Today I am thinking about the memoir – A small word which carries a lot of weight.

Eight out of ten writers who have attended my writers group in the last couple of years have vocalised their desire to write a memoir for publication. Great! But in reality the business of publishing memoirs is the least fruitful.

When Eat, Pray, Love appeared on the scene, thousands of naval-gazing spiritualists, bored housewives or just your average Joe with a pipe dream, thought to themselves.. ‘Wow, what a great way to make a few bucks.. talk about myself and make a fortune!’

(c) UFS

For the next year (at least) publishers world-wide were inundated with memoir manuscripts that could have papered every wall of Buckingham Palace. In reality, anywhere between 0-10 of these might have been fully read.  99.9% would have hit the slush pile beside the shredder machine, completely un-read, to later make stacks of healthy bedding for furry critters around the world.

If you can truthfully answer yes to the following questions, then I suggest you get out your pen and immediately send a query to a publisher, because your fortune is almost guaranteed:

a) Have you done anything absurdly fantastic in your life (such as climbed a mountain with no legs; or perhaps given birth to more of Michael Jackson’s blankets and eiderdowns – (backed up with proof of course) or travelled through time and space and possess concrete evidence which could revolutionise the entire world with your findings?

b) Have you slept with and/or had a relationship with a famous person(s) and know sufficient details about their lives in order to create a media stink by publishing your story?

c) Are YOU famous?

But hey, don’t let the above dissuade you from writing your memoir, because there are also very good reasons to just sit down and do it. Therapists hail the practice as a good way to cleanse your mind or work through organising memories and details of your life which have settled in your brain like a cushion of burst feathers. Sifting through events, time-lining them into a journal and expressing thoughts and feelings that have been bottled up for years can be a healthy activity.

Joe Kita from Readers Digest gives us one very good reason, amongst others:

“Memoir is about handing over your life to someone and saying, This is what I went through, this is who I am, and maybe you can learn something from it,” says Walls. “It’s honestly sharing what you think, feel, and have gone through. If you can do that effectively, then somebody gets the wisdom and benefit of your experience without having to live it.”

On the other side of the coin, consider whether you are up for having your life examined and scrutinised by friends, enemies and strangers? Will your sister ever forgive you for portraying her as a stuck up bitch? Would any of your family and acquaintances want to be mentioned, and in what context? Revealing family secrets will go down like a lead balloon with your loved ones.

We all hate and hold grudges against at least one person in our present/past..and this is one of the most difficult areas to address when writing a memoir. Do I tell the world about my shitty ex-husband or my unforgiving mother? Let’s face it, most of us could never write a complete memoir where life has always treated us perfectly and we spent it skipping across the beautiful green grass.

A ghostwriter is another option. They can be more objective about details than you, as they have no attachment towards people in your life and your emotional experiences. But saying it in your own words is going to give the most intimate potrayal, and of course, make sure you say it with a degree of respect, unless you want a big fat defamation suit slammed onto your head by your family’s solicitor.

So would I write my own memoir?

I could and I may, is my best shot answer at this point. Never for publication, but perhaps for relief and sanative purposes. But I’d be inclined to write like the bitch from hell, let only a chosen few read it, then bury it in the grave with me twenty feet deep so that my shittiest acquaintances would have to get out a shovel to read it.

More Reading:

Anne R Allen’s Blog has a great list of Do’s and Don’ts of writing a memoir

Jerry Waxler gives ten reasons why you should.

And if you’re thinking of really giving it a bash – How to Write Your Life Story in Ten Easy Steps is best priced on Amazon with good reviews.



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  1. Great post, and in addition I think writing about something for ‘yourself’ might be fine but whose to say others want to be included. I also think MEMOIRS are the most under-supported genre in publishing and need a new push/marketing avenue, as I dont want to read anymore.. ‘I was sold for a packet of cigarettes in camden street.’ misery child bio’s! Thanks!

  2. Social paws (or is that scatterpaws?) 😉 I read most of your great articles on BYL, why did you abandon it ?? Do not deviate or follow any other extraneous route and I promise I’ll continue on as your biggest article reading fan from beneath the bridge down under! 😉

    I have written books on my life but it wasn’t until I reached the end that I realised I never had one!

  3. I really enjoyed this post and your writing style. I tried to write a memoir this winter in Seattle. It was cold, dark and grey and I found myself plummeting towards despair. It was a good lesson in shelving certain topics that perhaps you aren’t ready to write about just yet. So now I’ve turned my focus towards other people – historical fiction – so I can focus on other people’s tragedies and triumphs! Best of luck with negotiating the publication of you newest novel.

  4. BMF, I knew you’d catch up with me, how is life incognito? Have you written more best-sellers? Careful, you’ll be giving Mike Gayle a run for his money now 😉

    Nice to have you back – following me and my literary scraps – x

  5. Hello Susan, and a huge welcome! Thank you for your nice comments 🙂 I have to say I have not attempted the ‘Memoir’ mainly because I can’t bear the thought of re-opening old wounds..! Which historical period are you writing in? I love history, especially old Tudor type novels. Your blog looks great I shall have a look around. I see in your description though, that you belong to a group of women writers, where are you based? I lead a writers group in Gibraltar (The Rock) and it is probably the most beneficial thing I could do as a writer as it’s helped me never to quit (what a bad example that would be!)

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