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To tell the truth in a memoir may seem simple, but in practice it is almost never so.

It is, first of all, not clear what the truth may be: yours or someone else’s? Then also, the truth may be submerged beneath layers of pain that can prompt you to hide it from everyone—and yourself.

The easy truth is —well—easy! The hard truth isn’t.

When I suggest you must tell the truth, I don’t mean the easy truth like “I had a brother and a sister,” but the hard truth that makes you flinch, a truth like “my mother disliked her kids—especially me” or “I was abused as a child.”

While not everyone has painful memories that are difficult to share, many people do. If this is you, I think you know what your hard truth is. Consider those aspects of your life you don’t particularly feel like sharing. That is, those are hard to share, but when you tell the truth of those memories, you are likely to feel so much better later and to have produced a much better memoir.

Truth and Pain

When you tell the truth, you may find yourself immersed in pain. Perhaps you need to read the posts of dealing with pain in memoir writing. I do not believe that you need to hurt yourself when you tell the truth but you must learn to own your  life experience and to be honest about it.

What I have found in my workshops is that other writers almost always pick up when a writer has decided not to tell the truth and writes inaccuracies or “whitewashing” into a text. It somehow stands out… so don’t do it. You won’t get away with it. Most readers will sense there is a problem—even if they don’t know what it is.

In conclusion

If you avoid telling the truth, you may have an easier time in the writing but you won’t be satisfied in the end with the memoir you have written.

Read the posts below, learn some useful techniques and be brave about telling it like it was.

difficult painful memories

Difficult, Painful Memories Can Make a Memoir More Psychologically Astute.

We all arrive at adulthood with some difficult painful memories. In this post, I offer you procedures for dealing with and healing those memories. First of all, writing about painful memories should not be an occasion to re-traumatize yourself. Stop for the moment if you feel overcome, but if you feel ready to write about […]

fear of revealing too much

Banish Fear of Revealing Too Much: Be a Bigger Presence in Your Memoir

The fear of revealing too much of ourselves in the memoir we are writing can be paralyzing. We wonder: “What will people say? How will people react to what I am revealing?” So… We hold back in our writing. We stop ourselves from personal revelation, from sharing secrets. The fear is founded—it’s not always a […]


Have you ever succumbed to this memoir shortcut?

“I just added a little bit of fiction to move the story along,” you say, to explain a memoir shortcut you have just taken, joining the ranks of such pseudo memoirist as James Frey in A Million Pieces? Or, perhaps the ranks of Frank McCourt who fictionalized long dialogs in Angela’s Ashes. (No one remembers […]


Writing more Deeply: The pain in telling the truth

My new memoir, French Boy (due out in the summer of 2023), is about my childhood. Much about this time in my life has a context that is unique and consequently different from that of my contemporaries. This memoir has a place in the world of memoirs, and I want it to find that place, […]

telling the truth

Solving Problems of Telling the Truth in Your Memoir

Telling the truth is not always easy. How much of what happened do you have to tell in order to tell the truth? At what point does withholding the truth become a lie? For instance, in all her famous diaries, as Anais Nin celebrated the freedoms of her life as an artist, she never once […]

work with and through pain

Work With or Through Pain: Writing Painful Memories

In this video, Work With or Through Pain: Writing Through Painful Memories, I talk about writing through painful memories. Pain is often a barrier to memoir writing. Who wants to revisit difficult times? Although delving into the past is a generally pleasant experience and promotes healing and growth, it can also be painful.

surviving childhood abuse

Surviving Childhood Abuse: A Writer’s Experience

Congratulations to Denise Brown on the publication of her book, Transcending Darkness: A Memoir of Abuse and Grace. I recently had the opportunity to interview Denise about her experience writing her book on surviving childhood abuse.  I am pleased to share her experience. To read Part 2, click here. To read Part 3, click here.—DL […]