Chapter 1 - Memoir Versus Autobiography Writing stories about your life is like plying the waters of some familiar yet exotic sea. It is the act of casting your sails for adventure. Imagine it: The sun melts in a thousand shades of orange on a long horizon as your tiny craft cuts through swells, undaunted by the gathering challenge, because out in the haze awaitsyou can see itthe dream of your story, the possibility of immortalizing your life experience, of speaking the truth of what you have seen, and heard, and felt. This can be a long voyage, full of tempest, but I know of no other that can net such riches, for when you write a memoir you change your life. When you set down a truth about the past, a new future dawns. Yet, before you begin this process, you need to understand what a memoir really is. We can't set sail on this adventure unless we're in the same boat, so let's get clear: Life stories fall into two big clumps. There's memoir and there's autobiography. What's the difference? Memoir involves the whittling away of a whole lot of stuff that you have lived and a focusing on one slim section, full of power, that demands to be told. This section may be told chronologically, but it does not necessarily have to be, if the story itself would best be served by some different approach. (You'll learn about structure in part 2 of this book.) Autobiography is an overview of your entire life told chronologically from the "I was born" stage to the "and here I am now" stage. For the purposes of this book, I am dealing with the slice-of-life memoir in which you identify one potent period and you explore it through vivid imagery, honest voice, stunning compassion, and a deep awareness of the larger issues at play that guide your story in a subliminal waymyth, metaphor, and current issues of the day. In this book we are not working with the autobiography. In the process I will lead you through in this book, I encourage you to work with childhood stories, because they are ripe with material. Certainly you can apply this same process to any other segment of your life. It's simply an approach you are learning. It can be used again and again. That said, I do believe the most successful memoir is written about periods of our life that are further away in the mists of memory. Why? Because you have some distance from the time period you are exploring. You need that depth of perspective to make sense of the events. Distance gives you wisdom, alternative views, and the possibility of compassion, all elements central to emotionally moving and exciting stories about your life. Setting sail on this voyage of writing stories about your life, or stories that I call memoir, puts you squarely in the territory of what people in the publishing industry call narrative nonfiction. And it's good to know a little bit about that body of water. Why do they call it narrative nonfiction? Because in this form of writing you narrate (tell a story) about something that actually happened (nonfiction). Narrative nonfiction has a gazillion other shapes besides memoir and autobiography, and you might hear about them in a conversation or read about them in an article. Here are some of them, with brief definitions: Literary nonfiction: A name given to writing that narrates a story using many of the devices of literature to make the writing poetic Creative nonfiction: A term referring to the use of creative writing techniques mixed in with a nonfiction story, often making the result seem like a novel Essay: A name given to a piece of personal writing in which the voNorton, Lisa D. is the author of 'Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir' with ISBN 9780312382926 and ISBN 0312382928.