The key differences between a memoir vs. autobiography and why I’m passionate about helping people write memoirs.

Author FAQ: What’s the difference between a memoir and an autobiography? And what are the advantages of writing one vs. the other?

Short short short answer: A memoir is the novel of your life, an autobiography is the journal that it’s based on.

An autobiography focuses on the “what” of your life story, a memoir the “why.”

A memoir is a creative, intentional editorial narrative that you craft around a slice of your life – a lesson or series of lessons, a message you want to convey to others, or a specific period of chapter of your life that you want to focus on for whatever reason. 

In this way, a memoir is more novel-like because you are working with elements like plot and character development, and deploying literary tools throughout your writing, more so than you would in other nonfiction books.

A memoir is an opportunity to tell a story that resembles your life (how closely depends on the memoir and the author), that also has a targeted intention woven through it. For instance, the intention behind my memoir The Power of the Curve was to show readers how to take life’s wildest curves and find in them purpose and a way forward, often to a better destination than your original one. All the stories I selected to tell, how I told those stories, and the style of writing, was designed around that goal. 

An autobiography would have certainly and adequately shared what has happened so far in my life, but unless the reader hunted for it, it would have lacked any overriding thread of purpose. 

Obviously I’m biased, given that helping authors write memoirs is my passion and specialty area and I’ve seen over my nearly 20 year career how successful the memoir format is in changing people’s lives (first the author’s, then their readers’) and in many cases, affecting change. 

Memoirs have a sort of magic to zoom in on a person’s soul and explain why they did the things they did, and what you can learn from their choices. 

Still have questions about which is the best format to tell your story, memoir vs. autobiography? Add yourself to my calendar and let’s talk it through!

Related Articles:

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Writing Your Hero’s Journey as a Memoir


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