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  • Writer's pictureOlive Lowe

Autobiography or Memoir?

There are many terms to describe different types of life story writing. Two of the most common terms are "autobiography" and "memoir." So what is the difference between the two, and which one should I be writing? Here's the low-down:


Autobiography is a first-person accounting of a complete life story, usually written in chronological order. It likely contains much factual information like names, dates, and places, woven in throughout the story. For famous people, autobiographies may actually be published and sold in book stores. For non-famous people, autobiographies are usually written to be enjoyed by friends and family, and to serve as a record of a person's life.


A memoir differs from an autobiography in that it is centered around a specific theme or period of life, as illustrated by a collection of true experiences. For example, a memoir that has a theme of grief and loss might be illustrated by the author's experiences of losing a childhood pet, losing a grandmother as a teenager, and losing a spouse late in life. The author only shares details about their life story that are relevant to the theme, so there may be large spans of years that are left out completely. Genealogical and timeline information is secondary to the story and theme. If the writer is talented enough and has a strong story and theme, they may be able to publish their memoir even if they aren't famous.

So which should I write? Autobiography or memoir?

To answer that question, you need to think about the kind of story you want to tell. Do you want to tell stories spanning your entire lifetime to give your posterity a sense of who you were? Autobiography. Have you had an experience (or multiple related experiences) that have been particularly significant in some way, like a near-death experience, a miraculous rescue, or a tragic loss? That sort of story may deserve its own book. Memoir.

Is there overlap between the two?

Yes, there can be overlap between the autobiographical and memoirist styles. In fact, the most engaging autobiographies use writing techniques that are typically employed in memoirs, i.e. using descriptive language, "hooks" at the beginning of a story, flash-forwards and flashbacks, direct quotes and dialogue, humor, etc. Perhaps most important of all, good life story writing, whether it be autobiography or memoir, seeks to find meaning in events of the past, to provoke contemplation in the reader and leave some kind of impression on them.

Can you help me write a memoir or an autobiography?

Yes, absolutely! Although many of my clients are elderly folks who want to have a complete life story, I can also help people who want a book about a specific experience or time in life. One of my very favorite projects to date was a memoir, actually! You can read about it here.

Want to learn more about working with me to create a custom life story book?

I would love to chat with you!

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