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.

Why Your Memoir is Good Enough

Why Your Memoir is Good Enough
Here on the WriteMyMemoirs blog, we talk a lot about how to craft a compelling memoir. We give general writing tips as well as targeted advice regarding what makes a really good memoir. But you know what? None of that necessarily applies to you.
Many of you are writing your autobiography not with the hope of scoring a best-seller, but really just to get down, digitally or on paper, a record of your life. You probably want your grandchildren to know about their ancestry and to preserve all of the fascinating tidbits that you know about your family. If you publish it at all, most likely you intend to print a small run so that you can hand out a couple of dozen copies to your friends and family. For those targeted readers, your memoir will be compelling, because they have a built-in interest in your story—either they’re part of it or they know people who are. That makes the reading very interesting!
So please don’t worry too much about whether your grammar is perfect or the structure meets the latest conventional wisdom about how to write a memoir. You don’t really need a focus. If you start at the beginning of your life and work your way through the anecdotes and important facts, that will be just fine. You’re not writing a textbook or a novel; you’re producing a highly personal manuscript documenting, in your authentic voice, the truth about your life.

Here on the WriteMyMemoirs blog, we talk a lot about how to craft a compelling memoir. We give general writing tips as well as targeted advice regarding what makes a really good memoir. But you know what? None of that necessarily applies to you.

Many of you are writing your autobiography not with the hope of scoring a best-seller, but really just to get down, digitally or on paper, a record of your life. You probably want your grandchildren to know about their ancestry and to preserve all of the fascinating tidbits that you know about your family. If you publish it at all, most likely you intend to print a small run so that you can hand out a couple of dozen copies to your friends and family. For those targeted readers, your memoir will be compelling, because they have a built-in interest in your story—either they’re part of it or they know people who are. That makes the reading very interesting!

So please don’t worry too much about whether your grammar is perfect or the structure meets the latest conventional wisdom about how to write a memoir. You don’t really need a focus. If you start at the beginning of your life and work your way through the anecdotes and important facts, that will be just fine. You’re not writing a textbook or a novel; you’re producing a highly personal manuscript documenting, in your authentic voice, the truth about your life.

Think You’re Funny? Write a Memoir

Think You’re Funny? Write a Memoir
Everybody’s a comedian, right? If you’re witty and thinking about writing a funny book, you might want to start with a memoir. New writers are always advised to write about “something you know.” What do you know better than your own life? And if you’re naturally funny, you’ve no doubt been picking up comedy material for decades about your relatives, your pets, school, your workplace, colleagues, friends and the typical, yet absurd, situations in which we all find ourselves. Write out all of those stories, one by one, and soon you will have the chapters to your humorous memoir.
Coming from the opposite direction, you may start out to write an ordinary memoir and discover that through your writer’s eye everything comes out funny. Even though you document your life’s dry facts and chronicle some unpleasant milestones such as parents’ deaths, you may find that what you recall best are the amusing, often heartwarming anecdotes that accompany even the saddest occasions in your life. In developing your voice as a writer, you should embrace that approach not only because it’s your natural voice, but also because humor keeps the reader engaged.
As part of your research, read some funny memoirs! There are plenty available; catch these links on Bookish.com and more on Flavorwire.com. From The Lottery author Shirley Jackson’s 1953 autobiography, Life Among the Savages, to recent memoirs of comedy icons like I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me by Joan Rivers and Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen Degeneres, you will be laughing as you pick up tips for the construction and flow of a funny memoir.
http://www.bookish.com/articles/can-we-talk-recent-hilarious-memoirs-by-women?=edit1
http://flavorwire.com/281223/10-of-the-most-hilarious-memoirs-youll-ever-read

Everybody’s a comedian, right? If you’re witty and thinking about writing a funny book, you might want to start with a memoir. New writers are always advised to write about “something you know.” What do you know better than your own life? And if you’re naturally funny, you’ve no doubt been picking up comedy material for decades about your relatives, your pets, school, your workplace, colleagues, friends and the typical, yet absurd, situations in which we all find ourselves. Write out all of those stories, one by one, and soon you will have the chapters to your humorous memoir.

