Carla Acheson

Historical Fiction Author

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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