I have been reading Abigail Thomas’ memoir A Three Dog Life. It’s a quick, easy read and I’m almost done. The book, as one of its critics said, is “shot full of light,” meaning insights and takeaways abound. Which is helpful for me as I start teaching a four-week memoir class tonight. Reading another writer always helps clarify your own thoughts about writing, voice, storytelling that you hope to impart to others.
My class was advertised as “Getting to the Heart of Your Story.” And while this might seem simple enough, it is the most complex piece of the memoir writer’s journey―for one reason. Can I trust that my memory is true? Answer 'yes' to that question and the story falls into place.
Thomas writes how a friend once accused her of "stealing" a memory. Not only that, but of getting the memory wrong, infusing it with gratitude, not with the grief her friend recalled.
“For days the same questions went through my head. Is memory property? If two people remember something differently, is one of them wrong? Wasn’t my memory of a memory also real?"The answer, Thomas writes, may be this. Everyone adds layer upon layer of memory to one story. And in the end, “the art of storytelling is too various to have any one person have complete control.”
Think of an eccentric aunt, a cousin who drifts in and out of our lives and then disappears. Everyone adds their own recollection of that person, infusing the stories with individual memory and perspective, an intricate weaving of many threads.
At the end of the day, you have to trust your instinct, your voice, your emotion. How you write the story is also up to you. Throw away the rules. And as I often say to novice memoir writers who worry that so and so will be upset at what they write, “Let them write their own story.”
If I teach anything the next four weeks, it will be this: Getting to the heart of your story requires acceptance―this is your story, your memory, your recollection. Tap into the emotion, mine the grief, or the gratitude. Relish the confidence that your voice, your recollection, your story matters. Then go ahead, put the pen to paper and enjoy.
Your thoughts and comments are most welcomed.