Coming from the opposite direction, you may start out to write an ordinary memoir and discover that through your writer’s eye everything comes out funny. Even though you document your life’s dry facts and chronicle some unpleasant milestones such as parents’ deaths, you may find that what you recall best are the amusing, often heartwarming anecdotes that accompany even the saddest occasions in your life. In developing your voice as a writer, you should embrace that approach not only because it’s your natural voice, but also because humor keeps the reader engaged.

As part of your research, read some funny memoirs! There are plenty available; catch these suggestions on Bookish.com and Flavorwire.com. From The Lottery author Shirley Jackson’s 1953 autobiography, Life Among the Savages, to recent memoirs of comedy icons like I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me by Joan Rivers and Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen Degeneres, you will be laughing as you pick up tips for the construction and flow of a funny memoir.

Make “Reducing Decisions” When You Plan Your Memoir

Make “Reducing Decisions” When You Plan Your Memoir
This essay we’re examining all summer, “How to Write a Memoir” by William Zinsser, is so rich with good advice that it may take us well into the fall. So here’s another Zinsser pearl of wisdom: think small, not grand. You may start out to write a comprehensive, final-word story of your entire life, complete with a history of your heritage, a review of every school you attended and job you held, a roundup of your friends and details about all of the significant episodes that happened over your lifetime. But, really, that would take volumes, and it would be daunting to start. Zinsser suggests you begin with a wide lens and then narrow your focus.
“ Most people embarking on a memoir are paralyzed by the size of the task,” Zinsser observers. “The past looms over them in a thousand fragments, defying them to impose on it some kind of order. Because of that anxiety, many memoirs linger for years half written, or never get written at all.”
To point you in a direction, he continues, “you must make a series of reducing decisions….Remember that you are the protagonist in your own memoir, the tour guide. You must find a narrative trajectory for the story you want to tell and never relinquish control. This means leaving out of your memoir many people who don’t need to be there. Like siblings.” Leave out siblings! That just sounds wrong! But it’s not their story; it’s yours. You can mention them without going into a parallel story of their lives.
“Families are complex organisms, especially if you trace them back several generations,” Zinsser notes. “Decide to write about your mother’s side of the family or your father’s side, but not both. Return to the other one later and make it a separate project.” That’s something we often forget—nothing says that this has to be your first, last and only memoir. After you write about one aspect of your life, you may find it easier to start on a new, still autobiographical, book on a whole new topic—proving it does take volumes to cover your fascinating life.
http://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir/#.UaTLItKsjTo

The essay we’re examining all summer, “How to Write a Memoir” by William Zinsser, is so rich with good advice that it may take us well into the fall. So here’s another Zinsser pearl of wisdom: think small, not grand. You may start out to write a comprehensive, final-word story of your entire life, complete with a history of your heritage, a review of every school you attended and job you held, a roundup of your friends and details about all of the significant episodes that happened over your lifetime. But, really, that would take volumes, and it would be daunting to start. Zinsser suggests you begin with a wide lens and then narrow your focus.

“Most people embarking on a memoir are paralyzed by the size of the task,” Zinsser observers. “The past looms over them in a thousand fragments, defying them to impose on it some kind of order. Because of that anxiety, many memoirs linger for years half written, or never get written at all.”

To point you in a direction, he continues, “you must make a series of reducing decisions….Remember that you are the protagonist in your own memoir, the tour guide. You must find a narrative trajectory for the story you want to tell and never relinquish control. This means leaving out of your memoir many people who don’t need to be there. Like siblings.” Leave out siblings! That just sounds wrong! But it’s not their story; it’s yours. You can mention them without going into a parallel story of their lives.

