What is a Memoir?

A memoir is a genre of writing that is about the life of the author and written from his perspective. It shares those qualities with an autobiography but the main difference between the two is that while the latter is about the entire life of the author, a memoir is focused on a specific moment in his life. 

A memoir will pick a crucial moment in the life of the author and try to relive that moment through the writing. In a memoir, the feelings, emotions, and thoughts of the author are the central parts of the story. Those are the things that make them different.

Difference Between an Autobiography and a Memoir

It has been mentioned that the main difference between an autobiography and a memoir is the period that they cover. A memoir retells a specific period in the life of the author. It’s useful to take a look at some of the most famous autobiographies to clarify this difference. 

The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini is one of the most important autobiographies to have come out of the Renaissance. Cellini was a soldier, sculptor, goldsmith, and musician and he wrote one of the most interesting autobiographies, not just of his period but all time. His autobiography gave a colorful and sometimes hard-to-believe account of his life and his exploits. Although one of the problems with Cellini’s work is that it does not stick to facts which is the main characteristic of an autobiography.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,  is a lot more truthful since it sticks to facts that can be verified by the readers. They can take an autobiography and use it as a source for other studies that are not directly linked to the author.

Starting Point

An author of a memoir will take a moment in his life, and write the whole book about that. That same moment might occupy a single chapter or even just a single page in an autobiography. This is why memoirs are so important. They allow readers to look more closely at an important moment in the life of the person they are reading about.

This does not mean that memoirs will not include facts, but there is a lot more flexibility in the writing. There is no need for the facts to be verifiable by other sources. The writer is recounting the events as he remembers them. What he may recount may not necessarily have happened in the way that he is writing it, but that should not be a problem because he’s writing a memoir.

Elie Wiesel, for example, wrote about his experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Buchenwald when he was a teenager in his memoir entitled Night. His experience and emotions at the moment when he was right in the middle of one of the most horrific acts of the 20th century were what readers were looking for. They are not after dates and facts about the death camps, they want to read what a prisoner’s life was like there.

History of the Memoir

The memoir is not really a new genre. In fact, it has been around for quite some time now. Perhaps, the earliest example of a memoir would be the Confessions of  St. Augustine of Hippo. He started writing it in 397 A.D. When one looks at the work today, it would be more like an autobiography but what made it different was the intimacy of the writing. It was, after all, a “confession”. 

That was the beginning, after that, other writings that can be categorized as memoirs were written. Of course, those early authors did not set out thinking that they were writing a memoir, but they knew that they were writing something different.

Types of Memoirs

Like other genres of writing, other forms of memoir writing came out. Here are some of the subgenres of memoir that are common now:

  • Transformation memoirs
  • Confessional memoirs
  • Travel memoirs
  • Celebrity memoirs

These types can be furthered divided into subtypes. That’s how rich memoir writing is.

Now, it’s time to take a deeper look at each one of these types.

Transformation Memoirs

The bestselling  Eat Pray Love can fall under this category. The idea under this type is that it tells how the author undergoes a deeply transformative experience. Normally, these writings have themes of redemption and “finding the self”. Sometimes, these types of memoirs are written to help others to undergo a similar experience. 

These works often offer a deeply spiritual insight that readers can appreciate.

Confessional Memoirs

As mentioned earlier, confessions are very intimate and highly personal. In these types of writing, the author reveals very personal details about their lives, their thoughts, and their emotions. A good example of this is the Confessions of Rousseau. When that came out, it scandalized a lot of people in France because of the intimate details he revealed including his sexual preferences.

Travel Memoirs

Travel memoirs are very popular. It allows the readers to escape with the author as they explore new places. A great example of a travel memoir, which is also a memoir of war and conquest is Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. It is an engrossing first-hand account of how a small band of conquistadors conquered Mexico under the leadership of Cortes.

Few travel memoirs are as packed with action as Castillo’s but many are just as interesting. After all, travel is a great subject to write about.

Celebrity Memoirs

A celebrity memoir normally focuses on how the subject became famous.  A good recent example of this kind of memoir is Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala. It details how she was attacked because she wanted to get an education, how she recovered, and her recent efforts to fight for the education of girls globally.

Writing a Memoir

Before you start writing a memoir, you need to identify the moment in your life that you want to write about. Maybe there’s a particular vacation that you cannot forget. You might have a moment when you changed your mind about something.

The important thing is that the moment should have a major impact on you. Here are some of the questions you should answer when picking a moment to write about:

  • Why is that particular period crucial for you?
  • Did you endure struggles during then?
  • Did you learn lessons during that period?
  • Can you share some universal truths that your readers will find interesting?

Once you have picked the particular period that you want to write about, you need to start recollecting what really happened then and how you felt. Once you are sure about your memories, then you can start writing. You need to have a clear arc to your memoir. You should start at clear one point and end up at another.

At the end of the day, what your readers would like to know is how you survived the difficult situation you were in. That’s why they would want to read your memoir. So, make sure that you share that part of your story with them.

How Do You Write a 6 Word Memoir?

While most memoirs are book-length, there is also what’s known as 6-word memoirs. These very short memoirs are not really memoirs in the sense that we have discussed. They are attempts at summarizing the life or personality of a person.For example, a young man who marries the daughter of a rich person can have a 6-word-memoir that goes like: 

Secret to Success: Marry an Heiress.

How do you write your own 6-word-memoir? First of all, find something unique about yourself that might summarize you and your life. It’s okay to exaggerate, the aim of the short memoir is to be witty and humorous. Many writers aim for self-deprecating humor. That’s an effective way of reaching your audience and making them laugh with you.

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