Memoir Monday: Writing What You Know

Memoir Monday: Writing What You Know

Someone asked me recently why I read so many memoirs about addiction.  I’ve found myself gravitating toward those stories ever since I worked in the marketing department for a Tucson treatment center in the 80s.  Everyone has a story to tell, and those who overcome hardships have some of the most compelling ones out there.

While we all know there was some embellishment in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (because he admitted to that), a point of view in memoir is exactly that – a personal point of view.  Have you ever heard about siblings growing up in the same household having completely different stories about what it was like to live with the same set of parents?  Their memories don’t even match up!  Who’s telling the truth when stories are shared?  Probably all of the siblings!  People write what they know, and they write about it in the way that they remember it.  We can’t dispute a story just because we haven’t experienced it.  You know that person who says, “I don’t remember it, so it couldn’t have happened.”  Maybe they just don’t remember!

Many people have trouble starting their memoir.  They think they need to write about everything from Point A (I was born here) to Point Z (what I’m doing now) and everything in between.  They become so overwhelmed with feeling like every detail needs to be included that they don’t accomplish anything!  While a memoir can be an expanded autobiography (depending these days in part by how the writer chooses to market it) it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Memoir is set apart, traditionally, because it covers a part of a person’s life that person wants to share with others, and in the middle of it all is some type of lesson.  Memoir topics can be:  the military life, overcoming an addiction, coming back after an injury, college years abroad, life as an educator, etc.

Make it easy on yourself and start with the event you want to share.  Then, just start writing.  Don’t worry about who is going to read it, or what that person will think, or if your family will call you a liar.  Just write.  After all, it’s your story.  These are your memories.  When you’re done writing, enroll in a memoir writing class so you can work on fine-tuning it to your audience.  Surprise:  different audiences will mean telling the story in different ways to appeal to that set of readers, depending on your lesson and your message.  Your memoir should differ from your diary or your journal.  The memoir isn’t the soapbox and dumping forum (which is how we sometimes use our diaries).  Diary and journal entries can be very helpful for recalling events and filling in the blanks.  The memoir is the story.

But first… start.  Just start.  And write what you know.

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