“Families are complex organisms, especially if you trace them back several generations,” Zinsser notes. “Decide to write about your mother’s side of the family or your father’s side, but not both. Return to the other one later and make it a separate project.” That’s something we often forget—nothing says that this has to be your first, last and only memoir. After you write about one aspect of your life, you may find it easier to start on another, still autobiographical, book on a whole new topic—proving it does take volumes to cover your fascinating life.

Choose a Perspective for Your Memoir

Choose a Perspective for Your Memoir
Do you write your about your childhood from the distance you have as an adult looking back, or do you call upon the voice inside you that witnessed the action as a child? This is another key issue discussed in William Zinsser’s essay, “How to Write a Memoir,” which we’re referencing here at Write My Memoirs because it contains so much insight into the memoir writing process.
Zinsser leans toward using your childhood voice to “preserve the unity of a remembered time and place.” He cites Russell Baker’s Growing Up, V. S. Pritchett’s A Cab at the Door and Jill Ker Conway’s The Road from Coorain as examples of autobiographies that effectively convey “what it was like to be a child or an adolescent in a world of adults contending with life’s adversities.”
But Zinsser recognizes that many of you memoir writers will choose to write from the point of view of the adult you are now, and he agrees that the resulting book can “have its own integrity.” For examples of that structure, he mentions Poets in Their Youth, “in which Eileen Simpson recalls her life with her first husband, John Berryman, and his famously self-destructive fellow poets, including Robert Lowell and Delmore Schwartz, whose demons she was too young as a bride to understand. When she revisited that period as an older woman in her memoir she had become a writer and a practicing psychotherapist, and she used that clinical knowledge to create an invaluable portrait of a major school of American poetry at the high tide of its creativity.” Zinsser recognizes that these are two different types of writing and urges memoir writers to choose one rather than combining the two.
http://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir/#.UaTLItKsjTo

Do you write about your childhood from the distance you have as an adult looking back, or do you call upon the voice inside you that witnessed the action as a child? This is another key issue discussed in William Zinsser’s essay, “How to Write a Memoir,” which we’re referencing here at Write My Memoirs because it contains so much insight into the memoir writing process.

Zinsser leans toward using your childhood voice to “preserve the unity of a remembered time and place.” He cites Russell Baker’s Growing Up, V. S. Pritchett’s A Cab at the Door and Jill Ker Conway’s The Road from Coorain as examples of autobiographies that effectively convey “what it was like to be a child or an adolescent in a world of adults contending with life’s adversities.”

But Zinsser recognizes that many of you memoir writers will choose to write from the point of view of the adult you are now, and he agrees that the resulting book can “have its own integrity.” For examples of that structure, he mentions Poets in Their Youth, “in which Eileen Simpson recalls her life with her first husband, John Berryman, and his famously self-destructive fellow poets, including Robert Lowell and Delmore Schwartz, whose demons she was too young as a bride to understand. When she revisited that period as an older woman in her memoir she had become a writer and a practicing psychotherapist, and she used that clinical knowledge to create an invaluable portrait of a major school of American poetry at the high tide of its creativity.” Zinsser recognizes that these are two different types of writing and urges memoir writers to choose one rather than combining the two.

Memoir Writing for the Non-Writer

Memoir Writing for the Non-Writer
A lot of people would like to write a memoir but feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the task, because neither are they writers by profession nor do they write as a hobby. In fact, may people who would like to have a memoir don’t enjoy writing at all. Can someone like that still be the author of an autobiography? Absolutely. If you can talk, you can write!
Picking up from the past two blog posts, we’re spending a few weeks here discussing an essay by William Zinsser on memoir writing. In this passage from his essay, Zinsser tells how his father wrote a memoir:
“My father, a businessman with no literary pretensions, wrote two family histories in his old age. It was the perfect task for a man with few gifts for self-amusement. Sitting in his favorite green leather armchair in an apartment high above Park Avenue in New York, he wrote a history of his side of the family—the Zinssers and the Scharmanns—going back to 19th century Germany. Then he wrote a history of the family shellac business on West 59th Street, William Zinsser & Co., that his grandfather founded in 1849. He wrote with a pencil on a yellow legal pad, never pausing—then or ever again—to rewrite. He had no patience with any enterprise that obliged him to reexamine or slow down. On the golf course, walking toward his ball, he would assess the situation, pick a club out of the bag, and swing at the ball as he approached it, hardly breaking stride.”
It’s all about telling little stories that, together, provide a window into a life. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect. Next time, we’ll go more into why your memoir might actually benefit from your “amateur” writing.
http://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir/#.UaTLItKsjTo

