When someone doesn’t like your memoir
“What if someone doesn’t like what I wrote?” asked a participant in my memoir writing class last week.
That’s just it – not everyone is going to like or agree with what you put in your life stories. However, it’s your story.
O. Henry, an American short story writer, said this about writing: I’ll give you the whole secret of short story writing, and here it is: Rule one, write stories that please yourself. There is no rule two. If you can’t write a story that pleases yourself, you’ll never please the public.
If you write truthfully from your memory, then you shouldn’t have any problem defending your point of view. Where things get messy, is if you make things up. James Frey first sold his book, A Million Little Pieces, as a memoir. It is not a memoir. He created another life about drug and alcohol abuse and rehabilitation and wrote about that. Now he calls his book “semi-fictional.”
Using creative license (exaggeration or invention) to make your life more interesting doesn’t belong in memoir. You can’t invent people or events or settings for a more exciting read. If you want to spice things up, write a fiction novel.
Turning real life into art is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work and it takes guts to spill your thoughts and feelings on the page. Debbie Ehrstien is a survivor of sexual abuse and her recent book, The Dissociate, A memoir of secrets and survival of childhood sexual abuse is an example of dealing with a tough issue that many people want to keep buried.
Debbie wrote her book not as a therapy project (although she found writing was cathartic), but as a way to help others dealing with the same issues. She shared personal and emotional experiences rather than the details. Needless to say, she has her detractors and some bookstores refuse to have her book signings in their shops. It’s too bad as her message and goal is powerful: to stop childhood sexual abuse and tell survivors they are not alone.
Some memoirs are going to be hard to write than others. Some family members, friends or colleagues aren’t going to always like what you write – such is life. Don’t let them keep your words from the page.