Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Memoir Writing III: Selling People Out

Welcome to day three of Memoir Writing. Today, I'm going to focus on what I learned at a panel at AWP; Selling Out Everyone You Love. I'm also going to tie in a couple of other things I learned but...Let's start here.

People say, "Never trust a writer." Why? Because we have this little habit of basing fiction off real life...and then *GASP* some of us write the dreaded memoir. So, our life, and our friend's and family's lives are there for the world to see. So how do we handle this? How do we write about that time when Aunt Sally got drunk and peed her pants on the dance floor? How do we approach that time when Uncle Willy accidentally killed the neighbor's dog and just left it? How do we write about the people we've been in fights with, people who told us their secrets in exchange for ours, and still keep them in our lives? 

Baxter saying, "No, Lynne. Don't write about that time I chewed up that photo album you loved and then proceeded to pee on it when you yelled at me."  (This is a true story, by the way)

Firstly, those of you who follow my blog, know I post a lot of things about real life pretty regularly. I have a personal blog on Xanga that is my "Woe is me," blog. My sister will say things like, "Wow, you're able to just write about that," meaning that I'm not censoring myself, I'm just saying, "This is what happened, this is why I'm pissed."

But blogs are different from Memoir.  Memoir tells a story, your journey through (usually) hell and back.
 Stephen Elliot, author of The Adderal Diaries gave some advice,
"Find your moral line, and never cross it." 
So what's your moral line? What is that one thing that you'll never do, never write about, never say? Notice, this isn't your sister's moral line, this is yours. This is how you'll get to sleep tonight.

Things to consider when you're writing:
*Everyone you know will read it
*You don't know what will set the reader (your potential, mother, grandmother) off

In order to write a memoir well, you need to be able to forgive the people in your life for wronging you. Truth of the matter is, people aren't just evil all the time (except for the guy I lost my virginity to...literally, this kid had and still has no redeeming qualities). In contrast, people aren't always good all the time, either. As writers, and even as specifically memoirists, it is our job, our RESPONSIBILITY to say the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The truth of this picture may have some potential
law breaking involved....
If you're unable to tell the reader that one good night you had with an ex lover before he crashed your car and decapitated your cat, we won't believe you. After all, why would you be so dumb as to let him in your apartment in the first place? Chances are that you loved him before you hated why did you love him? Keep in mind, if that cat was your sister's cat, too...she may not want you to paint him in this light.  After-all, she hated him from the get-go. She told you he was bad news.

So, some things to consider  before you write your memoir:
This book is about you, and your path. It is NOT about getting literary revenge on Johnny. While he may have had a piece of the puzzle, you only need to show your interactions with him to propel YOUR story forward. This is your story, not Johnny's.

Who are the important pieces of the memoir? Why are they important?

When you write, try not to censor yourself. Don't think of friends, and family, or publication. Think of the story, because clearly, this story is important to you.

As a creative non fiction writer, you have to be willing to sell out YOURSELF before you can really sell out anyone else. If before that ex lover decapitated your cat, you handed him the knife and said, "Dude, cut my cat's head off," we need to see this. We need to see your faults, your truths that you usually leave out of your retellings. People's short comings are really what make us interesting.

With that said, remember all it boils down to is being able to write the story. So, write it before considering who you're going to offend because...

Tomorrow's blog is about handling the pissed off character in your memoir. (Also known as, "Don't you dare write this or you are not my daughter/son anymore!" and how to handle those responses.)


  1. This is why mine will only be for my daughters, and for after I'm gone. I don't see the point of writing my memoir if I'm not going to be honest, but I'm not willing to share everything right now.

  2. @Sarah, Understandable. I've met people like that. I didn't want to be honest, there are a lot of hard things that I've had to face, but it's amazing how supportive some people can be.


Please know that if you comment and I don't respond, it's not because I don't love you. It's because I don't have wifi, but I do have a bad memory.

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