What is a Memoir?

Let’s start with what a memoir is not. A memoir is not a biography or an autobiography where you tell your entire life story. A memoir entails a specific aspect of your life. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines memoir as

a narrative composed from personal experience.

I’ve always been interested in other people’s lives, what makes them tick and how they got where they are today. At one time, only celebrities wrote memoirs. Today, anyone can write and publish their memoir. It’s a good thing too because many of us have stories to tell that can impact other people’s lives.

Many of my favorite books (I learned years after I read them) were actually memoirs, such as I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou and Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody, both of which changed my life. Note: A good memoir will be life-changing to the reader.

(At one time, there was no clear distinction between biography and memoir. Today, memoirs are clearly denoted on the front of the book.) Personally, I get a little lost with biographies–too long and not enough punch.

Just like there are different types of life experiences, there are different types of memoirs, coming-of-age, addiction, travel, food, transformation and spirituality, just to name a few. My favorite type of memoir is coming-of-age memoirs, such as James McBride’s The Color of Water because the writer usually writes from a different era and imparts a bit of history.

In an autobiography, the writer attempts to write about every aspect of their life. A memorist, however, picks and chooses what is included in their memoir, based on the experience they are sharing and their message.

So, there you have it.

Are you ready to start writing? Our next post will deal with writing–getting started.


  1. Since I’ve turned much of my attention to memoir these days (reading and writing), I’ve realized that it’s memoir that would have answered some of my very early questions (age 17!) about why people do what they do and why things are the way the are in families. Went to college to find the answers… and did find many… and explore it professionally. I am so glad memoir is popular now! Perfect timing for me. Great post!

    1. Me too! I love reading and writing memoir!

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