I just finished reading Wild – the book by Cheryl Strayed about her hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in an effort to find herself after her mother’s death. Trust me, I love a good “finding yourself” story, but this one wasn’t one. I love to hear how some events or an experience changed someone’s life. What lessons they learned and how they adjusted their moral compass as a result.
And while Wild was well written and certainly entertaining (although there were definitely parts I could have lived with out – the insertion of a menstrual cup comes to mind) it left me at the end saying “Huh? What just happened?” It wasn’t the book that was flawed as much as it was the ending.
In literally the last few (3 total) paragraphs of the book she ends her hike and fast forwards to a husband and children and 9 (nine!) years later. All of which left me a little confused.
Where’s the payoff? Where’s the application of what she learned to her life going forward?
It feels like an editor somewhere said, “Okay, you’re done, you have enough word count. Bring it home, baby.”
Those who read this blog know that I’m a memoir junkie. It’s my most favorite genre. I love to hear how others have overcome, how they have persevered, and become stronger. I love to see how people cope with unbearable situations.
But the key is that you have to include that aspect of lessons learned in your story. If you write about a terrific experience (and let’s kid no one, the adventure that Strayed went on is worthy of a book) then you are obligated to your readers to not only bring it home but to weave those lessons into the story of your life so that we can benefit from your experiences and maybe learn how to cope ourselves if we come across a similar situation. Maybe if we read your book something will resonate in us and we won’t have to go on a multi-week trek to handle the death of our mother, or child, or whomever.
With memoirs, it’s not the journey that matters so much as it is the ability to learn from your mistakes and experiences in order to adjust and verbalize your life going forward. If you leave your readers hanging, or even worse, guessing about those lessons then you have not only lost your credibility as a writer, you have also lost your credibility as a memoirist.
Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.
Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)
And yeah, when I write my memoir, you can remind me of this post if I blow it.