ConversationConfusing memoir with autobiography: Narrator: Listen to a conversation between a student and her creative writing professor. Student: I'm having a lot of trouble with the assignment you gave us. You know, to write a short memoir. I started it like a thousand times and every time I feel like it's terrible. Professor: I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Whenever I give an autobiographical assignment, the majority of my students are totally fine with it and can go on forever, in fact. But a few, like yourself, hesitate at the idea of having to write about themselves. Student: At least I'm not alone. So do you think that maybe I could maybe write a short biography of someone else instead? Professor: No, that won't work. I'd rather you turn in what you thought was a poor paper about yourself than a brilliant one about someone else. Student: You mean it's okay if I do a mediocre job? Professor: I really don't think that's going to be a problem for you. You know, it's not bad for writers to be pushed out of their comfort zone, and it may help you remember that my main goal is to get people to experiment with different genres. The effort you put forth will be apparent in your work and that will help determine your grade. Student: Yeah, but I'm still not comfortable with the idea of turning in something I'm not super proud of. And there's also the length issue. How could I possibly sum up my whole eighteen years in fifteen pages or less? Professor: I think you're confusing memoir with autobiography. Student: You mean they're not the same? Professor: Technically no, though the terms are used often interchangeably. Generally, autobiographies chronicle the author's life from his or her earliest memories to the present. Memoirs tend not to be so broad. They're more thematic. Take Katherine Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post, she wrote a prize winning autobiography that goes from her early years to her retirement. If she had set out to write a memoir, she would have set out to write about, say, her newspaper coverage of the Nixon presidency, or she could have concentrated on her childhood, or even a single memorable event and how it shaped her values. Student: Oh, I see! Well, when I was ten, my family moved to a different town. Ten years later, just as I was just settling in with my friends, we had to move again and I had to start all over. But then, last fall when I moved into the dorms here on campus, making friends wasn't a problem. I wasn't even nervous and I'm sure that was due to those earlier experiences. Professor: What a perfect theme for your memoir! Student: You think? Professor: Definitely. Just take what you told me and just flesh out with some anecdotes and develop your insights a bit more.