When I decided to write a memoir I had a certain idea of what a memoir was. I’m sure we all have our own expectations as readers when we pick up a book labeled “memoir”. I know I do.
As I’m sure Oprah did. I didn’t like how Oprah publicly flogged James Frey in front of millions of people. I don’t believe it was Frey’s fault though. Oprah made a huge mistake that made such an event possible. She neglected to define what memoir was for herself. She neglected to examine the vast possibilities of memoir.
When I decided that I wanted my book to be categorized as a memoir I quickly realized that I needed to make sure that my definition of what a memoir was fit into that genre. I needed to define it for myself. There are some books that actually have the word memoir on its cover. That makes it easy. But some books don’t say memoir like ‘A Million Little Pieces’. That can make things a little foggy. We all need to define memoir for ourselves before we flog someone for not meeting our expectations. I like that memoir authors’ seem more up front and open about the idea of their books having embellishments and not being as accurate as a bio.
The movie Great Expectations with Ethan Hawk defines Memoir in its first few lines for me: I’m not going to tell my story as it happened, I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.
How much of a memoir can be a bold face lie before someone labels it fiction? Perhaps Oprah knows. Does anyone recall ‘A Million Little Pieces’ ? I wasn’t into memoir then like I am now when Oprah busted James Frey for recreating his version of the truth. Nobody dupes Oprah and simply walks away with it. I guess she felt cheated. When people read a memoir they do believe what they are reading actually occurred.
Unless you kept a detailed diary of everything that happened or recorded conversations with people while you were talking with them you may, as a writer, have to make some stuff up. Some facts should be left alone: You might not recall the weather the day you lost your virginity but you better remember who you were with.
When writing a memoir you might believe that doing research is unnecessary since every memory is entirely in your head. Cross referencing your memories with someone who was actually there is always a good idea.
I was talking to my younger sister (who refuses to even look at my memoir because of personal reasons) about our childhood and she made me realize that my memories are not always entirely accurate. She was also able to jog my memory about events and people that I had forgotten. I have had writers block with my memoir lately and I believe it’s because I’m doing to much big picture thinking and not enough writing down what I do vividly remember. It’s impossible to recall every minute detail but I can piece it all together by remembering the most important moments. Hopefully Oprah won’t have my story fact checked. Then again the publicity might be worth it.
The kind of truth I am talking about is the subjective truth of what it means to be a human being in the world. It is the substance of what happens to people not just on the outside, but within: the longings, the moral decisions, the defiance, suffering, pain, and triumphs of the human soul.
I’ve heard a writer say that memoir does not sell very well. But does memoir pay off? I guess it depends on your motive for writing your story. Many people feel like their “story” should be told. Even my 87 year old aunt (whom I consider to be more of a mother figure in my life than merely my Tia) was once told that her life would make a good book or movie. My Tia almost brags about it.
I tell her that she should let me write it down. Of course that seems like a daunting task to undertake. But the point is she feels her “story” is worth sharing. If it would sell is not what concerns me. I do feel that simply the act of telling her story would be very beneficial to her. 87 years old and she still weeps every time she recalls the way she was raised.
I chose to write a memoir about a particular time in my life when I decided to go after what I wanted verses what I actually felt I deserved. I would tell anyone willing to listen about my “story” even lovers, family, my wife, as well as my mistress!
But it wasn’t until I actually wrote it down and examined myself through older wiser eyes that I saw what I needed to see. I felt healed. I discovered a truth that helped me to put it all into perspective.
So does memoir pay off? It truly depends on what it is you are looking for. If you feel compelled to write it down then do it. You may discover something more important than fame or riches.
That was the biggest obstacle when I thought about writing my memoir. Where do I begin? I originally wrote it as a graphic novel but my rusty drawing hand was slowing me down and visually it looked way too sexually explicit. I came across a writing site called textnovel.com and I just started writing. I got some good feedback which motivated me to keep going. I wrote about 5k words when I started having trouble with the site and after several failed attempts I decided to just give it up. I have it handwritten in my notebook now.
The writing site did force me to just start and finally get it going. I have heard other writers say to start as late as possible and to get out quickly. I believe that’s what I did. Some readers on textnovel.com commented that they breezed through the story. Grabbing the reader right away is what you should strive to do.
In my next post I might go over other memoirs and how they started their novels.
Happy New Year and welcome to my first blog.
Why would I want to create a blog about writing memoir?
I do believe that everyone has an interesting story to tell but I also realize that not every storyteller will become a best selling author. Anyone who has a burning desire to write about a special time in their life should do so. My blog is about writing your story for your own sake. To heal by self examination of your past hurts by seeking meaning.
I wrote a short memoir when I was 13 years old. It was about my grandmother who had died that summer from diabetes. After a few days of crying I grabbed a stack of lined paper and began to write all summer long. Twenty five pages later I was done. I had written about losing my grandmother whom was more like a mother to me since my biological mother had died when I was a year and a half. Two people read that story: my little sister and my best friend.
I pray that those that need to get their stories down on paper will find solace and direction here.