I’m reading a book about memoir writing called HANDLING THE TRUTH: ON THE WRITING OF MEMOIR, which a new writer friend named Jamie Krug recommended. In the book, Beth Kephart urges memoirists to have an articulate answer when someone ask “‘Why’d you want to write a memoir anyway?'”
I’ve already written on this topic, but here’s a new list to answer that salient question of WHY:
- I’m writing so someone might feel less alone.
- I’m writing to make sense of love, a word I’ve easily thrown around.
- I’m writing because women’s voices need to be heard, especially on the subjects of sex and drinking and the sex that happens bc of drinking.
- I’m writing to explore how technology has changed and how it affects our relationships.
- I’m writing because I know somewhere right now on some college campus some girl is going through what I did.
- I’m writing because we make stupid decisions when we are young, but we can learn from them.
- I’m strong not writing because I think my story is unique or special but because I think my story is too common but too untold.
This last sentence is the most important to me. I’ve read memoirs — a CHILD CALLED IT comes to mind — that shock me to my core, memoirs that explore a life so different from my own, memoirs that tell of extraordinary stories. My story is not a WILD or a GLASS CASTLE or the new-released MY STORY by Elizabeth Smart who was kidnapped from her bedroom by knifepoint when she was 14.
In Kephart’s book, she also quotes one of my favorite writers Patricia Hampl: “True memoir is written, like all of literature, in an attempt to find not only a self but a world.” Then Kephart writes, “What world do you live in? And how will you bridge your world to mine? And what will you say when somebody asks you: What is your memoir about?”
It’s an important question — one that writers, sometimes, hate to answer, I think. So, what’s your book about? Umm, how do I answer that in a sentence? But it’s a question I find myself asking other writers, too, even though it’s a question I despise myself. Perhaps, Kephart is right though; we better be able to defend our book even if that means summarizing it.
Kephart warns of the “pseudo memoirists” who will explain the specific personal event that sparked the book in the first place. Here’s a pseudo-synopsis of my book: My memoir is about a ten-year on-and-off-again relationship and how it affected me. Kephart writes, “The pseudos haven’t climbed out of their own small circles yet. The pseudos haven’t connected with the larger world, or their readers.”
I don’t want to be a pseudo. So, if you ask me, What’s your memoir about?
Here’s my answer: My memoir explores how our ideas of love change over time as we change — how sometimes the love you thought you needed is not love after all.
What’s your book about? Tell us in the comments!