Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

Every ordinary life story is extraordinary!

Bias vs. Objectivity in Memoir

Man holding big glasses a foot in front of his eyes to gain objectivity in his memoir

This is your truth, so does it have to also be THE truth?

One motivating factor for writing your memoir is that you finally get to tell your story from your perspective—the way you want people to hear it. You’re not thinking about objectivity in memoir, and why should you be? By definition, this is your biased account. Achieving a balance of bias vs. objectivity may seem out of place in the memoir conversation. Well, it’s not!

You as the Hero in Your Life Story

Many memoir authors hope that their story will inspire readers. They’ve overcome a hardship, and perhaps readers who are facing a similar challenge will be encouraged that if they fight hard enough, they, too, can make it to a happier place and move on with life.

As you describe all the hurdles you’ve had to jump and the negativity you’ve had to push out of your way, you can build yourself up to be a bit of a hero. Look at all you’ve overcome. That’s impressive.

But is it? Have you recounted all the mistakes you made along the way? Have you given credit to people who helped you succeed? Have you considered the simple factor of luck?

There’s a saying, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” To adapt that, I’d advise against letting any need to look perfect be the enemy of coming across real. Look at yourself objectively. You’re not perfect. Admitting where you messed up is the way you relate to readers and get them to root for you.

View Your Story from Outside Yourself

If you have any trouble admitting your shortcomings, try looking at your life from other people’s points of view. Maybe you talk about a job you held, and your boss was excessively tough on you. You can reveal that person’s shortcomings as a supervisor, but do you also share in any accountability? Was the boss’s criticism of you at all justifiable even if the communication method may have been too harsh? It’s usually more effective to talk about your struggles and the errors you made, and then how unhelpful it was to absorb criticism that was hurtful.

Picture yourself with the people you write about during the time you were together. Now imagine them reading your book in present day. What are they thinking? Are you being truly honest with the reader about your own contributions to negative outcomes in your life?

Fact-check Pesky Little Details

Memory is so tricky; sometimes it incorporates our biases and we’re not even aware of that. Let’s say you recall a traumatic incident with a teacher that happened when you were 14 years old, something that was hard for someone that young to handle. Don’t rely on your memory. Think it through, and fact-check wherever you can. You may pick up your yearbook to discover that you had to be at least 16 when the incident happened, because the teacher didn’t join your school’s faculty until you were a junior.

That kind of thing doesn’t make your story less powerful. If the incident traumatized you, it still traumatized you. But the truth was that you were 16. If a reader does the fact-checking and finds a discrepancy, that reader might regard your entire book as fictionalized. Getting the smallest details wrong—dates, places, people’s names—can undermine the core of truth you’re telling.

Does the Truth Mean the Whole Truth?

Some memoir writers get bogged down in too much truth! You have to explain enough for the reader to understand the point of each story in your memoir, but don’t be afraid to omit irrelevant details about the incident. Setting is important, and description of what you saw, heard and smelled puts the reader in the midst of the action. But sometimes we overexplain the background of what’s happening.

I think discerning how much to reveal is one of the hardest parts of storytelling. Think of someone you know with whom you’re always silently thinking, “Get to the point!” You don’t want your readers shouting that at your book.

Suppose in the chapter about your adolescent years you refer to Alice as your best friend. In the next chapter, you’re in high school and you say, “I felt relieved to see that my two best friends, Miguel and Samantha, had saved me a seat.” Will the reader notice the switch? Yes. So don’t leave the reader hanging. Say something like:

“I felt relieved to see that Miguel and Samantha, who at that point had replaced Alice in my best-friend hierarchy, had saved me a seat.” Or: “I was relieved to see that my two best friends, Miguel and Samantha, had saved me a seat. I still was in touch with Alice, but she had moved and was going to a nearby high school, so we weren’t as close.”

What you don’t have to supply is an entire backstory:

“I felt relieved to see that Miguel and Samantha had saved me a seat. I’d known the two of them since middle school, but Alice had never wanted to include other friends in any of our activities. When her family moved and she started going to a different high school, I got to be friendlier with first Miguel, and then Samantha, since those two already were good friends. Alice and I called each other less and less frequently, and later on I heard that her family moved out of state altogether.”

Objectivity Begets Catharsis and even Forgiveness

The process of writing about your life may remove a huge weight you’ve been carrying around. You finally are able to openly share with readers a long-held secret or a painful time in your life. It feels great to let go of the burden. The rub is that, once you’re healed, you don’t always like what you’ve written.

In an essay some years back, memoir author Amye Archer told about the way her view of her ex-husband changed as she wrote each new draft of her story about her marriage. The anger she felt at the beginning gradually dissipated. She sat down to write her memoir with a lot of indignation—look what this terrible man did to me! The more she rewrote her drafts, the more she saw her own role in the failure of the marriage. As more time passed, her current life brought her happiness, and she didn’t have the need for readers to be mad at her ex when even she wasn’t as mad at him anymore.

If you’re harboring anger like that, I think your memoir will be more authentic if you can get to the point that Amye Archer reached. You don’t want to publish it and then get there afterward. You don’t want to cringe when you read your own memoir.

There is such a big “but” to this. Even if you’re very much past the trauma, when writing the memoir you do want to get your head back to the way you felt at the time. You want to return to the pain so that the writing makes the feeling real for your reader. But then you can add perspective that has come with time.

This isn’t a textbook, a journalistic report or a historical account. It’s not even a biography of someone else. You’re writing your story about you. But it will ring truer with the reader and carry more authenticity if you layer your perspective with a little objectivity.

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Then just set up a chapter and start writing your memoir. Don’t worry about rules. There are no rules to writing your memoir; there are only trends. These trends are based on techniques and features identified in current top-selling memoirs. At best, they’re the flavor of the month. If you’re capturing your life in print for your family, for your own gratification or to inspire readers, rather than aiming to set off Hollywood screenplay bidding wars, these trends don’t even apply to you. You’ll write the memoir that suits you best, and it will be timeless, not trend-driven.There are no rules, but there are four steps:

1. Theme/framework
2. Writing
3. Editing/polishing
4. Self-publishing

You’ve researched this, too, and you’ve been shocked at the price for getting help with any one of those steps, much less all four. That’s because most memoir sites promise to commercialize your work. They’ll follow a formula based on current memoir trends, because they want to convince you that they can turn your memoir into a best-seller. These sites overwhelm you with unnecessary information not to help you, the memoir author, but to address Search Engine Optimization (SEO) algorithms so they can sell more.

That’s not what we do at Write My Memoirs. Our small community of coaches, writers and editors are every bit as skilled as any you’ll find, and we charge appropriately for their expertise and the time they’ll spend helping you craft a compelling, enjoyable read. But you won’t pay an upcharge for other websites’ commercialization, the marketing that follows, and the pages of intimidating “advice.” You can sell your book if you like—we have ISBNs available for you—but our organic process of capturing your story takes a noncommercial path.

If you want help with any or all of the four steps above, choose from our services or save money by selecting one of our packages. If you’d like to talk about what’s right for you, schedule a call. One year from now, you can be holding your published memoir in your hand. And at that point, it will be a big deal!