A lot of people would like to write a memoir but feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the task, because neither are they writers by profession nor do they write as a hobby. In fact, may people who would like to have a memoir don’t enjoy writing at all. Can someone like that still be the author of an autobiography? Absolutely. If you can talk, you can write!

Picking up from the past two blog posts, we’re spending a few weeks here discussing an essay by William Zinsser on memoir writing. In this passage from his essay, Zinsser tells how his father wrote a memoir:

“My father, a businessman with no literary pretensions, wrote two family histories in his old age. It was the perfect task for a man with few gifts for self-amusement. Sitting in his favorite green leather armchair in an apartment high above Park Avenue in New York, he wrote a history of his side of the family—the Zinssers and the Scharmanns—going back to 19th century Germany. Then he wrote a history of the family shellac business on West 59th Street, William Zinsser & Co., that his grandfather founded in 1849. He wrote with a pencil on a yellow legal pad, never pausing—then or ever again—to rewrite. He had no patience with any enterprise that obliged him to reexamine or slow down. On the golf course, walking toward his ball, he would assess the situation, pick a club out of the bag, and swing at the ball as he approached it, hardly breaking stride.”

It’s all about telling little stories that, together, provide a window into a life. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect. Next time, we’ll go more into why your memoir might actually benefit from your “amateur” writing.

Writers: “The Custodians of Memory”

Writers: “The Custodians of Memory”
We’re spending the early summer here discussing an essay on memoir writing by On Writing Well author William Zinsser. Last time, I shared the end of his essay, where he gave advice on how to and start writing your life story. Today, let’s look at the very beginning of his essay:
“One of the saddest sentences I know is ‘I wish I had asked my mother about that.’ Or my father. Or my grandmother. Or my grandfather. As every parent knows, our children are not as fascinated by our fascinating lives as we are. Only when they have children of their own—and feel the first twinges of their own advancing age—do they suddenly want to know more about their family heritage and all its accretions of anecdote and lore. ‘What exactly were those stories my dad used to tell about coming to America?’ ‘Where exactly was that farm in the Midwest where my mother grew up?’ Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.”
That’s a very powerful argument in support of writing a memoir. While you may not feel a burning desire to write an autobiography, it’s a service to your entire family to document your life’s various stories. Your memories stretch beyond your own experiences, back to the tales you heard your parents and grandparents tell. Your children and grandchildren may someday be very interested in all of that, even if right now they do not ask you about yourself.
http://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir/#.UaTLItKsjTo
https://writemymemoirs.com/blog/meet-william-zinsser/

We’re spending the early summer here discussing an essay on memoir writing by On Writing Well author William Zinsser. Last time, I shared the end of his essay, where he gave advice on how to start writing your life story. Today, let’s look at the very beginning of his essay:

“One of the saddest sentences I know is ‘I wish I had asked my mother about that.’ Or my father. Or my grandmother. Or my grandfather. As every parent knows, our children are not as fascinated by our fascinating lives as we are. Only when they have children of their own—and feel the first twinges of their own advancing age—do they suddenly want to know more about their family heritage and all its accretions of anecdote and lore. ‘What exactly were those stories my dad used to tell about coming to America?’ ‘Where exactly was that farm in the Midwest where my mother grew up?’ Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.”

