I have a bookshelf full of how-to-write books: Strunk & White, Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, Dorothea Brande, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera to quote Yul Brenner. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t remember reading an important caveat: if you write a personal essay, a memoir, and it gets published and you win a plaque and get a lovely check, there is a price to pay.
Memoirs of a life lived in Happyville don’t often get published. There needs to be conflict, confusion, battles, secrets, overcoming obstacles that still pop up every once in a while and punch you in the proverbial nose. And of course, there needs to be characters, otherwise known as real people, otherwise known as your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends. That is, the first people you loved and were loved by. Family.
It would be the unusual family who cheers you on while you expose their faults. Most families don’t like that so much.
We are in the tell-all, dashboard confessional, tabloid era of opening our lives for strangers to read. Some argue that writing memoir is healing, liberating, or standing up for yourself against forces that oppressed or damaged you. Some argue that in writing about the pain of your past you will find strength in claiming your story. You will reveal yourself as a person of depth because of your suffering and survival. Your soul has heft, and therefore, you are wise.
Or maybe you just have hubris.
I have two published pieces out in the world that are memoir. I felt I needed to write them, I felt that the depth of feeling I had sharpened my writing, I felt I had processed enough of the past to bring a mature perspective on things. I gambled that I might feel further exiled from my family because of my decision to write these pieces, but some other need, some other ambition, was stronger than my hesitation.
Here I would like to open this blog up to a discussion: What is the price a writer pays for memoir?
As a for instance, to get the discussion started, I became a mute writer, stuck in a limbo of stories going nowhere. My success in getting those pieces published should have goaded me on to write more, but, adversely, I have written less. I feel exposed and vulnerable and more keenly aware of pain I may have caused. I suppose you call that regret.
There are out there, not quite written on stone, but I cannot take back words once uttered.
To end with another movie quote:
So shall it be written, so shall it be done--- Yul Brenner, the imperious.