Take This Quiz to Find Out Whether You’re Writing a Memoir or an Autobiography

Woman wondering what to call her book.

A common question authors have about memoir is whether they’re writing a true memoir or an autobiography. At Write My Memoirs, we don’t make much of a distinction. If you’re writing about your life, you’re writing about your life. Call it a memoir, autobiography, life history—we don’t think it matters much.

But authors continue to want to know how to label their book, so here’s a little quiz for you to take to reveal whether, according to conventional thinking, you’re writing a memoir or an autobiography.

Answer TRUE or FALSE:

  1. My story begins with my birth and continues to present day.
  2. My primary goal in writing my book is to provide information for my children and grandchildren to “know where they come from.”
  3. I would like generations in the future to have a reliable record of what life was like growing up when and where I grew up, as well as what adulthood was like during my lifetime.
  4. Even though my life hasn’t been that unusual, I want to get all the facts down.
  5. I want to tell all about my life in my own voice.
  6. The hurdles I overcame in my life holds lessons for other people.
  7. Even though I am not yet 50 years old, I want to write my book now.
  8. I will devote much of my book to one part of my life that was very unusual.
  9. Something happened to me that I feel compelled to write about.
  10. Everyone asks me about one episode in my life, so I decided to write about that.

As you may have figured out, this list of 10 questions starts heavy on autobiography and progresses incrementally to memoir.

Give yourself 1 point for each time you answered TRUE to questions 1 through 4.
Give yourself 2 points for each time you answered TRUE to questions 5 and 6.
Give yourself 3 points for each time you answered TRUE to questions 7 through 10.

Scores

1-8: Your book is an autobiography.

9-16: Your book is more of a memoir.

17-20: Your book may not have enough of a theme. Rethink whether you want to focus on one part of your life or write a comprehensive book that gives relatively equal treatment to all parts of your life.

Hope this helps! At Write My Memoirs, we want to help you write and publish the best book you can have to represent your perspective of your life.

Journaling Can Be First Step in Writing Memoirs

Cover of Little Women

On a visit to the Boston area some years ago, I took a tour of Orchard House, which is where Louisa May Alcott wrote her memoirs in the form of Little Women and other well-loved books. In an introductory video, an actress portraying Miss Alcott talked about her home and how she became such a widely read author. She’d always kept a journal, so when she decided to write a book for girls based on her own family, she had a lot of information already in writing and did not have to rely on her memory. Thus she encouraged everyone to keep a journal.

That seems like great advice. You never know when the urge will strike to write your autobiography. If, earlier, you described important events right when they occurred, you’ll have a much more accurate account of how they unfolded and who said what. You’ll be able to capture the feelings of the day—the weather, sounds, colors and your own emotional responses.

Even if you never turn your journal entries into a full book, the process of journaling can be rewarding in itself. Alcott has been widely quoted as writing, in 1855, “I am in the garret with my papers round me, and a pile of apples to eat while I write my journal, plan stories, and enjoy the patter of rain on the roof, in peace and quiet.” You never know—maybe your memoirs will become as famous as Louisa’s!


Happy U.S. Thanksgiving from Write My Memoirs!

Write My Memoirs Thanksgiving

Many of our members here on Write My Memoirs do not live in the United States, so they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. But the Thanksgiving sentiment is something that applies to memoirs no matter what your nationality. Thanksgiving brings up all sorts of memories.

  • For Americans who were alive in 1963, the memory of that Thanksgiving can be painful, because President Kennedy was murdered six days earlier. All Americans remember where they were when JFK was shot. I was in fifth grade, and we were sent home early. Walking home in the middle of the day, I was surrounded by an eerie silence. This is something that could go into a memoir. Even if you’re not American and weren’t living in the United States at the time, I’m sure the news reached you and touched you in some way.
  • Thanksgiving brings to mind family traditions in general. What are yours? Do you cook Thanksgiving dinner? Attend a family get-together? Is your autumn all about football, or raking leaves or getting away from the cold? Certainly Thanksgiving or any family celebration can be a focal point of a memoir.
  • The end of the year signals loss for many people. Those memories are punctuated by the contrast of holiday celebration. My own mother died on this date, November 25, and we held her funeral the day before Thanksgiving. The following day, it took until afternoon for any of us to realize it was Thanksgiving. We bought some deli turkey, ate sandwiches and cried and reminisced about Mom. Perhaps you have a November story to tell in your memoir.

