Thursday, June 24, 2010


When I began memoir writing four years ago, I had one thing holding me back: how do we write about those we know and/or love, without hurting them? Even if what we write is kind and true? Is it fair? Is it our story to tell? All the places where our lives overlap, how much is ours?

Anne Lamott says she writes several concentric circles away from the core of her life - she does not write about the most intimate and personal details. One may argue that after reading her writing you can't believe it gets several shades more nitty gritty than that, but apparently it does.

Other writers have argued that the more personal, the more universal (and I agree), and that the truth is the important thing - freeing it. The thing is, what's personal to me affects more than just me - even my thoughts are not solely mine, and the truth? Whose truth?

A big reason I decided to pull Unstrung was that while I felt it would help a lot of people, I felt it would hurt at least two, and as Hope Edelman says, "Sometimes the professional gain is not worth the personal cost."

I just finished reading one of the books on my summer reading list: The Journal Keeper. To me, it is one of the best examples of a deeply personal story, that keeps it about the author. While there are things I'm sure her husband would rather not be in print for all eternity, she maintains his dignity at all times - when they have problems, it's her perception, reaction, evolution that is at the crux of the writing.

As a writer this book helped answer a big question that has been holding me back for four years, and as a woman this book helped answer about a million other things that float through my brain at any given time. For a deep, satisfying, provocative, pleasant, want-to-read-all-over-again book, this is it.


Jerri said...

Well, damn. Another book I've got to read.

RED said...

I've wanted to write a memoir for so long (you know that already)--about my crazy family--you know, the uncle that spent time in San Quentin, my sister that I found out about at 40, stuff like that. But, I share your reservations about hurting those I love--but by the time they depart this earth, I'll have dementia, to be sure!

Bonnie said...

Thank you for the review and recommendation. Sounds like just the type of book I would enjoy.

I find the challenge you describe about writing to be true with blogging as well. So many times I have deleted a post that could affect someone I love...How does one temper truth? A big, and on-going question for me too.

Deb Shucka said...

I love your reflecting here and how this book answered so many questions. It moved me also, and now I need to go back and reread through the filter of your words.

Amber said...

Thanks. I will check it out.
I so hear you, in all of this. It is one reason I even slowed down my blog writing, really. I don't know how to not write stuff that is going on without maybe crossing a line for other people "in it". And I do worry about hurting my mom, when I write about other things...But then it feels like lies, the holding back. So thanks for this pointer. If it helped you, maybe it well help me.

So is your memior back on, maybe?

:) said...


Brenda said...

Oooh, I must read this! LOVE memoirs, love journals, love writing. And I've always wondered about the very same question you have... Rats, that we won't get to read yours. Yay, for the recommendation. Putting it on my list.

Jenny said...

Interesting to see this post at this moment. I just finished blogging about the nature of memoir, and the one issue I didn't address in my post (or in the WD article I wrote) was the issue of writing about others. But I have thought about it. A lot!!

Anonymous said...

SO ready for a good book over here. Thanks for the suggestion.

I suppose we'd be pretty lonely if our own truths stood alone. But it does make things more complicated to be tangled in with others. I understand your point here.

Wanda said...

I have the same struggle. My basic position is when I have doubt, I don't. I try to live my life with no regrets. Not always successful but I do try.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for the recommendation. It sounds terrific. I liked the Anne Lamott quote, too. I think what she said is true of me as well. I feel like I put an awful lot of me out there but it's really just this side of everything. Everything would be just too much --

kario said...

Okay, I'm putting this one on my list. As soon as I get through writing the two book reviews I signed up to do, this one's next.

You're really on Bubba's sh*t list for my Amazon spending, Carrie! ;-)

deb said...

I wasn't aware that you'd written and then pulled a work of memoir.

and oh ,the grappling I do on this. I echo your thoughts about taking the high road always. I am currently reworking my thought process on some things, to see how it can be non-fiction without revealing too much, hurting others, or invading their privacy.

and as an aside, I've wondered how fiction writers deal with this. The experts say watch, listen, take these moments and write about them. I can't eavesdrop on a conversation and then tell everyone about it. By that six degrees of separation thing I just know those folks would end up being my husband's boss and wife or something.
How do people write about all the colourful characters on their street ? Do they ask permission?

sorry for the ramble, very relevant to me right now.

and are you revising your work ?