the author’s timeline and is all about the author.
Serial memoirist Clive James has written about his life in instalments; childhood, university, career and more and poet Mya Angelou wrote seven books about her life. All these books are autobiography and all are memoir.
More how and why less what and when.
Whichever you choose, make your stories relevant to your reader. The why is so much more interesting than the what. Why did you choose to do the thing you did, how did you feel, who else was involved and did they feel the same? Make the people in your stories three dimensional by describing how they looked and acted and what they believed.
To write your memoir, pick the Johnnybio chapter which matches the age you were at the time, Child and Teenager, Adult Life (20-40), Mid Life (40-60) or Sixty Up. Each chapter includes an in-depth interview about that era to help you give depth to your story.
To write your autobiography, begin with Child and Teenager then move onto later chapters. Each chapter automatically joins to the next to complete your book.
Will it be an autobiography or memoir? No matter what you call your story, what is important is you that you tell it.
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