A Memoir? Just Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?

Never tell someone you’re writing a memoir.

Tell them you’re writing Twilight fan fiction, a collection of poetry about your cat’s bowel movements,  a history of the color puce, or…pretty much anything except “memoir.”

Because if you say, “I’m writing a memoir,” what people hear is “I am the Mostest Interesting Person in the World and Hello! You Are Not! LOL!”

Of course, that’s probably not what you’re saying at all. You’re probably really saying, “Something crazy/harrowing/hilarious happened at some point in my life and I can’t take it anymore OMGPONIES!!!!1!! I have to tell all teh kittehs!”

Most people don’t get it. And I get that they don’t get it. That part’s okay, even if it’s annoying.

What REALLY bugs me is when someone thinks it’s the easy way to make a buck. Easy to write. Easy, easy, easy, boy are YOU a sellout, buddy.


Think about what it takes to write a novel and multiply it times 110. You’re not slapping down anecdotes like the one about the time you found Aunt Minnie’s vibrator in the closet and chased your little brother with it around the backyard. You’re writing a novel.

One of the hardest things about writing a book like this is that you’re taking memories and translating them into bookness, which is the exact opposite of relaying a childhood anecdote. When you repeat your lame-ass, life-inspired anecdote to your friends, details are almost nonexistent. Don’t believe me? Go ahead. Turn to your significant other, friend, coworker, anyone who will sit still for a moment and tell them about something funny that happened when you were a kid. Or even something that happened last year. It’ll take maybe a few seconds. Why? Because you’re not painting the full picture that you need to paint for a literary memoir. You are so conditioned to tell your life stories a certain way that it’s nearly impossible to dredge up the necessary details to make it into “novel” material.

“But I don’t remember all those details,” you lament. Of course you don’t. You have to reach back and dab your brush in the probability that bleeds from what you do recall. Remembering what happened can be an ordeal in and of itself — not because the events were necessarily painful, but because your brain isn’t used to dredging up details. It helps tremendously if you kept a diary of some sort at the time, but it’s still an exercise in patience. If this were a piece of fiction and you were a writer, you’d just supply the details — details that, in a memoir, don’t come about readily.

Yes, I’m gonna come out and say it: It’s hella easier to write a novel than a memoir.

So, let’s say your vibrator bit is part of the story, but what is that story, anyway? We have so many threads running through our lives, how do we know which bits get woven together to tell a particular story? That’s the other bitch about memoirs: life can be really crap at plotting. You are stuck with what happened and it’s never simple. You can control the pacing by focusing on certain parts more than others, or just skipping some stuff altogether, but you don’t get to change the ending just because it doesn’t measure up or you don’t like it. If it doesn’t, you need to ask yourself why the hell you’re putting yourself through this whole exercise. It might be better as fiction. If so, DO IT. Don’t screw around with recanting real life. Remember that you can hurt relationships, piss off potentially litigious people (even if they don’t have a leg to stand on in a California court), and annoy your friends. Just save yourself the headache and improve whatever needs to be better.

But in some cases you have no choice. I have no choice. I have to write it as a fact. Because it is — in its facts — breathtaking that what happened actually happened. To portray it otherwise would be the biggest cheat, the greatest failure, ever.

So, if something breathakingly amazing, impossible, bizarre and beautiful happened to you, wouldn’t you tell it as it was? As it really and truly was?

I thought you might.

There are challenges that race far beyond what I’ve mentioned. And at every turn, I’m finding a solution that breaks memoir barriers, bringing all my talents to the fore. Because I have to tell it like it was.

And you’ll be incredibly glad that I did.

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