Writing From a Place of Pain

Thank you to today’s guest blogger Julie Ann Toomey, author of the memoir Failure to Thrive: My Journey to Mental Health. Julie Ann tells Write My Memoirs:

This book has been a long time coming. Even in high school I wanted to write a book about my life. I found myself writing down experiences in story form to use

later. I have always wanted to share what I went through so others might understand the struggles a person with mental illness deals with. The push finally came when a business mentor challenged me to do so. I’d been collecting stories for years—I figured it would be easy.

It wasn’t! Through tears, heartache and pain, there was realization, amazement and therapy. It was the hardest, most therapeutic thing I’ve ever done. I discovered so much about myself, but also about others in my life.

Failure to Thrive: My Journey to Mental Health is an emotional roller coaster you won’t want to put down. It’s raw. It’s honest. It’s hopeful. It’s also 100% true and accurate, as far as I could see the truth at the time. Mental illnesses cause the truth to become skewed in ways those not suffering have a hard time understanding. This book shows it. Truth is universal, but perception is everything. This shows the perception of the truth a mental illness forces you to have. Anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder are a real part of life. They need to be understood.

Read this book. Come to understand it. Use it to help others when they need it. Be the change this world needs.

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 7: Develop a Thick Skin

Critique of Traditional Writing Rules, Part 7: Develop a Thick Skin
Of the rules we’ve critiqued thus far in this series devoted to evaluating the writing rules that Writer’s Digest asked a panel to comment upon, Rule 7—“develop a thick skin”—is even more critical to memoir writers than fiction and other nonfiction authors. After all, you’re laying it out for all to see—your lifelong behavior and thoughts.
Author Steve Almond agrees with this rule. He says, “The key to making it as a writer—as any sort of artist, actually—is developing the capacity to question your decisions without succumbing to the opera of self-doubt. You have to recognize criticism and rejection as a necessary step in the process. Being thin-skinned (i.e., defensive, resentful, arrogant) is not an option.” No matter how you react privately—tears, resentment, anger—ultimately you should calm down and consider the criticism because it can help you. “If nine out of ten readers think your opening page is confusing or your plot never goes anywhere,” Almond continues, “they are almost certainly right.”
Writer and writing teacher Sheila Bender thinks there’s a way to break this rule and still tease out the critiques that will help you polish your writing. You won’t need a thick skin if you ask your test readers for specific feedback: 1) “Ask trusted readers to let you know what words and phrases linger,” she recommends. “It’s easier to listen to what isn’t working when your readers have proved they were listening.” 2) Ask readers about the feelings they get from reading your story. They can express good feelings or say something such as feeling confused. 3) Translate any negative comments into helpful language for yourself. Bender says you should think of “too wordy” as “I feel overwhelmed here instead of clear about what is going on.” Accept “incoherent” as “something seems to have been skipped over; I miss knowing what it is.” And think of “awkward” as “I miss the writer’s voice.” With these “translations,” you can revise your work without feeling resentment toward your test readers.
Despite Bender’s advice to break this rule, when you do what she advises you are developing a thick skin. Accepting criticism in a way that helps you to learn and improve is the whole point of the rule. Don’t develop a thick skin in a way that lets comments roll off your back without bothering you. You do need to take readers’ comments seriously. But don’t take them personally. Understand that all writers need editors. For a memoir in particular, you will be dealing with criticism not only of your writing style but of the content itself. Some people you include in your story will not want to be there. They may get angry at you. But only you can decide whether to respect their point of view or write your life story the way you want to write it, despite what others may say.
http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

Of the rules we’ve critiqued thus far in this series devoted to evaluating the writing rules that Writer’s Digest asked a panel to comment upon, Rule 7—“develop a thick skin”—is even more critical to memoir writers than fiction and other nonfiction authors. After all, you’re laying it out for all to see—your lifelong behavior and thoughts.

Author Steve Almond agrees with this rule. He says, “The key to making it as a writer—as any sort of artist, actually—is developing the capacity to question your decisions without succumbing to the opera of self-doubt. You have to recognize criticism and rejection as a necessary step in the process. Being thin-skinned (i.e., defensive, resentful, arrogant) is not an option.” No matter how you react privately—tears, resentment, anger—ultimately you should calm down and consider the criticism because it can help you. “If nine out of ten readers think your opening page is confusing or your plot never goes anywhere,” Almond continues, “they are almost certainly right.”

