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Memoir: How Honest Should I Be?
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One of the biggest problems I have with a number of memoirs is the lack of honesty held within the pages. This is not to say that they are dishonest, unless it comes as an act of ommission rather than commission. Instead, so many memoir writers tend to shy away from writing with great honesty not only about themselves, but also about the people in their lives.

This is a tough thing to deal with because as I write about my year with cancer (www.orchardwriting.com) and the events of my life that informed how I dealt with diagnosis and treatment, I am constantly having to turn off the little social editor behind my ear. I will write something that is not going to be flattering to me or to someone near me and that little bell rings saying I may get myself into trouble. This may be true, but how could I call myself an honest memoirist if I don't feel that I have told the entire story.

So far I am working on the draft so I am trying to be as scrupulously honest as possible with the intent of taking another look after I have put the manuscript down for a while so that I could more readily identify the howlers. By howlers, I mean to say those lines that seem more mean spirited than anything else or are too uncomfortable for another person. Perhaps, though, the most important of these howlers are stories or snippets that don't move the narrative along. What is important to keeping the reader engaged and what is just me blathering on.

My hope is that when I have finished, I will know that I have told a full story that hopefully is more than a narcisistic rant and is actually a good read. One where the reader feels real emotion and is as apt to laugh as anything else while they read. Cancer is serious and scary, but it is also filled with moments of great humor and love and everything else, which is what I want to capture.

 

Comments
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Good luck, James. . .with

Good luck, James. . .with your health and with the memoir.

My late friend Pamela Bone of Melbourne, Australia wrote a memoir about her battle with multiple myeloma (Bad Hair Days).  Sadly, she lost her battle last April.  But we'd discussed this very thing and, in fact, it inspired one of my blog posts:

http://www.redroom.com/blog/ellen-r-sheeley/literary-hoaxes-and-memoirs-please-weigh-in#comment-15952

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Honest, yes, but readable is a must.

James, it sounds like you're criteria for your memoir is leading you to perfection. It will surely be "just right." Good luck.

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Thanks

Thanks for the comments. It may sound like a simple enough premise to keep it honest and readable, but therein lies the devil in the details.