One Writer’s Journey

November 9, 2018

Memoir: Defining What It Is

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:14 am
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Since I agreed to critique a memoir, I decided it would be a good idea to brush up on what exactly a memoir is.  My first question was how does a memoir differ from an autobiography.

An autobiography is birth to present (whenever it is written).  A memoir is a slice of that person’s life.

An autobiography is everything – historic events, significant experiences.  A memoir generally has a focus.  This focus might be a specific time period – the first time this person went to camp.  Or it might have a topical focus – the events that contributed to the author’s eating disorder.

An autobiography is all about fact and detail.  A memoir is driven more by emotion and experience.

Most often autobiographies are about famous people.  A memoir can be written by anyone with an experience to share.

And that is what is at the center of memoir.  The author has had an experience and reading about it will benefit the reader in some way.  Maybe it will give them hope.  Or it might teach them how to deal with a given situation.  It could show them that they are not alone in having to deal with the problem.

One of the most telling pieces of advice that I’ve seen is to remember that you are writing about a therapeutic experience.  Something about the experience helped you grow.  Emphasize what it was and how this worked out for you.  Writing as therapy?  Using your memoir to work through the death of a family member, loss of your business or an unexpected move?  That’s going to benefit you but you are writing for an audience.  Remember that or you are not likely to find a publisher.

Interestingly enough, several of the pieces that I read emphasized that a memoir is nonfiction.  Duh?  But they emphasized this for a specific reason.  When writing memoir, do not lie.  More than one author has created all kinds of controversy because they were caught lying in their memoir.  Don’t add yourself to that ignoble list.

Nonfiction.  Slice of life.  Offer your reader something of value. Tell the truth.  It sounds do-able enough until I start looking at all my friend has put into this.



  1. Thank you for this insight, I want to attempt this one day. Although my self confidence is not up to par if anything, I know I can tell my story just like it happened. However, I’m not sure if I can meet the page requirement. Thank you for this insight. 😊

    Comment by Visionariekind — November 9, 2018 @ 4:38 pm | Reply

    • I’m not sure something book length would be in the making for me – but a personal essay? A definite possibility.
      Maybe you should start small? A story based on personal experience but not an actual memoir?

      Comment by suebe — November 10, 2018 @ 1:53 am | Reply

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