What the Gilmour Girls didn't know about memoirs.

What the Gilmour Girls didn't know about memoirs.

In the recent Gilmore Girls special, Lorelai Gilmore wants to 'Go Wild.' 

Her ever patient partner Luke nods as she walks away to re-enact the experience of hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail in Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. 

When Lorelai arrives, there is a collection of other women at a point in their life where they are seeking the same breakthrough that Cheryl did. So they, like Lorelai, decided to do exactly what Cheryl did, seeking the same outcome. 

While that works perfectly in the special, memoirs aren't actually written to encourage emulation in this manner. They ARE written to inspire change, but unlike a self-help book, they aren't written for the purpose of being followed to achieve the same results. 

So what is the difference between self-help and memoir?

In a memoir, writers are telling their personal journey. This might be overcoming a personal or even a professional challenge. In its intention, while a memoir is written for people grappling with the same issues, it doesn’t actively work to solve readers’ problems in a neatly laid out steps.

A memoir simply shows the authors journey and the ways which they dealt with their challenges, but it will not typically offer specific help beyond that. 

A self-help book, on the other hand, engages more directly with readers. Though it uses writing techniques to tell the author’s story, the writer is not the primary focus of the book.

The focus is on the reader, and providing them a way to move forwards.

This means that narrative is structured around addressing challenges, and giving a clear course of action for the reader to follow. The authors personal experiences are incorporated into the book as illustrative emphasis or case study for the reader to emulate, and connect with. They also provide anecdotal real world evidence of the success to be gained from the course of action proposed.  

What if I want to write both memoir and a self-help book?

That's not unusual. But it is important to decide on the purpose of your book before you begin writing, otherwise you risk creating something that is neither one thing or the other, and helps none. 

So the following questions are here to help you decide what book you are wanting to write:

  • A memoirs format is flexible, open to a wide variety of storytelling techniques, allowing readers to journey with the protagonist
  • Memoirs share personal truths and a single persons journey without the idea that their way of moving forwards is applicable for another person
  • Self-help books speak to people in a particular circumstance for the purpose of sharing specific ways for them to move forwards. 
  • If this is your first book, readers do not know who you are, so they might be less inclined to read your memoir
  • If you are a coach or speaker sharing about the topics in a self-help book can support your business and also raise your profile and authority on this topic

While I might suggest that Lorelai incorrectly read a memoir like a self-help book, she is not alone. And really, there is nothing inherently wrong in that sort of reading, even it is not the explicit intent of the writer. 

Both memoirs and self-helps books are intended to inspire. 

Both seek to engage with their readers and let them know they are not alone.

And if any book you read, memoir, self help or anything else that helps you deal with the challenges you are facing, it is a good book. 


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