Memoir is among my favorite work to read and write.
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