The What and Why of Memoir Writing
What is a Memoir?
A memoir is an a blend of real and imaginary, a story that reads like fiction but one that is real, based on real happenings, feelings, and people. Because a memoir is about “the truth,” it carries a certain weight. Your readers will throw themselves into the story in a powerful way because they identify with the real people that are the “characters” in a memoir. We identify with characters in fiction, too, and we also learn from them, but it’s not the same as it is in memoir. In a fictional story, we enter what John Gardner calls “The Fictive Dream,” where we are immersed totally in that world and don’t want to leave. Have you ever stayed up late reading a novel you couldn’t put down? That is being lost in the fictive dream! The same thing happens in a well-written memoir—we’re immersed in the world of the story and we don’t want to leave. We feel that we are learning from the author about aspects of life that are important lessons, a story about how we learn, stumble, make mistakes, and imperfectly grow and heal. Memoirs might be seen as present-day spiritual quests. Mark Matousek, author of Sex, Death, and Enlightenment and The Boy He Left Behind, says, “All memoirs are really a spiritual journey.”
Why Write a Memoir?
Beginning a memoir project is like being an explorer of new territory, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a sky diver all at once—you take risks on the journey, but the journey is your challenge, a way to stretch yourself and to grow as a creative person. It gets your heart beating and draws upon your passion and the unique creative being that you are.
Writing a memoir—a story that is true—gives meaning to your life and connects you to the past and the present. It draws upon your dreams, imagination, and research skills. It hones your ability to use language and to express yourself. You might think of writing a memoir as a journey into self and soul, a means of change and transformation. Memoir writers express that they are changed by the experience for the better.
Let’s look at the reasons you might want to write a memoir, and how writing a memoir can change your life—for the better.
- Writing a memoir—a story that is true—gives meaning to your life and connects you to the past and the present.
- It draws upon your dreams, your imagination, and your research skills.
- It hones your ability to use language and to express yourself.
- Memoir gives more back to you than you put in—like magic, or like a garden.
- Writing a memoir is a transformational and spiritual path.
- Your story can change others’ lives . . . and your own.
- Research proves that writing heals both body and mind.
- Creating a narrative where you are the first-person narrator integrates the past and the present.
- Remembering brings all parts of you together again.
- Writing with your own voice is empowering, and it continues to empower, story by story.
- Telling your truths frees you from shame and guilt. Why do you want to write your memoir?
What special knowledge do you have that you want to convey to others? Write a paragraph about this.
Who could benefit from what you know? List themes, audiences, and people you know who could learn from you.