WARNING: No matter who you are, or what your intentions were when you sat down to write, you will not be the same at the end of your memoir. You will be changed by the writing of your own story. And your story, in turn, will be changed as well.
Writing so deeply and personally about who you have been and what has happened to you changes your perspective on so many things. Perhaps the most impactful of these changes is how you view yourself after the awkward and enlightening experience of crafting the character of yourself in an honest way. This forces us to be (hopefully) more honest than we’re used to being with ourselves.
Brigid Schule’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time just blew my effing mind. From the fact that constant stress and overwhelm causes our brains to physically shrink (something of which I am already in constant fear) to the revelation that women have been virtually conditioned away from leisure for all of human history, it’s overflowing with information that is both so personal and logical you feel like you’ve known it all along and so revolutionary you are apt to want to change everything about the way to do everything. It’s a good book. You should read it. It contains things important for every employee, employer, woman, spouse and parent should know to be better at being any of those things.
A major takeaway for me as a freelancer, however, was the concept of the ideal worker that permeates American work culture, and the startling realization that we freelancers, who have every reason to not ascribe to it, self-impose it all the same.
Whenever I have the privilege of doing a book reading or writing presentation, I always spend some time talking about the power of sharing your story. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story is worth sharing, I say. I stand behind this. It is both true and important.
But in another way, it’s not true, right? Everyone has a story that has value in their own lives, within their own circle of humans. However, if you’re hoping to publish your story, to craft it into something marketable, the bar is a bit higher. And before you start down the long road of drafting it all out, editing it until your heart sweats and pitching it to agents, a good first step is to determine if your story is worth telling, not just to your friends and family, but to a larger audience of readers.
How can you know? To me, it comes down to two things: striking a balance between bizarre and relatable, and having a solid theme.
For whom are you writing your memoir? Is it really and truly just for you? Great. That’s super. You don’t really need to read any tips about memoir writing then, because it doesn’t matter how you go about it. Do whatever you want.
But more often, people are writing memoir to share their story. Whether you’re planning to hand it to your only child while on your deathbed or aim for publication and distribution on an global scale, the minute you decide who makes up that target audience, they become a necessary part to consider with every word you write.
And yet, if your memoir isn’t true to the story you want to tell, you’re doing your story a disservice. So you have to write for yourself. I know. Just like my thoughts on truth vs. facts in memoir last week, now it sounds like I’m contradicting myself. Apparently, I love to do that. But really, it’s all about balance. You are obviously an incredibly important part of your story. So is your audience.
The truth of your memoir has to revolve around fact, right? Otherwise, you may be writing something super, but it’s probably not memoir. At the same time, one of the greatest challenges to writing memoir is that facts also have a tendency to obscure the truth of your story at times. Sometimes you have to leave them out. Or even change them a bit.
So, definitely stick to facts, but don’t stick to too many facts. You’re welcome! Good luck with that. It’s a confusing bit of advice, I know, but writing memoir is about filtering through all the facts, choosing the ones that contribute to the truth of the story you’re telling and leaving the ones that are irrelevant or distracting in your memory, but out of your memoir.
I went to prenatal yoga at 11am yesterday. It was a Monday. Perhaps nothing has made me feel more at the top of the human food chain. Who does that? Who gets to change out of their pajamas at 10:30am, drive downtown on a Monday and spend 75 minutes doing yoga?
As it turns out, the answer really shouldn’t have been me. I only went because I can’t make my evening class this week, and at 31 weeks pregnant, I am fearful of what could happen to my poor body if I go a week without making sure it can still bend in half. But though I worked before and after the session, it screwed up my productivity of my entire day to the point that I just gave up around 7pm and decided to start again tomorrow.
But here’s the thing: That was just fine. I wasted a day of my regular productivity, and I was fine. I have a beautiful home, the mortgage for which I can afford, even with an occasional day off; I control my own schedule; I genuinely enjoy what I do, so if I spend 14 hours doing it tomorrow, that’s fine; I absolutely have 14 hours to dedicate to work each day; but I don’t have to. I stop when I want.
Who is this person? When, I began to wonder when assessing all of this, did I become a person surrounded by comfort? And exactly how is it going to destroy me?
About a year ago, I cut my hand trying to saw a few inches off the bottom of my desk’s legs. With a bread knife. What? It was IKEA wood, not real wood. I thought it would work. It did not. Probably because it was also an IKEA bread knife. But I did get a local hardware store to trim my desk legs for me, because I was newly hung up on the idea that, as person who spends [fill in embarrassing number here] of hours a day staring at a computer, I should start thinking about ergonomics.