Writer and writing teacher Sheila Bender thinks there’s a way to break this rule and still tease out the critiques that will help you polish your writing. You won’t need a thick skin if you ask your test readers for specific feedback: 1) “Ask trusted readers to let you know what words and phrases linger,” she recommends. “It’s easier to listen to what isn’t working when your readers have proved they were listening.” 2) Ask readers about the feelings they get from reading your story. They can express good feelings or say something such as feeling confused. 3) Translate any negative comments into helpful language for yourself. Bender says you should think of “too wordy” as “I feel overwhelmed here instead of clear about what is going on.” Accept “incoherent” as “something seems to have been skipped over; I miss knowing what it is.” And think of “awkward” as “I miss the writer’s voice.” With these “translations,” you can revise your work without feeling resentment toward your test readers.

Despite Bender’s advice to break this rule, when you do what she advises you are developing a thick skin. Accepting criticism in a way that helps you to learn and improve is the whole point of the rule. Don’t develop a thick skin in a way that lets comments roll off your back without bothering you. You do need to take readers’ comments seriously. But don’t take them personally. Understand that all writers need editors. For a memoir in particular, you will be dealing with criticism not only of your writing style but of the content itself. Some people you include in your story will not want to be there. They may get angry at you. But only you can decide whether to respect their point of view or write your life story the way you want to write it, despite what others may say.

TV Genealogy Show Strikes a Chord

TV Genealogy Show Strikes a Chord
As you write your memoir, you may seek information reaching back several generations. Or perhaps after writing a first memoir focusing on your life as you recall it, you will decide to develop a second, research-based book that documents your heritage.
If that topic interests you, you’re probably already a member of ancestry.com, tracing your roots and discovering fascinating information about the generations that preceded you. I suggest you also check out the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” This show was on NBC for three seasons, and after it was canceled it was picked up by TLC, which is now running a full season. Each episode follows the journey as a celebrity traces his or her ancestry, uncovering all sorts of interesting material. In the process, viewers learn how to go about a thorough genealogy search. The producers help the celebrities, of course, whereas you’re on your own! They do use ancestry.com to pull up documents, but they also meet with genealogists and view photos and paperwork in person. Perhaps you wouldn’t have as much access to these experts as the producers of a television show, but the professionals seem genuinely interested in enlightening descendants about relatives whose accomplishments have gone largely acknowledged. By the way, the TV show has a spinoff book of the same name.
If you do any sort of genealogical search and turn up interesting history, please email us at WriteMyMemoirs about it, and we will share here it on the blog.
http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are
http://www.amazon.com/Who-You-Think-Are-Essential/dp/0143118919s

As you write your memoir, you may seek information reaching back several generations. Or perhaps after writing a first memoir focusing on your life as you recall it, you will decide to develop a second, research-based book that documents your heritage.

If that topic interests you, you’re probably already a member of ancestry.com, tracing your roots and discovering fascinating information about the generations that preceded you. I suggest you also check out the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” This show was on NBC for three seasons, and after it was canceled it was picked up by TLC, which is now running a full season. Each episode follows the journey as a celebrity traces his or her ancestry, uncovering all sorts of interesting material. In the process, viewers learn how to go about a thorough genealogy search. The producers help the celebrities, of course, whereas you’re on your own! They do use ancestry.com to pull up documents, but the celebrities also meet with genealogists and view photos and paperwork in person. Perhaps you wouldn’t have as much access to these experts as the producers of a television show, but the professionals seem genuinely interested in enlightening descendants about relatives whose accomplishments have gone largely unacknowledged. By the way, the TV show has a spinoff book of the same name.

If you do any sort of genealogical search and turn up interesting history, please email us at WriteMyMemoirs about it, and we will share here it on the blog.

Your Memoir as a Collection of Short Stories

Still focusing on the essay, “How to Write a Memoir” by William Zinsser, let’s discuss one of the essay’s central themes—gathering up all of your life’s major stories. When you think of your memoir in that way, it’s easier to structure. Tackle one story at a time just as you lived one episode at a time, and when you’re finished you will have described an entire life. It’s also more interesting to the reader than going through year by year and giving a laundry list of your schools, romances, workplaces and favorite foods.

