Writing the Self

One of my major interests is inner worlds: the subjective experience of being human. Perhaps, then, it goes without saying that I love to write the self, and I love to read the personal accounts of others. So I’ve been thinking about the different ways we choose to do this, and in particular the various methods available for presenting it. Here I share some distinctions I’ve made along the way.

Autobiography is the most ‘objective’ method for writing the self, with the aim of presenting events as they really happened. It will usually (but not always) be in chronological order and span most of a lifetime.

Memoir is a collection of memories from a specific aspect or time period of the author’s life. It is usually presented in an entertaining way, with some distance between the narrator and the subject, some hindsight, but also some intimacy of emotional context.

An Autobiographical Novel is the semi-fictionalisation of real events. It puts more distance between the narrator and the subject, and allows the use of plot devices, imagined events or characters, and heightened drama. There is an expectation that the author will do this not in an attempt to mislead, but to make the text more attractive to readers. Like memoir, autobiographical novels will usually cover a specific aspect or time period in the author’s life.

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