A memoir without a thought-provoking takeaway for the reader (a resolution, in writing terminology) is like a movie that ends with a cliff-hanger or a mystery novel that remains unsolved in the final chapter. What is the point? To think that a memoir doesn’t need a point is to miss the unique characteristic of memoir entirely.
Memoirists as Teachers
Memoirists are—or should be—teachers. I don’t mean teachers in the traditional sense of someone who stands before an assembled group in a classroom to offer instruction in a subject area, like geometry or chemistry or English composition. A memoirist teaches a lesson they have learned from the experiences of their life. A personal lesson but with a universal connection—that’s the key!
A memoir is not the recounting of stuff that happened to you. Stuff happens to everybody. A proper memoir must contain reflection; time and distance between the events told in the memoir and the time of the writing are required to allow for the author’s insightful recounting as to the meaning of those events and the transcendence they created in the author’s life. No meaning, no memoir. No transcendence, no memoir. No takeaway for the reader, no memoir.
What Lesson Will You Share?
In my opinion, there is an element of altruism to memoir writing. At least, that’s how I explain it. A focus on something other than yourself. This is the subtlety of memoir that so many writers fail to comprehend. A quote I have included in at least three other blog articles I’ve written, the words of memoir expert Marion Roach Smith, is the basis for this opinion:
Memoir is not about you. It’s about something and you are its illustration.
Think about this. Your memoir is not about you! Does this conflict with what you think a memoir is?
Are You Ready to Write a Memoir?
In another blog article I wrote titled Is It Time to Write Your Memoir? I stress the importance of allowing yourself time to process your life experiences and see them as objectively as possible; reflect (that word again) and honestly decide if you have learned anything from what you’ve been through. If you can only feel pain or anger or regret, and you can’t articulate whether you have gone through a transcendence (that word again) and come out the other side enlightened, I contend you are not ready to write a memoir.
Keeping a journal to work through feelings and analyze how and why things happened as they did and the effect it had on you is a wise first step in visualizing how you have learned, changed, and grown from your experiences. I talk more about this in another of my articles, Writing About Trauma. Until you have an a-ha moment—a moment of sudden insight, comprehension, or discovery—it will be enormously difficult to write a memoir with a clear theme, the lesson you will share with your reader.
If done properly, the writing of a memoir is a gift the author offers to their audience—the people the author most wants to read their book—because those are the people the writer most wants to help and guide through a personal storm. As the author has emerged from the turbulence of abuse, divorce, grief, or addiction, for example, they have chosen to share their journey and explore the path that brought them to a place of peace, triumph, happiness, or even just acceptance of their reality.
Are you ready to create such a gift?