In the essay, Zinsser advises, “Your biggest stories will often have less to do with their subject than with their significance—not what you did in a certain situation, but how that situation affected you and shaped the person you became.” So consider the person you are and how you would want your great-great-grandchildren to think of you. Then think back to your life’s stories that developed that person.

We’re all a product of our time, so include colorful anecdotes that help the reader envision the setting. Perhaps you’ll describe your dad’s car or the outfit your mother wore to church or bicycling by yourself all over the countryside at a young age. If you feel that your birth order helped to shape you, write about your interactions with your siblings and parents. If the army changed your outlook, recall a couple of pivotal stories from that time rather than detailing everywhere you went. If you had to choose one influence that really helped to define you, what would it be? Keep that influence in mind as you write.

We’re all a product of our time, so include colorful anecdotes that help the reader envision the setting. Perhaps you’ll describe your dad’s car or the outfit your mother wore to church or bicycling by yourself all over the countryside at a young age. If you feel that your birth order helped to shape you, write about your interactions with your siblings and parents. If the army changed your outlook, recall a couple of pivotal stories from that time rather than detailing everywhere you went. If you had to choose one influence that really helped to define you, what would it be? Keep that influence in mind as you write.
p://theamericanscholar.org/how-to-write-a-memoir/#.UaTLItKsjTo

The Memoir Poem: Another Format Choice

The Memoir Poem: Another Format Choice
Perhaps you’d like to write a mini-autobiography—either a brief overview of your entire life with only the essential details, or a full account of a single event in your life—but you do not feel confident at writing prose. Is poetry an option? It sure is. There’s even a name for it: “confessional poetry.”
Walt Whitman is widely considered to be the first confessional poet, with his Song of Myself and Leaves of Grass infusing first-person narrative into poetry. Before Whitman’s time, it was considered indulgent for poets to insert themselves into their verses. But Whitman seems to have opened the barn door. “For good or ill, we live in the age of the memoir,” write David Graham and Kate Sontag in their anthology, After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography.
Perhaps you’ve always written poetry and you’re comfortable with it; then you’re a perfect candidate to express the episodes of your life in verse. If you haven’t written much poetry before but the memoir poem appeals to you, take a course in poetry writing. And, of course, read lots of contemporary “confessional poetry” to get into the rhythm of this genre. Here are a few lines from For My Lover, Returning to His Wife, by 20th century poet Anne Sexton:
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.
http://www.amazon.com/After-Confession-Poetry-as-Autobiography/dp/1555973558/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370379070&sr=8-1&keywords=After+Confession%3A+Poetry+as+Autobiography
http://www.valpo.edu/vpr/byrneessayconfession.html
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/for-my-lover-returning-to-his-wife/

Perhaps you’d like to write a mini-autobiography—either a brief overview of your entire life with only the essential details, or a full account of a single event in your life—but you do not feel confident at writing prose. Is poetry an option? It sure is. There’s even a name for it: “confessional poetry.”

Walt Whitman is widely considered to be the first confessional poet, with his Song of Myself and Leaves of Grass infusing first-person narrative into poetry. Before Whitman’s time, it was considered indulgent for poets to insert themselves into their verses. But Whitman seems to have opened the barn door. “For good or ill, we live in the age of the memoir,” write David Graham and Kate Sontag in their anthology, After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography.

Perhaps you’ve always written poetry and you’re comfortable with it; then you’re a perfect candidate to express the episodes of your life in verse. If you haven’t written much poetry before but the memoir poem appeals to you, take a course in poetry writing. And, of course, read lots of contemporary “confessional poetry” to get into the rhythm of this genre. Here are a few lines from For My Lover, Returning to His Wife, by 20th century poet Anne Sexton:

She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.

