Autobiography vs. Memoir

A few years ago the BBC ran a My Story competition and in the submission information they stated, “What makes a story special is how you tell it”.  Implying content may be less important than delivery. And delivery will depend on your audience. That shouldn’t be groundbreaking news; after all you might tell a young child a different version of the same story than you would tell your best friend, partner or granny. The same is true of written stories, even stories from your own life.

Your audience might be:

  •  Personal. You may want to write about your life just for yourself or your nearest and dearest. When my mother-in-law did that, my brother-in-law word processed it and added photographs creating a real treasure for our family.
  •  The short story market. There are competitions and magazines that offer good money for true-life stories. You will have to conform to the rules and guidelines of submission whilst also standing out above the competition.
  • Readers of full-length books.  When I gave up teaching to write full time, my story poured out. In four months I’d written 80,000 words but it took five years of study, editing and re-writing to craft A Life Less Lost into a compelling read. Along the way I learned the difference between autobiography and memoir.

An autobiography is the story of a life and a memoir is a story from a life.

Unless you are famous (and I am not) no one will be particularly interested in reading your life story ~ sad but true. However, if your book focuses on a specific event or experience there may be people interested in what you have to say.

My first drafts were autobiographical. I mistakenly thought people who didn’t know me would have to have everything spelled out in chronological order for it to make sense. Wrong. Readers make sense of what they read through the prism of their own experience.

Now, don’t worry, all that effort wasn’t wasted because I used it as a reference tool. But it bears no resemblance to the final draft.

Once I started writing a memoir, the book had more focus and pace. Several short anecdotes from other periods in my life were woven in to help the reader understand why I reacted or thought the way I did but only when they moved the main story along.

Blurb for A Life Less Lost:

‘You should consider carefully how you wish to spend what time you might have left with James.’

When a mother faces the ultimate threat – the suffering and potential loss of her child – every possible human resource kicks in, including her faith. A Life Less Lost charts the author’s journey through white coats, misdiagnoses, endless appointments and more.

KB Walker connects stories from her American childhood to the traumas that face her very English family to explain the hope that helps her hold her life together.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Books: Over 100 Must Read Memoirs To Whet Your Appetite… | Mirth and Motivation

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