Clear Your Path

Last week, several of us discussed the memoir and how to approach writing about family and others close to you.  This morning I listened to an enlightening blog radio show over at SHE WRITES on this topic:  How Do We Write About Our Families

This was by far the best way for me to start my writing week.  One woman called in and described how the publication of her memoir caused her to never publish again; but another found that the release of her family’s story opened up lines of communication that had been forever closed and made for a closer-knit, more open family.  Here are a few of the notes I took, though I suggest clicking on the link and listening.  I promise it will be well worth your time.

NOTES:

When writing the book, especially early drafts, you can’t censor yourself.  Chronic censoring keeps you from walking all the way up to the edge of the cliff and the reader can tell when you’re holding back.  So put it all out there.  It’s just a draft, right?  Give yourself that freedom.  You can always take things out later.

The reason we write — fiction or nonfiction — is to express the truth.  Or rather, our personal truth.  Someone might read your story and disagree.  And guess what?  They’re entitled to disagree!  This disagreement doesn’t make your truth, or theirs, any less valid.  You are each entitled to your version.  You need to be able to stand in your own truth, and let them stand in theirs.

What is the story and why am I so compelled to tell it?

There’s a tendency in memoir to assess blame and to focus on people other than yourself.  This is one of the genre’s biggest flaws.  Are you writing your book to be punitive or to discover something you need to discover?

Is the spotlight turned as much on your motivations as on everyone else’s?

Are you afraid someone will be hurt by your book?  If so, why?  Will they be hurt because you’ve published it, or because it happened?

Before your book is published, clear the path.  Let people who are in your book read the galleys.  Doing this pre-publication lets you be present in the moment and enjoy, after all of your hard work, the release of your book.

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14 thoughts on “Clear Your Path

  1. Laura

    Thanks! I know just the person who might like to hear that radio show…I’ll share it with her. Also love your question of whether people will be hurt because it happened or because it was published…interesting.

  2. erikamarks

    This subject may see many more posts to come, Teri. I can’t seem to shake the subject myself. I will have to click on this–thank you for sharing the info–I belong to SheWrites and always seem to miss the good stuff like this.

    Being honest in writing, fiction or non-fiction, has to be the biggest challenge. It’s natural to want to censor–but the idea of clearing a path is a pretty brilliant one. Certainly that would have to help that process of getting to the heart of the matter, free a writer up, possibly. But if the revelation is at its core a painful one, or a possibly unflattering one, is it possible to truly clear the path for it? I suppose the writer makes that decision the best way he or she can and moves forward.

  3. Downith

    Thanks for this Teri. Some very good points. The idea of not censoring yourself is equally important with fiction – turn off the editor in your head – as you say, it’s just a draft.

  4. lisahgolden

    I’m going to listen to that tomorrow while I’m alone. Thank you. I’ve also swiped your notes to answer. I know I’ve been holding back as I write because it’s hard to measure how people will react. So far I’ve chosen to fictionalize instead of memoirize (sloppy word) so that I don’t have to deal with some of the inevitable trouble any potential publication will cause.

    1. Teri Post author

      One of the most interesting parts of this discussion was about fictionalizing — even making composite characters — and yet the real people still recognize themselves and there can be hell to pay. Anticipating this is so paralyzing.

  5. Lyra

    “What is my story and why am I compelled to tell it?”

    That, my dear, is a mouth full. I ask myself this all the time. Thank you for this. Your comments apply so well to fiction as well. Then again, as writers, we see what we want to see and cannibalize the rest, no?

    1. Teri Post author

      I love how we all correct ourselves. It’s so painful when I hit that button, only to see my gobbledy-goop in print with a misspelled word. The horror!

  6. MacDougal Street Baby

    This is what makes memoir writing so challenging. I think that in the beginning it’s imperative that you simply write. Take away all the hurdles and let it flow. After it’s all come out, then you can begin to see how you can shape your story, taking into account other people and their reputations. They are important. Remember, they don’t have a platform to respond and, considering this is really only your experience, they probably have a different point of view. I always think back to the face-off between Eminem and Christina Aguilera. One artist disses the other who, in turn, spits back the offense. It takes more effort to cloud a personal identity but, in the end, it may be your only protection against recrimination.

  7. josephinecarr

    Really appreciated this. I think the points raised here, in terms of memoir, can also apply to blogs, one of the forms with which I’m still struggling. You’ll notice that I’m talking more and more about spiritual subjects on my blog, even though I recognize that I might find more of an “audience” with subjects about publication, querying, agents, writing fiction, etc., I’ve decided that I may lose readers interested in that (perhaps you guys — it’s okay!), but I will eventually reach other people who, like me, are very engaged in their spiritual journey. Better to be honest and truthful about oneself. Thanks, Teri!

    1. Teri Post author

      You’re right about that, Jody. I think we have to blog about what we care about, start conversations we want to have, etc… Otherwise why bother. I started following certain blogs a couple of years ago to learn about the publishing industry, but I’ve branched out since then. Good for you that you’re following your interest — the authenticity serves you and your work. And I like your subject-matter these days. It always makes me think, and isn’t that that kicker?

  8. Deb

    Great post, Teri. As you know, these issues are a struggle for me. I’ve started writing more openly for myself with no intention of publishing and am finding my fiction is benefitting. Opening the flood gates or something…

  9. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    I have very few truly painful memories. Yet still, I’m afraid that through my writing I’ll somehow hurt those I love–even when it’s cloaked in humor.

    Probably why, other than my blog and some personal essays, I focus on writing fiction.

    Interesting notes. Some things to consider in anything we write, really. Because even fiction may be masked real-life…

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