Truth in memoir is expected, but it’s not always easy to tell. It may be what brought you to the writing desk, but it can also be what scares you away from it. It hurts! Why would you want to put yourself through remembering pain?!
There are a few good reasons.
• Writing is proven to be healing for the body as well as good for the mind.
• Writing the truth can help you accept your own version of your life and get rid of other people’s versions of who you are, were, or should be.
• Putting the truth in print can keep assumptions, conjecture, and unintended mistruths from being passed around and possibly passed down in your family. If you don’t say it, someone else may, and they won’t necessarily have the truth — your truth.
• Truths change, like we change, over time. What was shameful to you as a child or a teenager may not be shameful anymore, and treating it that way by refusing to write about it as part of your memoir is unfair to you and your story.
Dorothy Allison says, “There’s no way to be a good writer and be safe.” She believes in visiting the edges; it’s where the energy is, and good writing is often in exactly that same place.
The image of the onion is good for writing when you have a story that’s hard to put on paper. Start with the outer layer in whatever form it needs to take: maybe you want to write the story in third person to get some emotional distance on the subject. Maybe you want to change the names so you feel more comfortable even thinking about the people. Maybe you only want to tell the superficial aspects of the story for now. Everything’s possible. Go for it.
Once that’s done, see if you can take it down another layer. Trying rewriting the story in first person (I) if you wrote it in third person (she/he). See if you can make the story your own. If you only wrote superficially about something, drop down another layer, adding more about what happened. Write as much as you can while stretching just a little out of your comfort zone.
When you’re writing the hard stuff, it’s especially good to remember no one is watching over your shoulder, no one knows you’re writing this. You are free. Read your story and see what you think. Did you get to the heart of it? Is there more to say? Peel off another layer if you think the story – and you – deserve it. Say everything you need to say until it is done.
Be brave and see what happens.