Thursday, October 8, 2009

Memoir ~ The Risks ~ The Benefits

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The days are long for an impatient writer, waiting to see her completed book for the first time. I am, as many of you know, a rather impatient person anyway. This is a result of moving often, and treating everything as a temporary situation (not in a Buddhist way, but more of a neurotic, anxious way). Disclaimer aside, I want to take this opportunity to capture the extreme emotions I currently feel, the ebb and flow of pride and fear, worry and excitement, wonder and exhaustion.

As a writer, I am thrilled. There is no doubt that I have put a lot of work into this project, put my life into it, in fact, and I have often felt this day would never come. As a memoirist, I am fearful, worried that the subtle revisions to my manuscript will in some way offend those who are highlighted in the text. Even though my parents, sister and Grandma have all read various versions of this title, I have worked tirelessly to revise it and even the slightest change sometimes, the addition of one extra scene from childhood, the extraction of another, can change the entire feel of the book. These delicacies are tough.

As a daughter, sister, adult, I feel wholly responsible and confident that I represented my story as honestly as possible. I have represented a time in my life to the best of my ability, and any fears I have are not about my intention being exposed but my intention being misinterpreted. I have noticed, for instance, that there are two responses from those readers with whom I've shared my story:

1. "You are a strong woman, brave. I can't believe you lived through all that."
2. "I like your voice, the fact that you talk about so much tough stuff without sounding whiny or playing the victim role."

As is obvious, these two responses are somewhat contradictory. As a writer, I prefer the second.

As a woman, I prefer the first.

I've never in my life felt like such an emotional wreck; however, I've never been so happy. If I had to do it again, right now, perhaps I would have labeled my work "fiction". It would have given me the freedom to build momentum, to tell a story with a more-defined story arc... but I've never been known to make things easy on myself and those I love.

The advice I would give to writers who plan to publish memoir is to take careful account of what you want to say, to write as if no one will ever see the manuscript, and then, to think very carefully before submitting the work as nonfiction. Think about whether you are expressing true empathy for those you have turned into characters. Think about whether you are ready to receive criticism from the outside world, concerning your decisions. Think about it, and then, if you believe that the benefits to those who read the manuscript will outweigh the costs, then it is worth it. Publication is, after all, about sharing ideas with the world, not writing for some cathartic or therapeutic reason.

All that said, I will endure the roller coaster, and welcome the criticism. I am ready for it. In fact, I invite it. After all, my story is hardly one of victim hood but rather that of a girl who has made a lot of bad decisions. And for the record, my family has been nothing but supportive of my expression, so long as I am genuine in the telling. I don't know that everyone would be so lucky. But, seeing as how I am, the emotional roller coaster is worth it!

1 comment:

  1. the webpage is terrific! you are so creative. the book, no doubt, will be marvelous and i look forward to its inspiring me to tackle my own. good luck with sales and accolades andandand, jen! kathy hughes