As memoirists, we know that writing a memoir can be fraught with all kinds of doubts and silencing, from “I’m not that great a writer” to “what will the family say?” We worry about how much to put in, whether to frame scenes with dialogue or not, or if we should name the people we grew up with. We worry about these things whether they are legal issues or not. We worry about them even if we are starting a first draft that no one else will see but our writer buddies or coach. Let’s face it—we worry!
For the most part, the memoir writers I know are not writing for revenge. Most of them are women who were silenced in various ways as they grew up—from family who wanted to present a certain face to the world to a society who often offered favoritism to more outspoken boys or men. Men and women both can feel silenced in societies where keeping to the standard roles of macho male and submissive women are the norm—there will always be aspects of personality and feelings that are unacceptable.
We internalize these “rules” and don’t want to break them—because we fear losing something in the bargain. Some of us will lose the approval of others, while there are those whose families are so rigid or judgmental they rightfully fear being shunned or disinherited. Honestly, some families really do react this way when they don’t approve of what is written or said that conflicts with the image the family prefers to present to the world.
Memoirists risk exposure when they write anything that goes beyond the agreed upon boundaries set by family, community, or church. As small children, we can feel where we “shouldn’t” speak, and few can bear breaking that rule. When we grow up, we manage these rules, but for the most part can slide by with our opinions kept to ourselves if we prefer—until we start writing a memoir! This genre is based on the writer presented the truth as accurately as possible—and I don’t just mean the facts—which are only one aspect of truth. I mean that the memoirist writes about being a young in a family that lived in a certain town, writes about what happened behind closed doors, writes about the good and the bad—with the faces of real people in their lives explored on the page—for others to read—someday.
This week at the National Association of Memoir Writers member teleseminar, we are going to talk with Linda Watanabe McFerrin about the skills of writing a memoir so that you can go home for the holidays, and at the same time tell a true story. Please join us for this rich discussion between two memoirists—and two Lindas!