Updated: Dec 29, 2020
By mingling on social media with potential memoirists, I often hear it said that they need to get their stories out to the world; they’ve been through pain, trauma, and loss and they want to share their journeys. Things have been difficult. Life has sucked. Time to write a memoir.
But I want you to ask yourself, why? Why do you want to share your story? If this question seems flippant or insulting, I apologize. Let me explain.
The main point of this article is to help you determine if you are ready—mentally and emotionally—to write a memoir. I have touched on this briefly in two of my blog posts, Writing About Trauma: What Memoir Is and Isn’t and Heal and Grow: The Power of Journaling.
As I said in Writing About Trauma, memoir gets a bad rap as the Trauma Olympics. Death and grief. Physical or sexual abuse. Addiction. Mental illness. Incarceration. These are topics commonly identified as memoir themes. The publishing market is saturated with these kinds of memoir and publishers don’t want anymore.
Every adult has experienced some kind of loss, pain, grief, heartache, or disease. I personally can put a check mark in front of each of these. Having had pain or trauma in your life does not automatically demand that you produce a memoir about it.
Memoir is about transcendence. It’s not about what you went through but what you learned as a result of what you went through.
I can't emphasize this enough! If you are still in the midst of a traumatic experience (an ugly divorce, child custody battle, rehab, disease treatment) or if you are still processing and coming to terms with what you experienced, I contend you are not ready to write this story. Good memoir requires time and distance so you can be as objective and honest as possible about yourself and what you experienced.
I will repeat this quote from my article Writing About Trauma:
The now perspective is what makes memoir different from fiction; you explain how the story shaped you by weaving together the then and now. ~~Cindi Michael, December 2016, Writer’s Digest. Cindi is the author of The Sportscaster’s Daughter: A Memoir.
Memoir writing is not therapy. A memoir is not a therapeutic journal. If you can’t produce a “then and now” perspective, if you are not at a point from which you can reflect on your experience and impart a lesson of growth and revelation for your readers, it’s not time for a memoir. Your readers deserve a payoff—they should read your story and come away with a moral, lesson, revelation, answers to questions, a strategy for them to mirror. If not, what was the point?
Continue to write because writing is a fantastically healing endeavor. Journal. Blog. See a therapist who employs writing as part of the healing regimen. Join a support group and share your writings with group members.
But a memoir? Only when you have your aha moment—a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension—are you finally ready.