What is a Memoir Not?

When we know what a memoir is not, we know how to focus our story and write a great memoir.

A cup of coffee and a memoir

What a memoir is not.

Straight up and quite simply:

  • A memoir is not an autobiography,
  • A memoir is not a chronological account of your life from cradle to current day,
  • A memoir is not a detailed exposé of your life blow by blow, and
  • Nor is a memoir a tale of vengeance or retribution for all the wrongs that have been done to you.

There are, of course, memoirs that contain some of these elements to differing degrees. But a personal story that contains all these elements is not actually a memoir. Instead, what I think you have is the beginning of a bitter autobiography.

What than is a memoir?

A memoir is an exploration of an event, an experience or possibly a relationship in our life that we want to unpack and convey to the reader. We do this so that the reader can know this truth about themselves too.

As memoirists, we do this in two ways.

First, we speak to or we write to a universal truth. That universal truth becomes the main theme of our memoir.

Second, we take the reader on a journey.

We use elements from our life, stories from our life, details of our life, and happenings in our life to demonstrate this universal truth and to illustrate the journey on which we are taking the reader. We only use details and stories that speak to this specific theme and topic. Everything else gets left off the page.

A memoir is as much about what you do not say as it is about what you do say.

Once we have those two essential elements of memoir covered, there is a third element we need to consider. Like all good stories, a good memoir needs an element of redemption.

When we have all of that together, a universal theme, a journey to take our reader on, and a story of redemption, then we have a great memoir.

If you would like to know more about choosing the universal theme of your story, how to craft the journey of your memoir, and which writing elements to include in writing your story, then do connect with me on my YouTube channel, Brenda-Smit-James, where we talk all things memoir.

You can find links to my three most recent blog posts right here.

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  • John Bourne

    “A memoir is not a detailed exposé of your life blow by blow,”

    Can I tell my story (Universal Truth, Take you on a Journey and be Redemptive), as a stream in an autobiographical memoir up to a certain period of my life? I had so many stories to share, raw, and adventurous, that led a consequential step by step growing and maturing process in my life. Possibly two or three books. From hitting rock bottom to where I am today as successful old man in all things family, reflecting on this journey.

  • Tracy Danton

    The more I read about the genre of Memoir, the more I think that the story I have sitting in my soul, is actually going to be best expressed as a memoir. I never even thought of it this way. Thank you for getting me thinking and considering all options. I was stuck and despondent but feel much better about what is brewing inside of me (and has been for 16 years!)

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