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Note 228 – How an autobiography is different to a memoir

Both autobiographies and memoirs are forms of non-fiction writing.  An autobiography is a story of a person’s life from when they were born up to a point in time.  It includes where they grew up, what they liked doing, what they did for work, who their family were and so on – it doesn’t usually leave much out.  Putting all this into a book can be a massive task (and the book would be pretty big too).

In his audio book On Writing Well: How to Write a Memoir, William Zinsser asks us to imagine an iceberg where the whole thing is the autobiography and the memoir is just the tip.   A memoir is taking a period of a person’s life where something significant or interesting has happened, e.g. going to school in the seventies, living through the credit crunch, looking after a baby alone, or a year out travelling the world. 

William Zinsser explains that there are many ways to write a memoir but advises that you ‘think small’ and make it ‘colourful’.  It can take the form of a book, article or just something to leave behind for other family members. He tells us to remember that “a memoir isn’t the summing up of a life, it’s a window into a life at a cerain moment.  It’s like a photograph in its composition, in its selection of important details”.

In your memoir your aim should be to connect with the reader.  If you write with honesty, your reader will feel what you feel and you will make that connection.  So, dig out those old journal, diaries and notes from the past and see if there is something there that would make a good memoir.  William Zinsser says that writing a memoir is like editing your own life.

My thoughts:  I have personally got enough material in my journals and diaries to form the basis for many memoirs, but have never really thought about them as individual stories before.  This has given me so many ideas – even if I do just write them for family members.

Has anyone else written a memoir or know of any good published ones?

Related posts

Hope you enjoyed today’s blog.

Until tomorrow…

Freelance writer
(For information on my services as a freelance writer as well as details of my book and other blogs).

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About Sandra Madeira

I am a full-time working mum with a passion for writing and inspiring others. Subjects I tend to blog about are life skills, parenting, decluttering, worklife balance, etc. At the moment I am on a decluttering mission creating space in my house, garden and mind. I have challenged myself to do at least ten minutes a day and write about it. Have a good day! Sandra Freelance Writer



  1. Pingback: Writing About Yourself: The Memoir | The Story Doctor - March 20, 2012

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