A Memoir Misconception: “You’re Too Young to Write a Memoir”

“Aren’t you too young to write a memoir?”

I’m asked this question almost every time I tell someone that I’m writing a memoir. I get this question not only from strangers, but from well-meaning friends and family members as well. I know that I’m going to have to explain this a lot as the years go by, and I doubt the question will stop even after my memoir is published. But I’m going to put my answer out there now in the hopes that I can clear this up.

Here’s the short answer: No. I’m not too young to write a memoir.

I think the root of the misconception that one has to be “old” to write a memoir is that people confuse memoir with autobiography. That’s the reason that the people who say only famous or exceptionally interesting people should be allowed to write memoirs are wrong too. A memoir is not meant to give a sweeping overview of someone’s life. It’s not meant to chronicle fame or accomplishment. A memoir is, by definition, an autobiographical work that focuses on a specific theme in a person’s life.

For example, the memoir Manic by Terri Cheney is not about Cheney’s life story. The memoir focuses on her experiences living with manic-depressive disorder. This is not to say that the memoir doesn’t occasionally stray into other aspects of her life, but there is a clear, focused theme. And you don’t have to be an elderly person or someone of great fame and renown to write a book like that.

Another assumption that may prompt this question is the idea that young people couldn’t possibly have anything interesting or meaningful to say about life. I think that’s the implication of this question that upsets me the most. Part of that is personal, because I’ve often felt my opinion and feelings have been discounted based solely on my age. But I know that I personally have a whole lot to say, and I’ve seen more in my 23 years than some people in their 80s.

Memoirs, as I see them, offer a slice of a person’s life. And I firmly believe that anyone can write a memoir if they feel they have something to say. If you have something to say when you’re 14 years old, go for it. In fact, I started working on my memoir around that age. The question of whether a person is ready, skill-wise, to write a memoir at a young age is an entirely different question. But some people are better writers at 14 than writers who are 60, so I’m not sure that question is particularly valid either.

To my fellow young writers – I urge you not to let anyone feel that you don’t have a right to tell your story. Whether that story takes the form of a memoir, a novel, a short story…it doesn’t matter. You absolutely do.

Show comments

Join the discussion

10 replies to “A Memoir Misconception: “You’re Too Young to Write a Memoir””

  1. Robert says:

    Brilliant article. I agree that this misconception is pretty common, but it has one other reason that isn’t necessarily based on the genre of writing — it is that people are often nay-sayers and “can’t do that”-ers. My answer is always, “Tell me that I can’t do it after I have already done it.”

    1. Alana says:Author

      That’s a great point, Robert. I think that’s especially true in the world of writing, where everyone (even other writers) tend to be pessimistic about any kind of success. When someone told me I was too young to write a memoir a few days ago, I said, “Okay, but I am writing a memoir, so I guess I’m not too young.”

  2. Rachel says:

    Great post. Thanks, Alana. I’ve started writing a memoir as well and have already heard “Aren’t you too young” several times. This just inspires me to work even harder at it.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks for the comment, Rachel. I wasn’t sure it was a common problem, but I wanted to write about it anyway. Best of luck with your memoir!

  3. Bec Winfield says:

    Terrific article Alana. I wrote a memoir in collaboration with my grandfather who was 82 at the time. It was my story based on my memories, and he helped me with remembering the finer details. Everyone we spoke to assume it was the reverse – his memoir with my assistance in remembering detail. Ha

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks for the comment, Bec. That’s really funny. Hopefully those assumptions won’t always be the case…memoir seems to be becoming a younger genre as time goes on.

  4. Funny I should have come across this article!! :)) I am 23 years old and have also decided to write a memoir! How crazy is that?

    Thank you for your encouraging words! And I completely agree that it is a common misconception. Sigh…

    Btw, have you finished your memoir yet? 🙂

    1. Alana says:Author

      That’s awesome! And you’re welcome.

      No, I haven’t finished it yet. It’s one of the projects I continue to struggle with. I will someday, I’m sure. How’s yours going?

      1. I mostly have it in diary form right now. So what I’m really focusing on now is in my blog…getting a wider readership. Then I plan to epublish an ebook this summer.

        So…once THAT is out of the way, I can start this whole memoir business! 😉

  5. Bilikis says:

    Thank you so much Alana…I had to google the subject of “being too young” to write a memoir, and stumbled on your article.And it really cleared things up for me.At the moment, We’re over a decade apart in age, but I just needed a logical answer to that cliche, because I had wanted to write a memoir long before now.Thank you..I hope you’ve completed yours now…All the best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *