Memoir Writing | Memoir vs Autobiography

Man & Dog Copyright©IreneGraham 2012 office@thecreativewritersworkshopMemoir writing has in the recent past become a genre in its own right.  It is now considered creative non-fiction, and is a popular genre in bestseller lists. In contrast to autobiographical writing in years gone by, a writer does not need to be famous or well known to write a memoir.

Autobiographical Writing encompasses a whole life – a life story usually written chronologically from birth to a given point in time. Thus autobiographical writing includes perhaps hundreds of characters, places and events from the writer’s entire life.

Memoir Writing can also be written chronologically, but it can also be structured creatively, similar to novels. Memoir writing is about drawing upon life stories and memories and focusing them into a memoir – usually upon a particular subject and the impact it had on the writer’s life, eg:

  • a war veteran and how he or she survived during and after a war
  • growing up with hippy parents, living life on the road
  • living in a small community in a minority race and the effect this had on adult life
  • generations of a family living in one particular house and the transitions brought about over time
  • the impact of the death of a child on family life
  • the struggle through a particular illness and how it altered and changed a life
  • travels alone around the world, and how this shaped a life
  • growing up on a cotton farm in southern USA in the ’60’s

So in essence, the man on the street probably has one autobiography – the entire story of his/her life, in contrast to memoir, whereby we have many life stories to share, and therefore, many memoirs to write.

From my workshop experiences many writers start out by thinking their memoir will be focused on a person they really admired, the life of their grandmother or father for instance. What this person did, where they went and what they achieved.  It is important to note that while writing a story about your father and his life achievements is a worthy concept, this is not memoir writing – it is biographical writing. It is a life story about someone else – not you. 

On the other hand, if you want to write about the influence your father had on your life – from your perspective, and the impact he had on your life and the decisions you made or did not make because of him – than that is memoir writing.

Likewise, if any of your siblings wrote their memoir on the same subject matter – the influence your father had on their life – it would be a competely different story to yours, it would be about their life, and the influence your father had on it – from their perspective.

Memoir Writing Courses – The Memoir Writing Club

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