Monday, September 12, 2016

How Much Should the Memoir Writer Reveal?


I’ve been thinking about Hillary Clinton and the criticism she has endured for not revealing her diagnosis of pneumonia right away; this after being the most transparent candidate in political history and working grueling “25-hour” work days. I have to admit it reminds me of what the memoir writer endures.

First, there is the push for constant transparency of her life, her story, her family, her choices. Next comes the blogging and demands of social media to keep revealing more and more, all the while writing yet another book. And unless we write some vapid, feel-good story, we open ourselves up to criticism, vitriol and judgment by others.

There was no roadmap for this, no little Golden Book to show us the way.

I think of Elizabeth Gilbert who bared her own soul yet again last week with the announcement that she is in love with a woman, her best friend. This might have come as a shock to some, but not when you consider that she is a memoir writer, illuminating “the truth” of her story even a decade after the publication of Eat, Pray Love.
As I wrote on this blog last week, where do we draw the line? How do we – or should we market a highly personal memoir? This resulted in a rather spirited discussion on social media as others have obviously been wondering the same thing. Several women pointed to their readers who offered “how much my story helped them” as making it all worth it. One author noted, however, that the publication of her memoir ended an immensely important relationship.

How exhausting it becomes to keep revealing and revealing. Perhaps, like Hillary, we will finally succumb to illness, almost collapse and need to go home, rest up and restore and renew ourselves as all the while the jackals circle demanding still more and more.

Our hope - my hope - is that by writing the cogent memoir, it is often a healing journey and offers messages and lessons learned that resonate with the reader.

If we truly believe our stories make a difference and help others going through similar life experiences then maybe we are on surer footing. The “art of memoir” is not for the faint of heart, despite how wearying and soul-searching it becomes. We believe in our story. We are breaking new ground as women sharing our stories and finding our voices, things I feel men have long taken for granted as the “right of the masculine.” 

Our guidepost, our "little golden book", if there is one, rests in the belief that we are using our talents, our skills and our abilities to help make this a better world.

As I travel to Nepal later this week I pray that such an exotic locale offers a chance to ponder more of the writer within. I’ll be taking a break from this blog for the next three weeks, not bad considering that I have missed no more than six weeks over the last seven years. I'm going to give myself a little rest and renewal. See you in October.

How much do we reveal? How much honesty and transparency do we demand of ourselves as memoir writers?
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