So let’s just get this out of the way. I’m a big enough fan of Patti LuPone that I was at the bookstore on the day her memoir came out itching to buy a copy. When she was at Book Expo America (on the one day I didn’t go!), I politely texted three of our other agents asking if they might be able to get her to sign something for me (they did!). I’m a drama nerd, and while I’ve seen LuPone deliver some astonishing performances, the real reason I couldn’t wait to read the book is that she’s a bit of a…um…well, let’s say she’s a character. She has lots of personality. Lots. I mean, check her out stopping the show during a performance of Gypsy if you haven’t already.
Point is: she’s bigger than life, so she should have turned out a magnificent memoir. Right? Well, yes, she should have. So why didn’t she?
Turns out LuPone stumbled into the same traps that a lot of memoir writers do. Living an interesting life does not mean you’ll be able to write an interesting memoir. And relating facts chronologically does not an interesting narrative make. You need to be incredibly self-aware to write about yourself successfully. You need to set vanity aside: if you’re always trying to portray yourself in a positive light, you’re just posturing. You need to have a story to tell. A story. Having lots of little stories doesn’t count. There has to be something linking what you’re telling us, and we need to progress from beginning to middle to end. Otherwise, even the most interesting material can start to get dry (I’m looking at you, Bill Clinton). You also need to be a great writer. People sometimes seem to think that memoirs are easier to write than fiction. They shouldn’t be. If anything, the writing should be even better in a memoir than in a novel since you can’t just change the facts to make the story more interesting (I’m looking at you, James Frey).
Long story short: memoirs are harder than they look. And remember: never bore your readers.