Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Fear Factor

Today at the monthly read-around of the Circle, we came together as writers laying our souls bare. That is the power - and terror - of memoir.

Memoir is not for the faint of heart. But we wouldn't have it any other way.

"I felt 10 pounds lighter after I wrote it," Deborah Martin-Plugh, said.

"I feel terrible after I finish, but it is eventually feeling that it is out there.  Much later, I feel better," Jan Backes said.

As much as memoir is a reckoning for ourselves, so it can be for those we write about.  But remember - there is the profound healing aspects of memoir, not just for ourselves, but for others longing to read our story.

So . . . Are we ready to share our stories?   Are we ready to provoke the possible anger of family?  This is your story.  Go for it, but proceed with caution.  Memoir is your legacy; you will want a certain cloak of protection when family members years from now turn the pages of your book, as they inevitably will.  As my sons joke, "Mom, we'll read your book after you're dead."  But read it, they will.

A couple of tips: (And I would love to hear yours in the comment section.)

  • Research family members before you write their story.  If they have left old letters, journals, memoirs, then by all means use those as resources to help capture the essence of who they were/are.
  • These are your memories, your recollections.  Keep in mind that no two people view the same situation or conversation through the same prism.  Stay true to yourself.
  • Change the names and identifying characteristics of people who pose a liability and are not family. It does make not sense to change the names of family members.  Memoir is non-fiction.
  • Impulsive decisions to write about something today, might not sit well years from now. If you are unsure, let it sit for awhile and percolate.

As Gregory Martin, memoirist, wrote in this month's Writer magazine, "You need to think hard about the real-life implications of your work long before it reaches any editor.  If you have, and afterward, if you can't quite breathe deeply, if you have become aware of a low-level underlying anxiety to all your waking hours, a kind of agony, at the thought of what might happen if your story does get published, then maybe you're ready for submission."

Here are some photographs of the writers at today's read-around at Wellington Square.  Top right, Annalie Hudson, contemporary artist: 
Patricia Zettlemoyer of Morgantown (middle) and bottom right, Flo Shore and Jan Backes of Plymouth Meeting.

Keep writing, as I know you will!  All the best to my Sisters in the Writing Circle.

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