That’s a very powerful argument in support of writing a memoir. While you may not feel a burning desire to write an autobiography, it’s a service and a kindness to your entire family to document your life’s various stories. Your memories stretch beyond your own experiences, back to the tales you heard your parents and grandparents tell. Your children and grandchildren may someday be very interested in all of that, even if right now they do not ask you about yourself.

The Memoir Poem: Another Format Choice

The Memoir Poem: Another Format Choice
Perhaps you’d like to write a mini-autobiography—either a brief overview of your entire life with only the essential details, or a full account of a single event in your life—but you do not feel confident at writing prose. Is poetry an option? It sure is. There’s even a name for it: “confessional poetry.”
Walt Whitman is widely considered to be the first confessional poet, with his Song of Myself and Leaves of Grass infusing first-person narrative into poetry. Before Whitman’s time, it was considered indulgent for poets to insert themselves into their verses. But Whitman seems to have opened the barn door. “For good or ill, we live in the age of the memoir,” write David Graham and Kate Sontag in their anthology, After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography.
Perhaps you’ve always written poetry and you’re comfortable with it; then you’re a perfect candidate to express the episodes of your life in verse. If you haven’t written much poetry before but the memoir poem appeals to you, take a course in poetry writing. And, of course, read lots of contemporary “confessional poetry” to get into the rhythm of this genre. Here are a few lines from For My Lover, Returning to His Wife, by 20th century poet Anne Sexton:
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.
http://www.amazon.com/After-Confession-Poetry-as-Autobiography/dp/1555973558/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370379070&sr=8-1&keywords=After+Confession%3A+Poetry+as+Autobiography
http://www.valpo.edu/vpr/byrneessayconfession.html
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/for-my-lover-returning-to-his-wife/

Perhaps you’d like to write a mini-autobiography—either a brief overview of your entire life with only the essential details, or a full account of a single event in your life—but you do not feel confident at writing prose. Is poetry an option? It sure is. There’s even a name for it: “confessional poetry.”

Walt Whitman is widely considered to be the first confessional poet, with his Song of Myself and Leaves of Grass infusing first-person narrative into poetry. Before Whitman’s time, it was considered indulgent for poets to insert themselves into their verses. But Whitman seems to have opened the barn door. “For good or ill, we live in the age of the memoir,” write David Graham and Kate Sontag in their anthology, After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography.

Perhaps you’ve always written poetry and you’re comfortable with it; then you’re a perfect candidate to express the episodes of your life in verse. If you haven’t written much poetry before but the memoir poem appeals to you, take a course in poetry writing. And, of course, read lots of contemporary “confessional poetry” to get into the rhythm of this genre. Here are a few lines from For My Lover, Returning to His Wife, by 20th century poet Anne Sexton:

She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.

Your Memoir Should Draw From Your “Emotional Truth”

You Memoir Should Draw From Your “Emotional Truth”
Author Diana Raab observes that writing a powerful memoir is more about connecting—and connecting the reader—with your feelings and outlook on life than it is about coming up with tantalizing stories. Reach deeply into yourself, and the power will unfold.
“The most compelling memoirists reveal a deep emotional truth about their lives,” Raab told the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs in an interview promoting a memoir-writing workshop she’s leading this summer at the first annual 2013 Summer Writing Institute of Antioch University, Santa Barbara, California. “I urge my students to ‘get down to their emotional truth.’ Sometimes this is not easy to do, but once the flow begins, it is a very gratifying experience.” The author of two published autobiographical books—Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey—Rabb told the interviewer that a memoir offers a snapshot of your life centered around a theme, which is distinguished from an autobiography, which tells the story of your entire life.
“Memoirs tend to be interesting to read,” she noted, “because our lives are the accumulation of stories—some tender and heartwarming, some frustrating, some boring, and others dark and destructive—all helping to build who we are.”
Scheduled for July 28-August 3 and limited to 10 students, Raab’s workshop will blend teaching techniques ranging from lecture and discussion to critique and writing exercises. If you’re interested, apply here by June 15. (Write My Memoirs is in no way associated with the workshop.)
http://greenheritagenews.com/the-essentials-of-memoir-writing-in-santa-barbara-summer-2013/
http://www.antiochsb.edu/swi/how-to-apply/
http://www.dianaraab.com/

Author Diana Raab observes that writing a powerful memoir is more about connecting—and connecting the reader—with your feelings and outlook on life than it is about coming up with tantalizing stories. Reach deeply into yourself, and the power will unfold.

