I’ve been thinking about memoir lately, maybe because I enjoy creative nonfiction so much and the two are tightly linked for me. An author who focuses on memoir, Sue William Silverman, is on a blog tour for her new book about memoir, Fearless Confessions.
I read a guest post she wrote for Gaijin Mama and then had a chance to ask her questions during her interview at Writers Inspired. I think her approach to how memoir can be almost therapy, for lack of a better term, is interesting.
Where I struggle with memoir is a fear that I am making it “all about me”. Or, getting caught up in “the way it really happened”. Silverman spoke to that problem in the Q&A, saying that you have to let go of some of those things, and to pick your focus.
In memoir, on the other hand, it’s like starting with a full canvas–all sorts of images, events, people from a whole life painted all over it. So, in this instance, then, it’s a matter of figuring out what to remove in order to have a thematically unified memoir. In other words, a memoir is a slice of a life, not a whole life. So in the editing process, it’s a matter of figuring out what stays and what goes, as you narrowly define the work.
That helped me. Her other advice — to keep the details tight, because details and the specificity of your story are what make it more universal in the end, affirms other things I’ve read about personal essays.
Another other element of memoir that makes me go, “Hmmmm,” is whether I really want to hang out that slice of life, that piece of laundry, or that discussion I had with a therapist, for the whole world to see. Not sure that I’m ready to go there, yet. But in the meantime, I enjoy reading memoirs and getting a little closer to writing them through personal essays.