Do you write about your childhood from the distance you have as an adult looking back, or do you call upon the voice inside you that witnessed the action as a child? This is another key issue discussed in William Zinsser’s essay, “How to Write a Memoir,” which we’re referencing here at Write My Memoirs because it contains so much insight into the memoir writing process.
Zinsser leans toward using your childhood voice to “preserve the unity of a remembered time and place.” He cites Russell Baker’s Growing Up, V. S. Pritchett’s A Cab at the Door and Jill Ker Conway’s The Road from Coorain as examples of autobiographies that effectively convey “what it was like to be a child or an adolescent in a world of adults contending with life’s adversities.”
But Zinsser recognizes that many of you memoir writers will choose to write from the point of view of the adult you are now, and he agrees that the resulting book can “have its own integrity.” For examples of that structure, he mentions Poets in Their Youth, “in which Eileen Simpson recalls her life with her first husband, John Berryman, and his famously self-destructive fellow poets, including Robert Lowell and Delmore Schwartz, whose demons she was too young as a bride to understand. When she revisited that period as an older woman in her memoir she had become a writer and a practicing psychotherapist, and she used that clinical knowledge to create an invaluable portrait of a major school of American poetry at the high tide of its creativity.” Zinsser recognizes that these are two different types of writing and urges memoir writers to choose one rather than combining the two.