Memoir revolves in an orbit of its own choosing, and therefore its pieces are often unified by a theme or period of time. The material is always the author’s life, and the narrator, (the speaker, or “I” voice), is always the author. Unlike autobiography, which attempts as complete an account of one’s life as possible, starting from the beginning, memoir begins where it wishes and concludes when its story is told. Memoir is more elastic, unpredictable, and crafted than autobiography. Because memoir does not strive for a complete accounting of one’s life, it depends on other elements, typically themes, to give it form.
What are some of the grand themes of your life (abandonment, coming out, fear, courage, letting go)? What are the questions that you ponder when you wake up at night (or that recur in your journal) that you wish you could ask others about at potlucks or over tea? Make a list. The grand themes of your life become the grand themes of your memoir.
from “Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Skinner House