Personal History vs Memoir Yahoo group, Lifewriters Forum, that I follow recently discussed the difference between personal history and memoir. When does personal history become memoir?

“Personal history” seems to be a catch-all phrase for memoir, autobiography and life stories. The definition of memoir is a personal narrative covering a part of the author’s life, vs autobiography covering the entire life so far. Most, if not all, commercially viable life writings are written as memoir, either a chronological story, or a series of personal essays (chapters) that make a point. They read similar to novels in that there is an overarching theme or storyline, whether an obvious conflict resolved or a subtle message. It may be an exploration of cultural or historic experience. Having a theme does make a big difference in marketability. What is the takeaway, what do we learn, are we inspired?

For those of us who encourage life writing, any personal history format is good, but in the market place narrative memoirs rule so that’s what people know best. And maybe that’s what stops people from writing their stories – they think it has to be like one of those well-written popular memoirs. Unless you are a good writer and plan to sell your memoir book, forget about competing with Mary Karr, Jeannette Walls, or some celebrity with a ghostwriter.
Your life is important, whether anyone else acknowledges it or not. Your experiences may be common, but they are also unique to you and your perspective. Future generations of your family can learn from your piece of history and carry a part of you onward. Write your stories however you want. Make them a reflection of you, and not some perfect image no one recognizes. More on that in the next blogpost.


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
This entry was posted in memoir writing, writing skills. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Personal History vs Memoir

  1. Well put Linda. Thanks for the clarification

  2. JoAnn says:

    "Your life is important, whether anyone else acknowledges it or not." Your note captures it so well as I see some of us wrestling with the who, what, when, why and oh yes, is this good enough for me to be writing of? I also like your informal writing style in the post on LWF. The longer I explore this interest in lie writing/memoirs the less I feel confident writing it – yet the more inviting it becomes. Your note just gave me another permission slip!

Comments are closed.