Writing the Memoir: Consider the Consequences

soothing ripplesIn my post, First Steps to Writing a Memoir, I pose questions regarding purpose and goals that should be answered before committing to write your life stories. There is actually a fourth point to consider: Should you write a memoir?

How will writing and publishing your memoir impact you? Do you have the right to tell your story when it includes the part others played in it – portions of other people’s lives they may not want uncovered?

Here are some things to consider.

You will reveal things about yourself. You will do some major soul-searching, digging deep into your past. What you pull out may not be pretty. Are you ready to open the door on your own secrets? Are you ready to share the intimate details of your life and have others truly know you?

To write an effective, authentic, cohesive memoir, you’ll likely need to revisit or even relive the pain you’d rather forget. You can’t gloss over the tough stuff. You have to dive in, come clean and carry on. ~ Laurie Rosin*

You will reveal things about others. The old axiom that says, “You can’t please everyone,” is certainly true when you send your memoir out into the world. Not everyone will be happy with how you portray them. In exposing the part that others played in your story, you risk offending and/or alienating them. When these people are family or friends, you might want to ask yourself if telling the story is worth the affect it will have on important relationships.

When we write memoir, we pull back the curtain on our private lives and invite readers in. We willingly give up our privacy, or a chunk of it. But because we’re human, our stories also include other people: parents and siblings, teachers and neighbors, lovers and friends — and they haven’t exactly signed on to the deal. ~ Tracy Seeley**

You will risk legal action against you. A writer can be sued for defamation with the claim being that what was written is not true and has caused injury to reputation or character. Another legal claim is that of invasion of privacy, or the public disclosure of private facts. According to Stephanie Rabiner, Esq., “It is illegal to reveal truthful, yet private, facts to third parties. The facts must not be of public concern, and would offend a reasonable person if made public. The information must also legitimately be private and known by few, if any, other people.” To be sure of the legal ramifications of your memoir, you might want to discuss the possibilities with a lawyer.

Only you can decide if you should tell your story and how it should be told. But in deciding what to leave in and what to leave out, perhaps the best question to ask is, “Who or what do I serve in the telling of it – me or the story itself?” Your memoir is not so much about what happened but about the importance of your journey, about what you brought into it and how the journey changed you.

Writing memoir is not for the faint-hearted…. Our first obligation is to the art and truth of our story. And that means not censoring ourselves…. Write with respect for your subjects, even if they come across as louts. And tell your story true, artfully and with courage. ~ Tracy Seeley**

(Read *“Don’t Gloss Over the Hard-to-Write Parts” by Laurie Rosin and **“Important Privacy Issues in Memoir” by Tracy Seeley.)

What has been the most difficult part for you in preparing to write your memoir?

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2 thoughts on “Writing the Memoir: Consider the Consequences

  1. Yes, it’s hard to know when writing about family when you’re revealing too much that’s personal about others. And yet it’s just those times when things are crazy or scary or embarrassing that you really touch upon the important themes in your life, which involves others’ lives. I like your quotations, thanks for sharing.

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    • I think the things that touch us deeply, whether in fiction or nonfiction, stem from the truth. These are truths we have all lived through to some degree — like sorrow, regret, and injustice — and when we read about them, we’re taken back to those places of true feeling. In deciding to include something in a memoir that could hurt others, it might be best to examine our heart and motives for doing so. And then perhaps discuss it with these others so they understand the importance the situation played in our life. Thank you for your comment!

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