Memoir or Revenge

Memoir is among my favorite work to read and write. Apples_01
No matter how ordinary, there is something quite wonderful about a life well lived, well loved and well told. That’s a great thing about memoir; interesting stories are not the exclusive domain of the powerful, rich or famous.

Writing memoir makes you vulnerable. Like all writers, you put yourself out there as an artist, for people read and critique. When you write memoir, you also put your life out there. You invite people to read about the choices you made, your mistakes and your successes. Telling your tale opens the door to admiration, condemnation and everything that lies between.

But what about the people you met along the way? While you choose to tell your story, your family, friends, colleagues and enemies didn’t. They didn’t ask you to bare their souls or share their wins and warts. So … should you write about these people?

Of course, you should. The people you’ve lived with, played with and worked with are an integral part of the stories that make up your life. Instrumental in shaping you, it would be impossible to tell your stories without them. If you enjoyed an idyllic childhood, a perfect adolescence, wonderful marriage and children, stellar job history and, and, and … well no problem. But few of us live perfect lives; we have good years and bad. We meet a multitude of people, remember some of them fondly and some we’d like to forget. So what about the painful stories and difficult relationships? Should you write about them too?

Still yes, but take care. Good memoir is rarely, if ever, about revenge. If your goal is to finally get back at everyone who ever did you wrong; think again. Good memoir uses real events to illustrate universal themes. Revenge is not a great theme.

No one likes a bully and a memoir dripping with vengeance will turn you into one. Ironic isn’t? Your diatribe against the mean kids, the evil boss or despicable whoever can turn you into bully. Memoir is your story, told from your point of view. Guilty or not, the people you denounce cannot defend themselves or give an account of their actions.

Survival, perseverance, fortitude, discovery, forgiveness, finding joy, finding friendship and love, these themes inspire readers. Instead of ranting and raving at your evil stepmother, share your story of surviving that poison apple. Tell us about the friends who helped you, the inner strength that guided you and the love who saved you. Focusing on each and every detail of when, how and where you were maligned is not nearly as interesting as how you not only survived but flourished.

I’m sure there are exceptions; there are always exceptions. If you have a razor sharp wit, your evil stepmother tales or bad boss stories could make you a star at parties. If you’re very good, I suppose you might land a column, create an award-winning blog or become a standup comedian. If you name names, no matter how clever, it’s still revenge. Whether it’s over cocktails, on-line or in print, the communication is one-way and people you blast can’t defend themselves.

When you write about someone, the story, and how you choose to tell it, is as much about you as your antagonist. A revenge tell-all will show a poor, pitiful or spiteful you. Wouldn’t you rather share the thriving you with the world?

It’s okay if you’re not there yet. Several years ago, most, if not all, aspects of my life were pretty much in shambles. My brother sent me an email with the simple words: Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end. The story isn’t over until you come to terms with it, maybe learn from it, and find closure or let it go. Take all the time you need to find your strength and peace. Then, if you still want to, you can share the entire journey, the story from start to finish.


Susan Nye is a corporate dropout turned writer, blogger and teacher. She is a regular contributor to a variety of New England magazines and author of two short stories published in the NH Pulp Fiction Anthology Series. Feel free to visit her award-winning blog Susan Nye – Around the Table. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

27 thoughts on “Memoir or Revenge

  1. Susan, thank you so much for writing this post. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten angry with someone and wanted to fly off the handle via my word processor. The quotation from your brother is also very important to remember when it comes to life in general. These words are wise, and I thank you for sharing.

    The College Novelista

    • Briana – Thanks for stopping by and your kind words. One of the wonderful things about time and distance – it gives perspective. Take care and keep writing, Susan

  2. One NaNoWriMo project was penned this way… I thought that I would feel better, but, you know, I felt Terrible for even putting those negative words down on paper…!! I shredded it and learned a very important lesson: How to Never, Ever Write that way again!!

  3. You have given some wonderful advice here. I encouraged my mother–now deceased–to write her memoir and she did. Now I have it and I’m wondering whether to publish it as an e-book. Although I made it into a word document for her whilst she was alive, I never altered the way she had written it. I corrected spellings but not the grammar. It was just as she would say it. Should I re-write it?

    • Carole – Without seeing the work, I can’t offer any meaningful advice except to ask why and who. You should think about your readers. Is it a book for family and friends or do you hope for a wider audience? Children and grandchildren might hear their mom’s and grandma’s voice in the faulty grammar and love it. Strangers might agree or feel differently – enjoying the colloquial words and phrases in some parts and not in others.

      Before leaping in, why not share the work with a few trusted friends and family members and see what they think. And by trusted – share the work with people who will be absolutely honest with you. You loved your mother so you love her stories – ask your small group if the stories have universal themes and have wider appeal. You know your family will love her stories. The answer you are looking for – will strangers love it too.

      Good luck – Susan

      • Thank you for your detailed advice. As it contains some of her experiences during WW2 when she was a young married woman, I feel it may have a wider readership. I’ll do as you say and offer some passages up for Goodreads members. I’m sure to get lots of comments there.

  4. I loved this post. It reminded me of a teacher who once told me, “We all have a story, my dear. Few without complexities.” Reading another’s memoir makes me feel a little less alone in the world. Hopefully one day, if I ever get around to putting my story down, I can do the same for somebody else.

  5. My work is pretty much all about my real life, and I decided early on that there were funny, sad, pitiful, etc. lessons in all of my experiences that didn’t necessarily require dragging anyone else through too much mud. My strength, I’ve found, is in laughing at MYSELF, and I like it that way. My own life has, fortunately, been hilarious enough…so lots to laugh at. Thanks for the reminder and the positive words!

    • Tammy – Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Humor is such a wonderful tool. How much better to laugh than cry. Keep laughing and writing! Take care – S.

  6. You gave me an idea to write a short memoir comical about the turns I’ve taken in life, schools, jobs etc. and all the craziness with the mistakes but yet profitable and rewarding things I did.

  7. This is a very helpful post. I started writing a memoir a few summers ago through a course. The instructor loved it and said I had a book in me, but I needed to figure out what my theme or “so what” was. I eventually had to stop writing it because I realized I wasn’t at the end yet. I was and still am on the journey. Maybe one day, I will get to the end. Until then, I am writing about the journey, bit by bit 🙂

    • MT – Thanks for stopping by. We’ll always be a work in progress with many moving parts. Some of those parts – or stories – find resolution sooner than others. Enjoy the journey! …S.

  8. Reblogged this on CAPTURED and commented:
    Inspiring. Someday, I hope to be able to write a memoir, that is worth reading. I have tons of different stories/ chapters in my life to write about… just not too sure where to start.

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