StoryCorps Project Records People’s Memoirs

StoryCorps Project Records People’s Memoirs
“I believe if you don’t tell your family history, or document it somehow, you lose it.” That’s the sentiment of one son who interviewed his father for the ongoing StoryCorps oral history project, as quoted in a Chicago Tribune article. Certainly here at Write My Memoirs, we agree with that!
The decade-old StoryCorps project records ordinary people being interviewed by a friend or relative about their life stories. Excerpts air Friday mornings on local radio station WBEZ-FM 91.5. Funded by nonprofit groups and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the project is open to everyone and has recorded more than 45,000 life stories, which are archived at the Library of Congress.
To open the project to as many people as possible, this month the Chicago Cultural Center opened a StoryCorps booth containing a desk, a few chairs, a pair of microphones and a box of tissues that, according to the Tribune report, gets used up quickly. A StoryCorps facilitator sits in on the hour-long interview session to work the audio equipment and ask an occasional clarifying question. Participants receive a free audio recording of their interviews on a CD.
“The idea of StoryCorps is that the act of people interviewing each other could change their lives, make their lives better and tell them that they matter,” StoryCorps founder Dave Isay told the Trib reporter. If you would like to make an appointment to participate, call 800-850-4406 or go to chicago.storycorps.org.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-ent-0520-story-corps-20130519,0,3676901.story
http://storycorps.org/record-your-story/locations/chicago-il

“I believe if you don’t tell your family history, or document it somehow, you lose it.” That’s the sentiment of one son who interviewed his father for the ongoing StoryCorps oral history project, as quoted in a Chicago Tribune article. Certainly here at Write My Memoirs, we agree with that!

The decade-old StoryCorps project records ordinary people being interviewed by a friend or relative about their life stories. Excerpts air Friday mornings on local radio station WBEZ-FM 91.5. Funded by nonprofit groups and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the project is open to everyone and has recorded more than 45,000 life stories, which are archived at the Library of Congress.

To open the project to as many people as possible, this month the Chicago Cultural Center set up a StoryCorps booth containing a desk, a few chairs, a pair of microphones and a box of tissues that, according to the Tribune report, gets used up quickly. A StoryCorps facilitator sits in on the hour-long interview session to work the audio equipment and ask an occasional clarifying question. Participants receive a free audio recording of their interviews on a CD.

“The idea of StoryCorps is that the act of people interviewing each other could change their lives, make their lives better and tell them that they matter,” StoryCorps founder Dave Isay told the Trib reporter. If you would like to make an appointment to participate, call 800-850-4406 or go to chicago.storycorps.org.

Write a Memoir to Ease Your Emotional Pain

Write a Memoir to Ease Your Emotional Pain
It’s quite common in therapy for patients to be directed to write out their feelings. Putting your thoughts into words allows you to organize them, analyze them and review them later. However, writing out your thoughts is not the same as crafting your life story. The primary amazon.com review of the book Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, by Louise DeSalvo, says: “Contrary to what most self-help books claim, just writing won’t help you; in fact, there’s abundant evidence that the wrong kind of writing can be damaging.” There’s something about story writing that is more cathartic. It has that classic form of a beginning, middle and end, even if you choose not to present your story chronologically.
Your relatives may find your memoir interesting no matter how you write it. But if you want to publish your memoir for a broader audience, keep in mind that readers are not generally intrigued by details of your therapeutic journey. In fact, one blogger maintains that readers will reject your memoir unless it contains the elements of a compelling story all on its own. Memoirists who have been widely read, blogger Agent Kristin says, have understood that “readers are interested in an inside look to a world they’ve never seen or have never imagined. A world that is unbelievable but true. A world that is unique but resonates with us. A story that captures a universal feeling and the reader senses the connection.”
I recommend a two-tier process here on Write My Memoirs. To calm your emotional turmoil, write out your feelings, your life story and your quest to find psychological peace. Keep that copy for yourself. Then if you’d like to publish your work, use that as a foundation, but craft a fascinating, nonfiction story that just happens to have you as the protagonist.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807072435/ref=nosim/?tag=jerwaxmenheas-20
http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2007/06/writing-memoir-is-not-therapy.html

It’s quite common in therapy for patients to be directed to write out their feelings. Putting your thoughts into words allows you to organize them, analyze them and review them later. However, writing out your thoughts is not the same as crafting your life story. The primary amazon.com review of the book Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, by Louise DeSalvo, says: “Contrary to what most self-help books claim, just writing won’t help you; in fact, there’s abundant evidence that the wrong kind of writing can be damaging.” There’s something about story writing that is more cathartic. It has that classic form of a beginning, middle and end, even if you choose not to present your story chronologically.