Starting a memoir now is a great idea, because it’s a jumpstart on the New Year. A lot of times we start some goal on January 1 only to abandon it by February. Starting now gives you that necessary six weeks to get in the habit of writing so that you don’t disappoint yourself in 2020!

Happy Thanksgiving, memoir authors!

Can You Write a Good Memoir Without Fact-Checking? No!

Fact-check your memoir

Memoirs rely on the author’s memory, but we all are  aware that memory tends not to improve with age. It’s well-known that witnesses to the same crime report sometimes vastly different details. When you compare notes with siblings or childhood friends, you’re likely to discover that your accounts of the same incident differ significantly.

In many cases, you can’t know for sure whether your memory is correct. That bullying incident on the playground in fourth grade—did the other kid really say the words you remember? There’s no way to know for sure. That’s ok. Whether it happened exactly the way you remember is not as important as the fact that, in your mind, it did happen as you’re describing it. The incident’s effect on you is clear even if the truth about it isn’t.

But so many small facts can be checked. Today’s technology makes writing a memoir easier than it’s ever been in so many ways, and fact-checking is high on that list. Unlike in years past, there’s no need to sit in a library all day.

If you’re writing about the snowfall that occurred on your sixteenth birthday, take a minute to look up the weather report on that day. If you believe you attended your town’s bicentennial when you were 12 years old, some quick Googling will make sure you have the time line correct. If you describe walking down Center Street to your elementary school, make sure in your hometown it wasn’t spelled “Centre” Street, or it wasn’t Center Avenue. These are not unforgivable errors, but this is your book—why have any error that you can easily prevent?

Show your draft to family members for their input and recollections on the events you describe. Ask them to be particularly attentive to the facts you lay out. A parent, child or sibling may offer a perspective that you hadn’t considered or have some information that would add texture to your account.

Knowledge that we’ve carried with us all our lives can turn out to be our impressions rather than hard facts. Just check out everything you can.

New Feature: Post Your Writing at Write My Memoirs!

Our Write My Memoirs community and services are growing!

While we provide publishing services to help you publish your book, we’re hearing from some authors who do not want “paper publishing” but would prefer to share their work by displaying it online. Some people want to share with the public, and some want a link to send just to friends, family or other selected people.

In response, we have created a new section on Write My Memoirs that gives you, the author, your own publishing page! See an example here of an author who would love for you to read her stories. As you can see, we place the copyright symbol with your name at the top of the page to protect the work.

Let us know that you would like to post your work, and we’ll create a page for you. You can use our Contact Us form or write us directly at: support@writemymemoirs.com

Our tech department is working on a way for you to upload your work, but for right now you can just email the work to the “support” address, and we’ll get it online within a day or two. Then we’ll supply you with a link to share. Feel free to include images.

This is a good way to get feedback little by little as you write each chapter. You can learn how people are reacting to your writing and continuously polish it as you work to complete your book. And if you’d like, at our very reasonable prices we’ll supply a quick edit before you display your work.

Lizzo Reflects a Common Memoir Theme: Life Happens, and You Fix It

There’s a song out right now, “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo, that has the lyric:
“Yeah, I got boy problems, that’s the human in me.
Bling bling, then I solve ’em, that’s the goddess in me.”

That way of thinking proves to be a catalyst for many memoir authors. Your problems happen to you through no fault of your own, but you manage to turn them around or triumph over them. You change the direction of your destiny through sheer will and hard work.

As a child you suffered neglect, poverty, family dysfunction, maybe abuse—and look at you now. You mended your broken parts and became a whole adult. Or you fell into a downward spiral of addiction until you kicked it for good.

