Candor in Memoirs: Don’t Ask, but Do Tell?

blog8You’ve probably heard about the disturbing revelations Mackenzie Phillips bares in her new memoir. According to reports, many of her family members are not pleased that she decided to do this, and some don’t even believe her account of the events. As you sit down to write your own life story, are there details you’d like to include that you feel might hurt family members or friends?

You may find that this is one of the toughest decisions you’ll make as you proceed with your writing. Maybe your daughter doesn’t want your grandson to know that you smoked when you were a teenager. Perhaps apprising everyone about an early first marriage will be upsetting to them. Or you may be second-guessing a passage that, in simply communicating your impressions and opinions, recalls Cousin Pat in a less-than-flattering description. Maybe the “dirty laundry??? you’re airing isn’t even your own, and someone will feel betrayed that you’ve let a cat out of the bag.

Only you can weigh other people’s feelings against how important it is to you to be fully candid as you write your memoirs. Your name is on this, and others all have the same opportunity to state their own case if they so choose. Here at WriteMyMemoirs, we’d love to hear how our autobiographers are handling this aspect. Comment on this post if you’d like to share.

Photo: © Renata Osinska

Written Memoir Could Add Detail to Vintage Wedding Album

blog7I recently attended a wedding shower where the two extended families met for the first time. To help everyone get to know each other, the host pulled out the wedding album of the bride-to-be’s grandparents. That ceremony took place in the early 1950s, and the album was really charming. The cars, clothes and hairstyles indicated an earlier era, of course, but the event was still modern enough that we all could relate.

Because the grandparents are now deceased, it was left to the next generation to narrate the story, provide background information and match names to the faces in the photos. They did a pretty good job, too! Still, I couldn’t help but think how much more complete the experience would be if the grandparents themselves had left something in writing about that special day in their lives. Here we were, more than a half-century later, about to celebrate the marriage of their granddaughter. It would be wonderful to be able to pass around a personal memoir detailing all of those great family stories that otherwise may not be passed down at all.

Look through your own wedding album—at the flowers and food and people sharing the day with you—and let it inspire you to write down your thoughts for the generations that follow. When it comes time for your grandchildren and their grandchildren to walk down the aisle, they’ll feel your presence as they carry on the “wedding culture??? of the family.

Photo: © Olga Drozdova

Honor Your Pets in Your Memoirs

blog6I have a friend who just moved to a place that doesn’t allow pets, so she left behind, with trustworthy caretakers, a couple of cats she absolutely adores and misses terribly. This made me realize how large a role pets play in a lot of people’s lives. I urge you to include them in your memoirs.

In fact, among the various suggestions we make for structuring your life story—chronological is the most common, but view some other structure ideas for writing memoirs here—I’d like to add using each of your pets as a chapter. That doesn’t mean the chapter would revolve solely, or even primarily, around the pet. Rather, each pet would signify a changing era in your life. Perhaps you grew up caring for a frog, spent time in the army scratching behind the ears of a roaming dog and raised your children to ride horses. You could reminisce about how each treasured animal affected you, or just recall the events that took place when your furry, scaly or feathered pal was in your life.

Even without pets of my own, I look back fondly on various other people’s pets, from my brother’s Bichon “Sugar??? (photo here) and a friend’s great, wolflike mutt “Cooper??? to one sister-in-law’s Black Lab “Woodstock??? and another’s Maltese “Dickens.??? And my cat-loving friend? Years ago she had a sultry black feline named “Obadiah??? who always will have a piece of my heart and, I’m certain, will rate a mention in her memoirs.

Dick Cheney’s Memoir Highly Anticipated

blog4Last time I talked about why it might be appropriate for some people to infuse a little politics in their memoirs. But when you’re a political figure, obviously your autobiography will focus heavily on your views. The next one to offer up this type of book is Former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Scheduled for publication in 2011 by Threshold Editions, the memoir will be Cheney’s first book about his long career in government. Cheney recently told the AP, “I’m persuaded there are a lot of interesting stories that ought to be told. I want my grandkids, 20 or 30 years from now, to be able to read it and understand what I did, and why I did it.??? At Write My Memoirs, we hear that same sentiment from the everyday folk who use our site. Our members want their grandchildren to understand what life was like for them, and that can include the reasoning behind their opinions, voting or perhaps political activism.

Interestingly, it’s been reported that Cheney’s daughter Liz is the one who put the “bug in his ear??? about writing an autobiography. Liz Cheney told the Washington Post, “You have to think about his love of history.??? Backing up her dad’s own statement about the motivation behind writing it, she adds, “When he thinks about this memoir, he thinks about it as a book his grandchildren will read.???

A Proper Memoir: Fact or Opinion?

blog3When I was in the grocery store the other day I noticed an older man involved in a spirited political discussion—with the fruit-stacking guy! Maybe this man was a regular at the store, and the pair had gotten to know each other pretty well over the years. Still, the employee, after all, had fruit to stack, and perhaps the shopper would enjoy not only a wider audience but a structured outlet for expressing himself. Instead of cornering the fruit clerk, I thought: this guy should write a memoir!

Before that happened, I considered a memoir or an autobiography to be a collection of facts—with feeling, yes, but not so much a walk through the person’s politics. But I saw the passion of this man’s discourse and the sincerity in his face as he waved his arms around explaining his views. I realized that, to many people, their politics are as much a part of their life story as the dates of their big events.

If you’re a politically minded person, you might want to devote a chapter just to your opinions. Or maybe you’ll freely sprinkle those views throughout your autobiography. I think it gives readers (even those it might offend!) a real sense of who you are—-which is kind of important in a memoir! So maybe a memoir can be both fact and opinion. Check back next time, when I’ll report on one famous figure who will soon release this type of autobiography.

Photo: ©Serghei Starus

The Examined Life: Worth Living

Welcome to the new WriteMyMemoirs blog. As a member of the WriteMyMemoirs family, you’ve made the decision to channel your life’s memories into a written product—perhaps just for your own satisfaction but, more likely, to have your voice reach the generations that follow. Of course, making that decision is only a first step. Will you stay on task as you recount each chapter of your life? It’s easy to lose focus or get preoccupied with other interests and obligations.

Here on the blog, you can always stop by for motivation. Share a thought or ask a question. I’ll try to address the topics you want to discuss, and as others join in we’ll become a community.

I can’t say I’ve ever written my own memoirs. Maybe someday! But I have written a lot of other pieces and also teach grammar and writing to adults. I’ll try to help you navigate this effort, and don’t be surprised if I use the blog to talk about my favorite (or least favorite!) grammar pitfalls. I applaud your determination to undertake what I hope will be an extremely rewarding process for you, resulting in a valuable source of information and inspiration for your readers.