Your relatives may find your memoir interesting no matter how you write it. But if you want to publish your memoir for a broader audience, keep in mind that readers are not generally intrigued by details of your therapeutic journey. In fact, one blogger maintains that readers will reject your memoir unless it contains the elements of a compelling story all on its own. Memoirists who have been widely read, blogger Agent Kristin says, have understood that “readers are interested in an inside look to a world they’ve never seen or have never imagined. A world that is unbelievable but true. A world that is unique but resonates with us. A story that captures a universal feeling and the reader senses the connection.”

I recommend a two-tier process here on Write My Memoirs. To calm your emotional turmoil, write out your feelings, your life story and your quest to find psychological peace. Keep that copy for yourself. Then if you’d like to publish your work, use that as a foundation, but craft a fascinating, nonfiction life story that just happens to be about you.

Memoirists: Can You Remain Anonymous?

Memorists: Can You Remain Anonymous?
Lately at Write My Memoirs we’ve had customers wanting to publish their memoir with some level of anonymity. On the surface, this seems like a simple request—just publish under a pen name and, if you really want to hide, choose a pen name of the opposite sex.
But that takes you to the next decision. There seems to be no point in changing your name if all of the other people you talk about in your book have their real names. You can’t trace your parents’ heritage and then claim to be a stranger. Who else would write about your ancestry? Only you. So that means you’ll have to change all of the names in your book. If you think people might recognize the situations you’re describing, you’ll need to disguise your work further by changing the location and some of the details of what happened. After all of that, what have you accomplished? You’ve created a work of fiction.
As I see it, there’s no such thing as an anonymous memoir. You’re either telling your life story, or you’re writing a novel based on some events that actually took place. I don’t see much gray area between the two. People have lots of good reasons for wanting to publish an autobiography anonymously—usually because others involved in the story will be hurt or feel betrayed to see themselves in print. Sometimes authors even put their safety at risk when they publish. But the whole reason you want to write your memoir is to get your story told. There’s no way to do that honestly without attaching your name to your work.

Lately at Write My Memoirs we’ve had customers wanting to publish their memoir with some level of anonymity. On the surface, this seems like a simple request—just publish under a pen name and, if you really want to hide, choose a pen name of the opposite sex.

But that takes you to the next decision. There seems to be no point in changing your name if all of the other people you talk about in your book have their real names. You can’t trace your parents’ heritage and then claim to be a stranger. Who else would write about your ancestry? Only you. So that means you’ll have to change all of the names in your book. If you think people might recognize the situations you’re describing, you’ll need to disguise your work further by changing the location and some of the details of what happened. After all of that, what have you accomplished? You’ve created a work of fiction.

As I see it, there’s no such thing as an anonymous memoir. You’re either telling your life story, or you’re writing a novel based on some events that actually took place. I don’t see much gray area between the two. People have lots of good reasons for wanting to publish an autobiography anonymously—usually because others involved in the story will be hurt or feel betrayed to see themselves in print. Sometimes authors even put their safety at risk when they publish. But the whole reason you want to write your memoir is to get your story told. There’s no way to do that honestly without attaching your name to your work.

Before You Write Your Memoir: Exercises to Prepare

Before You Write Your Memoir: Exercises to Help You
As part of her own memoir writing process, author Shirley Hershey Showalter has been keeping a blog. For one entry, Shirley had received permission from her friend, Professor Melanie Springer Mock, to post the syllabus for a university-level memoir-writing class that Mock was teaching at George Fox University in Oregon. I think you’ll find some of the assignments from this course relevant in helping an amateur writer craft a heartfelt memoir.
The first assignment Mock gives her students is to keep a journal. We’ve talked about that here at Write My Memoirs before. Mock calls journaling “the most democratic literary form,” because everyone has a life story from which to draw, and we all own our stories. Adding that journaling also is “perhaps the most fundamental form of life writing,” Mock expresses the hope that her students will enjoy the journaling process enough to continue with it after the course ends. To guide the students in productive journaling, the syllabus advises:
“A fruitful journal will include more than a summarization of weather and what you had for lunch, although you may write about that as well. Consider using your journal to record daily events, conversations and feelings; to examine your beliefs and thoughts, as well as your reaction to certain daily experiences; to experiment with different writing styles and ideas; and to draft pieces you are working on.” I think those are good suggestions. More assignments next time—check back here next week!

