Before I address the responses, let’s clarify what I think a memoir is and what it isn’t.
1. A memoir isn’t an autobiography or a family history you are writing for your grandchildren. Most likely it isn’t chronological like an autobiography often is–beginning with your birth and following through to the point where you are now.
2. A memoir doesn’t include every experience you’ve ever had and everyone you’ve ever known. It might be about one particular event or series of related events or about a particularly memorable time in your life.
3. And, perhaps most importantly, a memoir is not written for the benefit of merely tooting the author’s own horn, setting her up as the the good guy, or exacting revenge on everyone who has hurt her in the past.
4. A memoir has a main point or, in other words, an overarching theme. You might not know what the theme is until you’ve written the entire first draft, but when you discover what it is, the theme helps you structure and mold the work in subsequent drafts. I will write more about this in another blog post, but for now it is enough to stress that the main point of an autobiography is pretty clear cut. It is the man or woman who is the subject of the story, and because of who this person is or was in real life, pretty much anything can fit. This is not the case with memoir.
Keeping the elements of memoir in mind, let’s return to the responses I receive when I mention that I’ve written one. They are usually one or more of the following:
1. You are so brave. I don’t have that kind of courage. Trust me, I am not brave. The only way I managed to write the memoir all the way through to the end, and the reason it took me seven long years to do so, is because I had to remind myself constantly that I would not think about the next step until this one was complete. I reminded myself, and others did so as well, that all I had to do was write it, as truthfully as I could, and later, after it was finished, I could make the decision as to what to do with it.
Sometimes I’d think that the entire endeavor was a complete waste of time; that if I wrote only for myself and never made it available to others, what was the purpose? Then I’d have to remind myself that I waste a lot of time anyway. Frankly, I think we all do in one way or another. Why not give myself permission to waste time the way I want to: by writing my story if for no one but myself?
2. No one would be interested in my memoirs. I had a happy, uneventful childhood. I wasn’t molested, raped or a drug addict. Perhaps this is one of the BEST reasons to write a memoir. When we read only about unhappy childhoods we begin to assume no one has a happy one, no parent is parenting well, and this is a disservice to the reading public. I would like to know what was it in this writer’s childhood that made it so happy for her? What did she learn from it? How is her adulthood playing out after the quality parenting she received? Written well, we will learn from and appreciate these stories, too.
3. I’m too private. I could never let anyone know certain things about me. Again, initially write the memoir for yourself–you will be amazed at how the process itself changes you, clarifies and heals issues no therapy has resolved. Write it all down, include everything that still has heat for you. Don’t think about who will read it. Lock it up if you want to. But write it anyway. Later, you can decide what parts to delete or whether or not you want to share it.
4. Someday, when I have more time, I will write my memoirs! Only one response to this one: What are you waiting for? It takes a long time to write a memoir. Start now. Carve out time. If it is important to you, do it.
5. Who cares? I’m a nobody. But then, of course, they also have to think: But wait! You’re a nobody, too! How could you have the audacity to write a memoir? My answer? 99% of us are “nobodies” in the eyes of the general society or mass media. But we aren’t nobodies to ourselves, our families, our friends. And, if you decide to share your story with those who don’t now know who you are, you will become a somebody to them. You will become a person they can relate to on some level. You and your reader will discover you’re not so different after all.
Now, Dear Reader, I’m wondering about you? Do you ever think about writing a memoir? Let me know in the comments. Let’s have a conversation.