a workbook for writing your life story

What’s the Difference Between a Memoir and an Autobiography?

What’s the Difference Between a Memoir and an Autobiography?

You can easily confuse the memoir and autobiography genres. After all, they’re both written by you and about your life! While they may be similar in nature, the two feature a few key differences that will help you differentiate them.

The Subject

Do you want to write about your entire life in a chronological format, or would you rather write about a specific subject or time in your life? An autobiography generally follows an author through all of their life experiences. It notes these experiences in chronological order from birth until the author’s current age. A memoir, on the other hand, follows the author through a particular set of related experiences in their life. For example, a memoir may follow an author through all of their experiences with politics. A memoir will have a more specific overall subject than an autobiography.

The Facts

Are you trying to share facts about yourself, or are you more focused on telling an emotional story with your writing? Autobiographies are typically fact-driven. When writing an autobiography, the goal is to be as accurate as possible to what actually happened in an author’s life. With a memoir, the goal is to portray how an event made the author feel. Memoirs are still based on the actual events of an author’s life, but those events are chosen to add emotion to the overall story. The facts in memoirs are not as clear-cut and specific as the facts in autobiographies.

The Tone

Would you rather have a formal tone to your writing, or would you prefer a more conversational tone? An autobiography generally has a formal tone. It’s written as an account of one person’s life and heavily relies on factual accuracy, so it has to be more direct. A memoir has a more personal tone. Again, the author is conveying an overall story of a subject in their life. The tone is less formal because of its reliance on feeling over fact.

While it can be easy to confuse the two genres, memoirs and autobiographies have different formats. Choose which one best fits the story you want to tell, jog your memories, and start writing! The world wants to hear your story.