I think I’ll write a memoir

Have you noticed that so many writers these days are writing memoirs?  There are some modern classics:

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Dress Yourself in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

One L by Scott Turow

And then there is the current New York Times hardcover Non-Fiction Bestseller list (April 17/11):

# 1:   Onward by Howard Schultz

#  5:   Red by Sammy Hagar with Joel Selvin

# 6:    All My Life by Susan Lucci

#13:   Decision Points by George Bush

#14:   Come to the Edge by Christine Haag

#15:  Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

And perhaps the ultimate, a memoir by the White House janitor.

The problem is that those considering writing about an emotional point (or points) in their lives, and in many cases, that is what a memoir is, don’t consider seriously enough whether they are ready to do this.  Are they ready to open themselves up and truthfully tell this story, which will expose them to a large audience in a way they have never been exposed before?  Are they ready to deal with probable criticism from those close to them about what they’ve written?

The point I am trying to make here is that before you think about undertaking this most difficult and personal effort, you should give very careful consideration to whether you can accept the results.  If not, then move on to an easier and safer undertaking.  If so, then go for it.  Writing your emotional and hopefully fresh and inspirational story might be the best thing you can ever do for yourself.

Have any of you ever thought of writing a memoir and decided against doing so?  What went into your decision making process?

12 Responses to I think I’ll write a memoir

  1. Sara says:

    Memoirs are probably my favorite type of book to read. I actually have been writing bits and pieces of my own life story that are slowly getting turned into separate fiction-ish short stories because indeed, my writing got quite revealing. I still want to put the whole story out there one day, but TIMING is so important for memoirs. I think actually beginning to write your story will reveal whether the timing is appropriate or not.

  2. Kerry Manzo says:

    I started writing a memoir, but found it too hard to separate myself from the story. I found that what could have had great depth was coming out very one-sided. I chose instead to use the themes to write a novel that tracks the effects of rape survivor guilt over the course of four generations of a family. It’s still in the workings, but I think it will be great when finished.

  3. Emma says:

    Writing a memoir has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I DID have to ask myself whether I was ready to be as open as I needed to be. Through many iterations, I’m almost there. I keep adding more layers of insight and revelation, and the process has been amazing.

  4. Kurt Hartwig says:

    I wrote a one-man play about a friend who died at 21 and our friendship, so it was necessarily about me as well. At first I was reluctant to include my own thoughts and reflections because it felt too solipsistic, until I discovered that it was the only way into her story as well, seeing as I was talking about her life from my perspective.

    At 60 minutes, performed at the Prague Fringe Festival, it was a memoir in short-story form, which probably helped a great deal. Although I like reading other people’s musings about their life, personally it feels like I’m staring too deeply into my own navel.

  5. Laura says:

    No, I never considered writing a memoir. I don’t think I have a story that is unique and compelling enough, or one with enough of a narrative arc. But feel free to ask me again in 20 years after I’ve lived a few decades full of drama and intrigue.

    I’d really be interested, though, in hearing about memoirists who not only write under a pen name but who also attempt to be completely anonymous. That means they can’t do public book signings (I guess?) or certain other publicity-related activities. How does that work? How do publishers feel about this? How successful can a memoirist truly be in skewing her life details so no one recognizes she’s writing about herself and her family?

    Just curious…as I said, I have no plans to attempt a memoir.

  6. Dave Sosnowski says:

    In between novels, I’ve started writing a memoir of my time as a graduate student in the Creative Writing program at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, from 1983-85, during which time I was also: teaching composition to native and non-native college freshman; was visited by the Secret Service when Reagan and the Pope stopped for a campaign photo-op at Fairbanks International Airport (an event dubbed by the media as “Great Minds in a Great Land” while the locals just called it “The Pope meets the Dope”); thwarted one student suicide attempt; and, at one point, was the only person living in an eight story building for a month between Christmas and New Years. I’ve been telling people amusing anecdotes about that time for over 25 years and have finally started writing them down and fleshing them out (albeit in no particular order at the moment). My main concern is how to deal with the identity of some people who will not be portrayed in a very flattering light. Is it kosher to use a “names have been changed” disclaimer in a memoir?

  7. This is an interesting discussion. What I find with myself is – I have too much, as they say, “personally identifiable information” – if I took all that out, or put it in soft focus, blurred it a little – there would be no story.

    I guess the more a memoir is an expose (of whatever and whomever) – the more you have to think about consequences…?

    Or maybe try the old “publish 10 years after my death, and that of all parties involved” – ?

    On that morbid note… :)

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