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

Putting together a memoir can be intimidating. How can you be expected to document your whole life? All those dates, and times, and place names… Who can remember them all?

But do you need to? Is that really what a memoir is? The answer may surprise you. 

A ‘memoir’ and an ‘autobiography’ may seem like the same thing in most people’s minds. But there are important differences, and compiling a memoir is significantly easier than working up an autobiography. So, if it’s the amount of work that’s holding you back, good news! By crafting a memoir and not an autobiography you can save yourself time and effort and complete the project sooner.

How does memoir differ from autobiography?

1. Memoir is narrow in scope

First, and maybe most importantly, a memoir isn’t supposed to be about your whole life—that’s for an autobiography. With a memoir, you don’t need to start at birth and describe in order everything that’s happened to you up to today.

Instead, a memoir is about stories. Memoirs focus on a narrow time period in a life or focus on stories that have some kind of thematic (but not necessarily chronological) relationship. You might create a memoir about a particularly meaningful childhood summer spent at a cottage. Or you might collect stories about funny things that happened to you and your friends throughout your school career. Or do a memoir about your experiences as a parent.

A big advantage of using the Memoir, by LifeTales app to craft a memoir is that you can work out of order. You can write or record a story, or caption a photo, or upload a video and then save it for later. Once you have a bunch of pieces, stop and take a look. What do they have in common? Are there themes that are emerging? What other stories do you have that fit alongside those? Add them in! Later you can group and organize your content around these themes.

2. Memoir is informal

Autobiographies can seem more like accounts of history rather than of lived experience. They tend to focus on dates, times, places, and the order in which things happened.

Not so with memoir.

Memoir is more personal, more intimate. Memoir leaves more room for your voice, for emotion and memory, and for examining how events impacted the storyteller. Memoir can include things like dialogue, character description, and evocations of mood and setting.

By recording yourself in the Memoir, by LifeTales app you have a chance to give a very personal account of events. Just as you would when recounting a story to friends, working in the Memoir, by LifeTales app will ensure that your own style, tone, and character come through in the telling. This adds life and vibrancy to your stories that simple pen-and-paper could never capture.

3. Memoir is more flexible

Facts are essential in memoir, don’t misunderstand. Your loved ones want to know the truth of your life experiences. But unlike autobiography (which is very linear), memoir offers more space to play around with how and in what order the facts of events are presented. 

With memoir, you should feel free to move backward and forward through time as you lay out not only events but their later resonance in your life. You might relate how something that happened years earlier was forgotten until a critical moment decades later. Or how a tragedy informed a later triumph or vice versa. 

Think of it as approaching the story of your life thematically, rather than chronologically. You can focus on stories that give a sense of the significant events in your life, without necessarily telling them in order.

Whether you’re curious to learn more about memoir, or you’re ready to start documenting your own memoir today, download the Memoir, by LifeTales app and begin recording something your loved ones will cherish for years.