As part of her own memoir writing process, author Shirley Hershey Showalter has been keeping a blog. For one entry, Shirley received permission from her friend, Professor Melanie Springer Mock, to post the syllabus for a university-level memoir-writing class that Mock was teaching at George Fox University in Oregon. I think you’ll find some of the assignments from this course relevant in helping an amateur writer craft a heartfelt memoir.

The first assignment Mock gives her students is to keep a journal. We’ve talked about that here at Write My Memoirs before. Mock calls journaling “the most democratic literary form,” because everyone has a life story from which to draw, and we all own our stories. Adding that journaling also is “perhaps the most fundamental form of life writing,” Mock expresses the hope that her students will enjoy the journaling process enough to continue with it after the course ends. To guide the students in productive journaling, the syllabus advises:

“A fruitful journal will include more than a summarization of weather and what you had for lunch, although you may write about that as well. Consider using your journal to record daily events, conversations and feelings; to examine your beliefs and thoughts, as well as your reaction to certain daily experiences; to experiment with different writing styles and ideas; and to draft pieces you are working on.” I think those are good suggestions. More assignments next time—check back here next week!

All Hail the Presidential Memoir

Hail to the Presidential Memoir
Since newly reelected Barack Obama already is a best-selling author, we can probably expect him to pen a presidential memoir when he finishes this next term. Most modern presidents do and there’s certainly a market for the first-hand presidential account. Bill Clinton’s memoir, the 900-page, unoriginally titled My Life, has sold in the neighborhood of 2.25 million copies, and sales of George W. Bush’s Decision Points are rivaling that record.
But the champion of presidential memoirs in terms of critical acclaim, you may be surprised to learn, is Ulysses S. Grant. His autobiography focuses more on the war than on his presidential years and had the advantage of Mark Twain as an editor or, some suspect, a ghostwriter. The book stands out for its humility; Grant readily admits to errors and lets hindsight guide him toward an objective evaluation of his actions. Pretty much every other president uses the memoir as a means to justify decisions, self-promote or spin the facts. An apt example is James Buchanan, who was our country’s first president to publish a memoir. And “Silent Cal”? Calvin Coolidge lived up to his nickname, penning the shortest presidential memoir at just under 250 pages. But perhaps the most “silent” was Richard Nixon, who wasn’t one to self-reflect and glossed over the Watergate scandal in his memoir.
Not to be left out, we may see Michelle Obama write her own account of White House life. Both Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford published autobiographies that outsold their husbands’ memoirs, while Hilary Clinton’s Living History has topped $10 million in sales. Time will tell.

Since newly reelected Barack Obama already is a best-selling author, we can probably expect him to pen a presidential memoir when he finishes this next term. Most modern presidents do, and there’s certainly a market for the first-hand presidential account. Bill Clinton’s memoir, the 900-page, less-than-originally titled My Life, has sold in the neighborhood of 2.25 million copies, and sales of George W. Bush’s Decision Points are rivaling that record.

But the champion of presidential memoirs in terms of critical acclaim, you may be surprised to learn, is Ulysses S. Grant. His autobiography focuses more on the war than on his presidential years and had the advantage of Mark Twain as an editor or, some suspect, a ghostwriter. The book stands out for its humility; Grant readily admits to errors and lets hindsight guide him toward an objective evaluation of his actions. Pretty much every other president uses the memoir as a means to justify decisions, self-promote or spin the facts. An apt example is James Buchanan, who was our country’s first president to publish a memoir. And “Silent Cal”? Calvin Coolidge lived up to his nickname, penning the shortest presidential memoir at just under 250 pages. But perhaps the most “silent” was Richard Nixon, who wasn’t one to self-reflect and glossed over the Watergate scandal in his memoir.

Not to be left out, we may see Michelle Obama write her own account of White House life. Both Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford published autobiographies that outsold their husbands’ memoirs, while Hilary Clinton’s Living History has topped $10 million in sales. Time will tell; it always does.