Writing a book about your life is a noble, complex, and vulnerable experience. It requires you to to be an unfiltered protagonist and to dive into personal relationships that may or may not be painful to reveal.
In this process, you will need to identify key formatting components. For example, the book will obviously be written in the first-person point-of-view. Yet how much of your timeline are you going to cover? How subjective will you be in regard to the content? Will you cover all of your childhood or only certain ages?
This can be answered by looking at the three main genres for personalized and published nonfiction writing: autobiographies, memoirs, and collections of essays.
Take a look at the chart below to identify varying genre characteristics:
Out of the three genres, autobiographies and memoirs are the most difficult in which to decipher the difference, seeing as they both may reference childhood memories or organize chapters chronologically. An autobiography, however, will strictly stick to straightforward storytelling, like Benjamin Franklin’s The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. These are works that are grounded in factual events, rather than emotional reflections or messages.
Many publishers will typically confuse the term ‘autobiography’ with ‘memoir,’ simply because the two hold very similar characteristics. For example, people are often curious about Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It begins at childhood and progresses into adolescence, but the book is centered upon messages rather than chronological details. This indeterminate style is growing in popularity as it covers both youth and emotion. However, we would still group it under ‘memoir’ for its intentional reflection.
In comparison, a collection of essays is not organized by chapters to build upon a theme. It is an assemblage of 20-40 essays, each essay standing alone in memory or perspective. They do not have to be organized chronologically or even feature the same content, although it is helpful to categorize them under an umbrella for creative unification. For example, Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines is a collection of essays about celebrating the extraordinary in the ordinary. The different pieces included cover a variety of topics from marriage and parenting to swimming and pennies.
Similar to Angelou’s work, it’s okay to cross genre lines to best benefit your narrative. Do pick a format to follow, though, as it will help provide structure to your memory and a pathway to its history. You will most likely need multiple drafts in this process as you discern between truth and perspective. However, that is what makes these genres so exciting: it’s your story to share.
Featured Image by Iñaki del Olmo