Your Story Matters!
Memoir Writing Instructor Answers Your Questions
Every life is made up of stories—some are deliriously happy tales, others are devastatingly sad, and our life experiences represent every imaginable kind of emotion in between. We all have family history and life stories, and the sad truth is that if we don’t preserve them, they are permanently gone. There is no rewind. There is no going back to capture them.
Q6. If I write my memoirs, do I have to tell EVERYTHING?
A6. Widely varied opinions proliferate regarding this topic. Some feel that unless we reveal every deep, dark secret, we are being dishonest, misleading and neglect to unearth important facts. My personal belief is that we have an inherent right to privacy and possess the option to choose the details of events of our lives that we wish to share.
When discussing memoir writing, I have often been told emphatic comments such as, “If you aren’t going to tell all, you shouldn’t tell anything,” or “I don’t write my stories because there are too many negative things that happened in my life. I don’t want to pass all of that junk along to my grandchildren.” I simply do not subscribe to the theory that you have to tell everything, or it is not worth writing. I believe that one should have the option of selecting what would be beneficial to share with future generations. Not everyone has led a fairytale life. Who has not had some difficult experiences—perhaps even some that were devastating? Is there anyone who never, ever made a less-than-stellar choice in life…a decision about which they would love to time travel and have a re-do? Who has not made some major errors in judgment, but learned from those mistakes?
I do believe that writing about those negative events can be very healing, but whether or not to actually share them is your personal decision. My suggestion is in writing memoirs, do no harm to others who are living (unless they give written permission). This is for ethical as well as legal reasons. Why not try to share stories that will benefit future generations in knowing who your parents and grandparents were and what life was like as you were growing up, maturing and making life choices? Give them some positive aspects about your life, or certainly you may want to describe how a negative situation evolved into a positive, how you overcame certain difficult circumstances, providing valuable life lessons and offering encouragement to others.
Regarding people who insist on writing negative stories about family members or others, I do not think that they ever stop to realize that they are looking at the stories solely from their own perspectives. The people they are maligning do not have the opportunity to tell their side of the story, they have no way to defend themselves (particularly if they are deceased) and we all know that there are normally two sides. We do not always understand what makes one person gregarious and upbeat versus what another person has endured that makes them miserable, cantankerous and difficult to deal with. Exception-in the case of physical or sexual abuse, there is no defense unless the perpetrator was completely mentally incapable of discerning right from wrong.
I always suggest writing whatever memories may enter your mind, get it off your chest, and then put it aside for awhile. Return to it with fresh eyes and a clean heart, and then decide if this particular story is one that you really want included in your written legacy.
I love this quote from Marjane Satrapi in Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood : “In life you'll meet a lot of jerks. If they hurt you, tell yourself that it's because they're stupid. That will help keep you from reacting to their cruelty. Because there is nothing worse than bitterness and vengeance... Always keep your dignity and be true to yourself.”
So my personal advice is that if you are seeking revenge on a despicable ex-spouse or an impossible mother-in-law via your memoirs, think long and hard about it. You could pray about it. You may want to consider forgiveness instead, because as difficult as it may be, forgiveness does not condone bad behavior, but it frees you from carrying the burden of bitterness.
Write it all. Then review and decide which stories make the final cut in your memoir project. This is my personal opinion, and not everyone will agree.
Just remember--your stories are a priceless legacy!
Mary Anne Benedetto is the owner of A Writer’s Presence, LLC, a writer, speaker, blogger, Certified Lifewriting Instructor, and an affiliate teacher with the The Memoir Network. Author of 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, she offers beneficial tips, hints and critical steps in memoir writing in order to remove the “overwhelmed” factor in memoir projects.
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