A – Autobiography vs. Memoir; Write About Me (Or, Well, You)

In 2010, 100 years after his death, Mark Twain’s estate finally released his autobiography. He dictated it in the last years of his life, and stated in his will that it shouldn’t be published until a century after his death.  Well, apparently it’s been 100 years, and we now have two volumes of his complete autobiography.

After the first volume was released, I came across it in the biography section at Barnes and Noble.  (Apparently, they don’t have an “autobiography” section.)  I was excited to see it, and a little surprised, even though I knew it was coming out and had, prior to its release, really been looking forward to it.

The first thing I noticed was the book was huge, at 700 or more pages, and was the size of a large coffee table book.  I flipped through about 200 pages, trying to find where the autobiography actually started; looking for some Twain version (READ: snarky) of the Dickensian model, “To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born” (David Copperfield, 1850).  Little did I know, it consists mostly of anecdotes and reminiscences, rather than being in a traditional autobiography “story” format.

I held this book like the Gutenberg Bible, thinking, “I would never be able to fill up a book like that”.  I’ve thought about writing an autobiography, mostly just to practice narrative and remember specific events in my own life which I’ve always found hard, but when I’ve tried I’ve had difficulty in deciding how to begin.

The distinction between autobiography and memoir from Writer’s Digest is so helpful to me.  The difference stated on the site is that an autobiography will cover one’s entire life, while a memoir is generally just pieces of narrative that are particularly meaningful, interesting, funny, etc.  For me this distinction is very important, as I can’t remember my entire life, and I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t be that interesting.  However, I can pick a few tidbits here and there, so a memoir is a far more reasonable.

So, for the past few months, I have returned to the work of writing a memoir.  Will anything ever come of it?  Aside from my sheer enjoyment, probably not.  But it’s nice to return to those moments that I remember fondly, examine those times that were so challenging yet character building, and remind myself that it has been pretty interesting so far… In pieces, at least.





Filed under reading, writing

2 responses to “A – Autobiography vs. Memoir; Write About Me (Or, Well, You)

  1. I love Mark Twain, and am fascinated by both his life and his stories.

    Thanks for noting the difference between an autobiography and a memoir. I hadn’t heard that before, but it makes sense.

    Happy blogging!

    • Jennifer Marshburn

      I’m a big Twain fan too!

      I had always wondered what the difference between the two was, and since I went looking for myself I figured I’d share what I learned. That’s my goal – learning about writing and perfecting my craft with others who are just trying to do the same. Happy writing!

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