DON’T FORGET AUTOBIOGRAPHIES AND MEMOIRS!
Just yesterday, a neighbor asked me a few questions about the “easy way” to pull the time-frames together as he writes his Memoir. Then he wondered: “Is a memoir the same as an autobiography?”
There was a time in my early writing career when these two categories were quite different, the memoir focusing on one brief period of time in someone’s life and the autobiography creating as complete a picture (from birth to present time) of a living person’s whole life. However, today, all the major bookstores I visit combine these two genres in one area: Autobiographies. So does Amazon, even to the point of blurring the lines between all three classifications (biographies, autobiographies and memoirs).
However, as I did my research for this month’s blogs, I came across an interesting quote from the famous writer Gore Vidal who wrote two personal memoirs: “A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.” I like the clarity of that definition, and plan to use it when talking with future clients. So it is that I’ve given myself a brief bullet point outline and will share it with you today.
- Written in 1st person—the “I did this” perspective.
- Uses less formal language/word choices.
- Focuses on one (or two) main events/times in a person’s life, but can include birth date and short paragraphs of early memories.
- Speaks from the more emotional perspective—how they felt when events occurred.
- Dates/places may not be exact, such as: I was about 33 when I began this career.
- Although “written by” the individual person(s), it often requires the assistance of a “collaborative writer.” Superb example: Having Our Say by Sarah and Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth (Amazon lists this as a biography when it is clearly an autobiography. Grrr)
- Offers their life history from birth to present day.
- Written with detailed chronology facts of personal, political and/or world events, places, and the people they met and interacted with along the way.
- Authors must also consider who they are writing this book for—their audience—and what aspect of their life is most useful to those Readers.
When I was teaching in a school setting (versus my workshops today), I loved to lunch with the teachers of World History and American History. These inspired people were always telling me about the latest autobiography (or biography) they’d discovered. Of course, the first autobiography they assign to students is Ann Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl. “These books not only reveal historic events,” one teacher told me, “they demonstrate the strength people have to survive great tribulations in life which shows our students that they, too, can survive life’s challenges.”
SO…have you added a bunch of books to your resources bookshelves this month? I hope you’ve selected a few. The individuals you’ll be reading about will, indeed, enlighten you and the author’s writing techniques will be instructive, too. Take time to talk with your local librarian about these genres and the people (subjects) who might be most interesting to you—who have lived in a time period you’re intrigued by or succeeded in a career that is appealing to you.
Then…once you’re comfortable with the flow of these books, look around for potential clients. I’ve worked with a ninety-year-old who could tell me his life stories all day long and barely need a break for lunch. And, I’ve worked with a gentleman who gave me several pages he started writing “years ago,” then gave me additional outline points, but passed away before we could meet again. Yes, being the “writing assistant” to people seeking help with these genre categories of writing can be an emotional rollercoaster. Yet, I wouldn’t trade those days/months for anything. My writing skills and abilities have been sharpened by the experiences and so will yours. ⚓︎