Anyone writing a memoir must face the challenge of how to tell the painful truth of his or her story at the same time as one does not want to cause harm or pain. My latest memoir A Sugary Frosting has brought me face to face – personally – with the challenge of telling the […]
Are You Holding Back the Hard Truth in Your Memoir?
Your memoir needs the hard truth about life—your life—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”
I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt…. we have to know all we can about each other and we have to be willing to go naked.—Mary Sarton
Wow, going around naked! Gulp! (Better hit the gym!)
But, I guess you get the idea—psychologically and emotionally naked. Your memoir needs truth telling about life—yours—and sometimes that requires exposing yourself, getting “naked.”
I would like to change the metaphor a bit, to use a metaphor that is less startling but very graphic nonetheless. It is the metaphor of the kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bowl.
I love popcorn and enjoy eating it but there always comes a moment when I get to the bottom of the bowl and the plethora of corn kernels that have been popped into delightful puffy bites gives way to the hard half-popped or not-popped-at-all kernels. These are not fun to eat. Disappointed, I walk to the trash and throw the kernels away. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
In this video, Work With or Through Pain: Writing 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. In fact, sooner or later, pain seems to come with memoir writing. This pain if not handled well, can inhibit—and even stop—you from continuing with your writing. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
“I have permission [as a memoir writer] not to waffle in my writing,” I was recently informed by a memoir writer.
“Not to waffle” somehow missed the point for me.
Certainly, the memoir writer has permission “not to waffle,” but there is more that is incumbent on the writer. S/he has the obligation not to waffle. As memoir writers, “not to waffle” means to tell our truth about what happened. This is a must. Over the years, I have been amazed at how I can pick up waffling and how, in a workshop setting, others can too. Waffling just comes across waving a “red flag.” So…
Yeah, don’t do it! [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
How do you write about family stories whose interpretation you don’t agree with?
We all have family stories that we have heard over and over again. When they are told in family gatherings, no one expects any contradiction. After all, the stories are the accepted “truth” about someone in the family. The problem is that you don’t agree with the meaning people ascribe to it.
How do you write about these family stories you don’t agree with? There’s no problem when you are in agreement with the storyline and the interpretation, but what do you do when you are not—especially what do you do when you are out of sync with other relatives in the way you interpret the story?
When telling the truth, how much of what happened do you have to tell? 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 mentioned that she was bankrolled by a husband. True, she could not mention his name or details of his life because he had refused her legal permission to do so in print. But wouldn’t the truth have been better served if she had mentioned the working husband who paid her bills and made her artistic life free of financial constraints possible?
What Makes It Memoir or Autobiographical Fiction?
I read a memoir that did well here in Maine (it’s by an excellent Maine writer)—I can’t vouch for its reach in the rest of the country. I’m left wondering if it is memoir or autobiographical fiction.
It’s an interesting book, very well-written in terms of style and organization, but my nagging doubt is that it is autobiographical fiction and not memoir. I will choose to leave the book nameless as my intent is not to be negative about it but only to use it to elucidate a point about memoir writing which I think is important to keep in mind as we write.
I have frequently spoken about using fiction techniques to make a memoir more interesting. Dialog, for instance, can be marvelous. The trick, as I have offered frequently, is to use only a few words in direct dialog (“I won’t,” she said) and then put the rest in indirect dialog (She said that was because blah, blah, blah…)
Fiction Techniques in a Memoir
Telling the Truth About your Life
In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with subtle—and not so subtle—messages about who we ought to be, it is a bold statement to take a stand for personal truth and authenticity.
The telling of your stories is a revolutionary act.—Sam Keen, Writer
One of the most transformative statements an individual can make is to tell his/her story with honesty and objectivity. At its best, this is what a memoir is—a statement that declares “this is who I am, who I think of myself as being.”
Lest you think that telling the truth is only about revealing scandals and unmasking abuses, let me assure you that it is more often about smaller issues, issues more within the realm of the everyday experience. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Not Telling the Truth or Being Insincere Can Stop Your Writing
Many writers suffer from writer’s block, yet few understand its possible causes. Memoir writing certainly has its difficulties which can cause writer’s block. There are a number of reasons that contribute to difficulty in writing. I don’t want to use the term writer’s block because it has been made to answer to too many problems.
1. Dealing with uncomfortable material
I wrote a lengthy reply to Gayle to her question concerning my recent post, “Another Memoir Finished: What Was the Writing Process?” She asked a legitimate question about whether A Sugary Frosting is really a memoir: “Can you call it a memoir when you embellish the writings of your wife and even added stories that […]