Maybe the redemption wasn’t as dramatic. You were a clumsy kid who became an accomplished athlete. Or you left Wall Street to run a small farm and love it. Or you took a chance on surgery that cured a debilitating medical condition. It can even be what Lizzo says: you figured out what you were doing wrong in romance, and now you have a great relationship.

We’re driven to share our win against the odds or the formula we devised all on our own for repairing our situation. It’s not about bragging, just documenting. We write it all out to add weight to the fact that it happened. The writing provides a bit of therapy—or at least closure. It’s letting out a breath we’ve held for so long. Phew. We did it, and now we wrote about it. And we hope that sharing our story will help others facing a similar set of circumstances.

If you’re looking in the mirror and seeing someone you’re relieved to finally be, no wonder you want describe who you are now and how you got from then to now.

What Motivates a Writer to Keep Writing? It’s Not What You Think!

Deciding to write a memoir is the easy part, right? It’s the writing that gets hard. It’s exciting at the beginning to think of the name of your book, jot down possible chapter topics and dig up old photos to remind you of times past.

But then you sit down at the computer to craft the words, one by one, that will express what you want readers to know about you. It may surprise you, especially if you’re a new author, how much motivation it takes to write day after day. Sometimes you edit or rewrite what you already have. Other times you skip a day or two altogether. Soon a week may pass without one word added to your memoir. And we all know how one week can lead into the next.

So what do you do? Everything you can think of.

  • You read books on memoir writing.
  • You attend a writing seminar.
  • You tell friends that you’re writing a memoir for the same reason people tell friends they’re trying to lose weight—saying it out loud makes it a real goal with people expecting to hear about your progress.
  • You find a “memoir buddy” to compare writing challenges and keep each other accountable.

And after all that, you still have trouble sticking with the project. You look at your work and doubt yourself. Fear, whatever—you are not making progress.

Writers’ secret weapon

You’re overlooking the obvious. A writer’s secret weapon against becoming discouraged is simple and available. When you were younger, you regularly learned new skills or got obsessed over a new hobby. Maybe you picked up an instrument, joined a sports team, tried your hand at painting—whatever it was, you expected a learning curve. You knew you wouldn’t be that great at first. But you had your piano teacher, tennis coach—someone who would give you one-on-one instruction and critique. Little by little you’d improve. And the better you got at what you were doing, what happened? The more you wanted to do it.

Writing is the same. You don’t need another book or seminar or amateur buddy. What will motivate you is a professional who will not only edit your work but explain all of your personal writing pitfalls. You have this grammar issue or that organization problem. Your sentences tend to be short and choppy or long and rambling. You want to tell how you feel about something instead of describing it vividly enough for the reader to feel what you feel just from the description.

When you read your own ideas, words and life experiences in a polished writing form—when you can say I am proud of this chapter—that’s when you’ll be motivated to keep writing. You’ll keep getting better, but that’s not the only thing you’ll notice. You’ll see that you are fearless, because the editor is your safety net. You don’t have to doubt yourself. Just write, and if it’s not perfect you’ll find out why in a forgiving, nonjudgmental manner.

As always, Write My Memoirs would be honored to be trusted to edit your life story. Visit our Writing Services page to find out more.

Is It Writer’s Block or Creative Anxiety?

For some people the problem is getting started. Others have trouble maintaining momentum. Still others go along fine until they hit a wall regarding a particular topic or chapter. Commonly referred to as “writer’s block,” this condition seems to affect all writers sooner or later. So what is it really?

A guy named Eric Maisel at dailyom.com offers a course he calls “Creative Anxiety” to help people overcome their roadblocks to writing, art and other creative pursuits. I am not endorsing his course—it may be helpful but I have no personal knowledge about it one way or the other. I’m referencing it because I like the way he’s reframed the writer’s block concept. Creative anxiety precisely describes what I’m hearing from authors here at Write My Memoirs and beyond.

“Many believe that the symptoms below are just ‘part of the creative process,’ but they are actually representative of a deeper, more damaging problem,” Maisel writes on his website. “If left unmanaged, the creative person in question may find that their creative work is too taxing mentally and stop altogether, opting for a ‘less emotionally complicated’ path in life.”

