The other day someone asked me to define the difference between memoir and autobiography. Here at Write My Memoirs, we use the terms interchangeably, so I had to do a little research to learn whether we’re in accordance with general usage. While I think that most people do consider the terms to be more or less synonymous, some writers and publishers make a distinction.
The best explanation of memoir vs. autobiography I found was by Laura Tretter, director of the San Juan Island Public Library. First, I needed to figure out where San Juan Island was. Did you know that it’s nowhere near San Juan, Puerto Rico? Nope, it’s part of Washington state—far north, near British Columbia, Canada. So I learned something there.
When Ms. Tretter researched the use of these two similar words, she discovered that, primarily, people who distinguish memoir from autobiography consider the former to be an account of any part of the author’s life, delivered in any order, while the latter relates all of the notable events of the author’s life, typically in chronological order. So if you’re writing only about your service in World War II or your days as a Broadway dancer, you’re crafting a memoir. If you’re starting with your birth and providing your life’s details leading to present day, you’re writing an autobiography. At Write My Memoirs, we invite you to author either one!