Why Having Led an Interesting Life Isn't a Good Reason to Write a Memoir

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Maybe you have friends who have been telling you for years, “Wow, you’ve led such an interesting life; you should write a memoir!” Well, maybe you should write a memoir. But not about your entire interesting life, and not because you’ve led one.

The reason for this is that a #memoir isn't about your entire life. A memoir covers a particular time and aspect of your life - a slice of your life, as it were - not the whole shebang. It might be about the two years you spent nursing your mother through cancer, or about the year you spent teaching English in China, or the three days you spent adrift after a boating accident, or your lifelong battle with, and eventual triumph over, an addiction or illness. Your life may yield several memoirs, each telling a different and particular story. A book about your entire life, or as near to entire as you can make it, is an #autobiography.

Reading an autobiography is like walking into a gourmet chocolate factory and sampling one of each offering in its display case. You get a taste of each, and it's a lovely variety, but at the end of the day you haven't had the opportunity to spend the necessary time with any one specific confection to really explore and appreciate the layers, subtleties, and play of taste, texture, aroma, and visual aesthetic.

There is value to both memoir and autobiography in terms of entertainment and information, but if you want to communicate on an intimate level with your readers and make an emotional connection, you'll need to focus on one journey and get specific. Make the time, place, and events come alive for your readers. Let them experience your #journey through your #senses, your filters, your thoughts and emotions. To do this effectively requires depth and time. In other words, choose one piece of chocolate and experience it fully.

You don't even have to have had an interesting life. One journey that taught you a lesson, caused you to grow, helped you overcome a challenge, or opened your mind to new ideas or ways of seeing and experiencing the world, is all that is required to fill a memoir. Memoir is about homing in on a personal #transformation, no matter how great or small. If it was meaningful for you, and you allow yourself to be vulnerable in communicating that, it will be meaningful for your readers.

People read autobiographies of celebrities and politicians because they are already interested in those people and they want to learn more about their lives, about how they came to be the personages they eventually became. People read memoirs, whether by celebrities or people they've never heard of, in order to benefit from the memoirist's transformation. They seek insight into how to overcome their own challenges, fodder for their own personal growth, and launchpads for their own imaginations.

Has your entire life been interesting, unusual, and extraordinary enough to appeal to masses of strangers? If so, and you wish to entertain people, then by all means write an autobiography. If you want to transform lives, however, choose one #story and write a memoir.