Write Part of My Memoir in November, Day 4: Memoir vs Autobiography

Write Part of My Memoir

Welcome to Day 4 of my exploration of memoir writing that is turning out to be as confusing as it is illuminating.

For example, when I started this challenge I was certain I was writing a memoir. Now I’m not so sure.

In the review of Elvis Costello’s recent book that I linked to yesterday, the reviewer uses the terms “autobiography” and “memoir” interchangeably.  That’s not unusual. Amazon and brick-and-mortar stores also conflate these categories. The line between them is fuzzy.

According to a piece on the LifeRich Publishing site, chronology and comprehensiveness are key to autobiography, while “a memoir provides a much more specific timeline and a much more intimate relationship to the writer’s own memories, feelings and emotions.”

According to the site:

Memoirs are typically

  • less formal
  • less encompassing
  • more concerned with emotional truth toward a particular section of one’s life and how it makes you feel now
  • less obsessed with factual events

Autobiography is essentially

  • made up of detailed chronology, events, places, reactions, movements and any other relevant information that inhabited the life of the subject
  • focused on facts –  fact, above all, is its foundation

I am covering a rather large block of time in my book, more than 20 years. And, as I noted on Day 2 of this challenge, I’m spending a great deal of time fact checking. Given that the travel publishing industry is the backdrop, veracity seems essential.

In addition, although I am concerned about a narrative arc to move the story along, a feature associated strongly with memoir, I don’t necessarily feel that the arc in my book is all that emotional. My revelations are usually humorous — which doesn’t make them any less valid but it does put them a bit outside the memoir box.

Or does it? Memoirs tend to have stronger, more individual voices than autobiographies do. And I’m not famous enough to be writing an autobiography.

So…am I writing a hybrid? If so, what shall I call it? A memography? That sounds too much like mammography. An automoir? Too similar to an auto mall.

Incidentally, I think Elvis Costello wrote an autobiography, but the reviewer wishes that he had written a memoir because memoirs are shorter. Maybe I should wait until I see how long my book is before I decide what to call it.


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About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

6 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Kate Kaemerle says:


    Whatever you call it, it’s entertaining 🙂

  2. Kristine says:

    Really interesting thoughts. I guess I have always seen autobiographies to be self-promoting, things celebrities and business tycoons write to brag about themselves or get people to watch their movies etc. They hold no interest for me because I can’t trust that their perspectives are honest, even if the facts are. At best they are dull.

    Memoirs, however, are fascinating and my favourite genre. They are personal and authentic, even if they are also mostly humourous. And they don’t always have to be deeply revealing. There are a number of terrific travel memoirs – Will Ferguson comes to mind immediately – that don’t cover too many emotional details. I think your book definitely fits into this category. It isn’t the number of years covered or the emotions wraught, but the intention behind the words, I think. Memoirs don’t always have to be factual either because they are based on memories of situations and experiences. There is a bit of leeway for the memoirist. Though, of course, some notable people have taken too much and research is always a good thing.

    I really can’t wait to read yours!

    • Edie says:

      Thanks for weighing in here with your very interesting take on these two genres, Kristine — and of course your encouragement about my memoir! I’m encouraged that you’re clearer about where my musings fit in than I am. Seriously. I’ll have to look at Will Ferguson’s memoir.

  3. Debbie Wolfe says:

    So, an autobiography should be historical, but a memoir can be hysterical?

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