“The most compelling memoirists reveal a deep emotional truth about their lives,” Raab told the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs in an interview promoting a memoir-writing workshop she’s leading this summer at the first annual 2013 Summer Writing Institute of Antioch University, Santa Barbara, California. “I urge my students to ‘get down to their emotional truth.’ Sometimes this is not easy to do, but once the flow begins, it is a very gratifying experience.” The author of two published autobiographical books—Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey—Rabb told the interviewer that a memoir offers a snapshot of your life centered around a theme, which is distinguished from an autobiography, which tells the story of your entire life.

“Memoirs tend to be interesting to read,” she noted, “because our lives are the accumulation of stories—some tender and heartwarming, some frustrating, some boring, and others dark and destructive—all helping to build who we are.”

Scheduled for July 28-August 3 and limited to 10 students, Raab’s workshop will blend teaching techniques ranging from lecture and discussion to critique and writing exercises. If you’re interested, apply here by June 15. (Write My Memoirs is in no way associated with the workshop.)

Aiming Your Memoir at a Young Audience?

Aiming Your Memoir at a Young Audience?
“Brutally attacked by rebel soldiers who cut off both her hands….” That’s the beginning of a synopsis of The Bite of the Mango by Miratu Kamara, a book included on About.com’s list of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs for teens. Apparently teens are a tough bunch these days. Other books on the list relate the lives of a drug smuggling gone horribly wrong, teenagers on death row, a “boy soldier” in Sierre Leone and, perhaps most famous, a young surfer whose arm was chewed off by a shark.
If you believe that your memoir has something to offer young people, there’s no need to sugar-coat your life’s experiences. Write your story in words a 14-year-old can understand. Try to keep it under 300 pages. Don’t overplay the graphic detail involving violence or sex. Present it in a way that there’s a lesson they can take away—that’s probably the hardest requirement. School libraries and the young people’s sections of public libraries will carry your book if it strikes the librarians as “powerful” in painting the picture of a series of events and in delivering a message.
Without a message, the story of your life is a narrative that will resonate only with the people who know you. If you think you have something of value to teach to young people who will be inspired to follow in your footsteps, or the opposite—will be able to avoid making the same mistakes you made—write with those teens in mind.
http://childrensbooks.about.com/od/5youngadultbooks/tp/contemporary-biographies-autobiographies-memoirs-for-teens.htm

“Brutally attacked by rebel soldiers who cut off both her hands….” That’s the beginning of a synopsis of The Bite of the Mango by Miratu Kamara, a book included on About.com’s list of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs for teens. Apparently teens are a tough bunch these days. Other books on the list relate the lives of a drug smuggling gone horribly wrong, teenagers on death row, a “boy soldier” in Sierre Leone and, perhaps most famous, a young surfer whose arm was chewed off by a shark.

If you believe that your memoir has something to offer young people, there’s no need to sugar-coat your life’s experiences. Write your story in words a 14-year-old can understand. Try to keep it under 300 pages. Don’t overplay the graphic detail involving violence or sex. Present it in a way that there’s a lesson they can take away—that’s probably the hardest requirement. School libraries and the young people’s sections of public libraries will carry your book if it strikes the librarians as “powerful” in painting the picture of a series of events and in delivering a message.

Without a message, the story of your life is a narrative that will resonate only with the people who know you. If you think you have something of value to teach to young people who will be inspired to follow in your footsteps, or the opposite—will be able to avoid making the same mistakes you made—write with those teens in mind.