Memoir or Autobiography: Which Should I Write?

By: Mary Anna Rodabaugh in Book Writing and Editing
on September 7th, 2021

Maybe your friends and family have been constantly telling you that you need to write a book. Perhaps you’ve set the goal to write a book about your life to entertain, motivate, or inspire others. Maybe your life is so fascinating that it begs to be made into a book. Whatever the case may be, you are probably wondering if you should write an autobiography or a memoir.

These two genres tend to get confused for one another. Let’s take a look at key differences to help you choose which book you are meant to write.

The Magic of Writing a Memoir

Memoirs are incredibly special works of art. These books contain a personal story that teaches a lesson, shares an experience, or encourages the reader to think about very specific circumstances. Why is that? Well, when writing a memoir, the author focuses on a point-in-time plot. This means the book is a snapshot of the author’s life. It may be a period of time the author grappled with loss or the months leading up to an ultra-marathon.

Memoir or Autobiography Which Should I Write neon sign

Memoirs are very focused but also allow for flexibility. Many memoirs feature flashbacks as a literary device to tell a comprehensive story. Some memoirs may also feature multiple points of view. There is even a sub-genre called “femoir,” a light, airy, and entertaining (often humorous) memoir that usually addresses readers directly and is written by a female author.

Some authors may feature a collection of essays or short stories within the memoir umbrella as well. Each story is a mini-lesson, and may be told chronologically (or not). They can stand alone, but ultimately tell a larger story when presented in a collective manuscript.

Writing the All-Encompassing Autobiography

An autobiography is a biographical work that is told in a chronological format. It usually spans an author’s entire life, or at least a very large portion of it. Typically starting with birth and ending with a major accomplishment or provocative reflection, an autobiography tells the complete story of a life. There may be lessons and moments of inspiration mixed in the narrative, but you can expect the work to play out like a biography. The only difference is that it is written by the subject.

Autobiographies are commonly produced by celebrities and notable figures. The interest and mystery of their already well-documented lives are what draw readers into a more intimate experience. Sometimes autobiographies are also “tell all works,” meaning they may disclose little known facts and secrets about an individual’s life and the people in it.

Ready to tell your story?

Which Book is Right for Me?

Deciding between writing a memoir or autobiography is a relatively easy process. First, ask yourself what your story is about. Are you showcasing a particular moment in time or a specific event in your life? Or are you telling the full and comprehensive story of your life? If your answer is more specific, you should lean toward writing a memoir. Now, not to discourage you from writing an autobiography, but you also need to factor in the “who cares” element of your book. Is your life story captivating or relevant enough for readers to want to read it? With a memoir, you can target a specific audience based on the event you capture in your narrative. With the broad strokes of an autobiography, you need to be sure your readers would be interested.

Unless you want to write an autobiography for yourself, your family, or close friends. It is worth mentioning that while the memoir genre is a highly competitive publishing market, there are numerous micro-niches and sub-genres available for the choosing. Self-help, grief, loss, substance abuse, adoption, domestic violence, professional athleticism, or personal journeys are a few different niches you can consider.

The choice is yours, but be sure you have an idea of your book’s goals and target readership before you start drafting an autobiography or memoir.