Are you Writing a Memoir—or True Life Fiction?

Truth or Fiction—how do you want to write your life story?

This is a pithy and often difficult question that many memoir writers ponder—and it keeps them from writing. Are you writing—or are you worrying about how to write your story? It’s time to think hard about your choices and get back to your book. You can write—and finish—your book in 2012!


Reasons why you might choose fiction:

  • You want the protection of “the fictional wall.”
  • When your family and friends ask: did that REALLY happen—you can say “This is a novel. Any similarities between persons living and dead are coincidental.” Or whatever disclaimer you decide you use.
  • Your memory isn’t good—and you need to fill in details to make a good story.
  • Your memory isn’t good—and you don’t have enough “truths” to create a memoir, but you have some ideas and experiences that will make a good book.
  • If your story has traumatic truths that “out” someone, you want to be able to create fictional characters to carry the story.

A great book to help you sort out these questions is Robin Hemley’s Turning Life into Fiction.

Reasons to write a memoir:

  • The power of your story comes from the fact that it is true—it really happened.
  • You want to draw upon your real experiences to help others—by claiming your story as true, you will be a better storyteller and deliver a more powerful message.
  • Writing a memoir means exploring memory, meaning, and lived experience, and you enjoy that kind of writing.
  • You believe that writing and publishing a memoir offers a significant legacy or lesson—a takeaway that will change the lives of others.
  • A memoir can be a legacy, testimony, a witnessing of aspects of life that are real and true—and you want to deliver that kind of work to inform and inspire others.

The History of Sex in the Twentieth Century—what a title! It’s one of the memoirs written by Jane Vandenburgh, our guest for our NAMW member teleseminar. I’m so excited to talk with Jane—as she’s an example of someone who has as she puts it, “Put memoir in my fiction and fiction in my memoir.”

Find out more about how she chose the genres for her books. Click here to read more about the upcoming teleseminar.

More of Jane’s books:

The Physics of Sunset—fiction

Failure to Zigzag-fiction

The Architecture of the Novel—a terrific how-to book