You don’t want a less emotionally complicated life, right? You want to write!

Maisel lists these symptoms of creative anxiety:

  • Procrastination.
  • Avoidance of creative work altogether.
  • Finding excuses to not be marketing your work.
  • Fear of showing your work to the public.
  • Being unable to make a creative decision.
  • Comparing your work to others in an unconstructive way.
  • Feelings of being not good enough.
  • Getting angry when others give you criticism.
  • Feeling depressed if others don’t respond how you’d hoped they would.
  • Consistently not taking advantage of opportunities because your work is “not quite ready yet.”
  • Giving your work away for free, when you know you should be charging.
  • Starting new projects before you’ve finished your old ones.
  • Thinking that other peoples ideas are generally better than yours.
  • Having trouble deciding on what project to tackle.
  • Either talking to others constantly about your creative work (that you’re not actually doing), or avoiding the subject altogether, at all costs.

Do you see yourself in that list? The relevant items I see most in writers are procrastinating, fear that other people won’t think the work is good and losing confidence in being able to determine what to write about. And then I’d add one: generally overthinking the whole writing process. This overthinking comes in the form of spending all day reading articles and books about writing, posting and messaging people in online writing groups, and watching videos about writers and writing. Then all day turns into all week.

The answer is that you have to sit at the computer and write. Edit later, show people later, read up on some fine points later. For a big chunk of the day, you have to write. The more you do it, the easier it gets, the faster you can write and the more confidence you’ll gain. Gradually, your anxiety will fade and the excitement will kick in.

Write Like No One’s Reading

Google “Why is writing so hard?” and you’ll pull up lots of excuses. We don’t set aside time. We don’t make writing a habit. We’re new at writing, and everything new is hard. And a big one—we’re scared that our writing won’t be any good.

Dance Write like no one’s watching reading!

You could say the same about dancing, but a few beers later we’re all out on the dance floor enjoying life. The saying, “Dance like no one’s watching,” encourages us to go and do what we want to do and forget about what other people think. Why not approach writing the same way? But ditch the few beers, unless you really need them.

Dancing is actually harder, because it’s physical activity. There’s not much effort in pushing keyboard letters. The hard part is all in your head. But you’ve done much of the hardest part already. If you want to write a memoir, you have some idea of what you’ll write. Is it hard to sit on a chair and type? Or lean back on the couch and speak into a talk-to-text? It really isn’t.

To get started, write anything. Absolutely anything that gets even a little close to something you want in your memoir. Tell one story or describe one emotional reaction that you know very, very well. If there will be a hard part of your memoir, this is not it. This is not the chapter that makes you cry or wince or feel terrible all over again as you did when you actually lived the words. This first stab at your first draft is just one piece of your life that you know you can explain.

And that’s it for today. Tomorrow you’ll read it, and you’ll see that you kind of like it; you’ll add to it or write a new story. Or you’ll read it and hate it, so you’ll fix it or delete it altogether and start over. By day three you’ll begin to feel like a writer. You’ll look at your calendar and decide which days you will definitely write. You’ll think, “I can do this.” And you know what? You can.

Join Us for Mentoring and Support in a Facebook Group!

The Write My Memoirs community is growing, with a new page for authors to share work and discuss the writing process. Whether you’re writing a memoir or crafting a different type of book—fiction or nonfiction—you are welcome at the Write My Memoirs Group page. I will personally help you with writing, grammar, motivation and validation.

The more authors I meet, the more I’m convinced that a group setting is beneficial. We all get so deeply into our heads as we write alone at our computer hour after hour. Facebook groups of all sorts bring together people who are dealing with a common situation. It’s so helpful, whether the members share a medical diagnosis, profession, hobby, family situation, lifestyle choice—the list is long. In our case, we’ll all be writers comparing notes—literally!

I will coach you both as a group and individually. You also will mentor each other. Sound fun? It will be. Hope to see you there. Just ask to join, and I’ll admit you! Here’s the link again:
Write My Memoirs Facebook Group