Monday 25 October 2010

It's difficult to write about the truth, isn't it?

As many of you know I'm trying to write a memoir. Not very successfully I might add. These are the problems I'm facing:
One: I embellish a truth so much that it ends up turning into fiction.
Two: I can't distinguish between the truth and my 'idea' of the truth.
Three: I cry out of frustration, grief, and memories that I thought I had gotten over, and then stop writing because it hurts. If this keeps happening I'll never get it written.
Four: I have a vague memory of some things but the details are so blurry I can't possibly write about them truthfully, but have to in order to tell my story properly.
Five: Are my opinions of the past valid? Or are they overreactions?
Six: Are some of my memories made-up memories that I created in order to overcome things as a child? Such as believing something someone did was more horrible than it actually was so that I was allowed to 'hate' them?
Seven: I am so used to making things shine in fiction, that I don't know how to use the same skills with the truth and they come out dry and bland.

So. There are my seven deadly memoir sins. Has anyone ever experienced the same thing? Very interested to hear opinions from Karen Gowen and Karen Walker here as they too have written memoirs.

PS: The Stray Branch, a literary journal, has just accepted my poem EMPTY for its bi-annual print publication in 2012, the Fall/Winter issue #10 Vol 7. Yikes! What a wait. But certainly very pleased! :o)
PPS: Um, I think I'm losing track of followers. I've also got a terrible feeling that I've neglected some of you - as in NEVER stopped by your blog to leave a comment. If that's the case, I'm SO SO SO SORRY! Also, if that is the case, please please please feel free to leave me a comment and tell me. Tell me to get my butt into gear and make my way over, ya hear? I want interactive blogging here, so neglecting people is just not my intention. So please speak up if I've lost touch! Thanks *curtsy*.


  1. Maybe it's telling the truth that's difficult, not writing about it. First you have to know it. I find that memory is the big problem - knowing the true memories from the false ones. Stay with it, though. Truth reveals itself in time. ("The truth will out," my Gran used to say!)

  2. Never written a memoir, so no help there.
    Congratulations on the acceptance of your poem!

  3. Never even thought of a memoir, so wouldn't know, but from what I read of other people's memoirs, it is always their interpretation of things, and therefore different from 'Truth'.
    All the best.

  4. Memory is a BIG problem! I used to write a lot in a journel and sometimes I go back and read entries and think, "Seriously?? That actually happened?"

    Oh, congrats for your poem! That's super cool!

  5. Yay on your poem being accepted.
    I've never written a menoir, but I can imagine it's a hard line to tred between telling it as it happened and embelishment. The thing that matters most is that it is your truth. :)

  6. Congrats on the poem acceptance! How amazing!

    I've never written a memoir but I can tell you a lot of your problems would have been mine as well, especially the truth part, I can't help but embelish (Note to self: Never write a memoir)

  7. Congrats one the poem being published, but unable to help about writing a memoir. Hope someone cah help.

    Have a good week.

  8. The truth is a diamond with many facets : each one is true, though not the complete gem.

    Your view of your life is a facet of the diamond of the past. It is just as deserving to be seen as all the other facets.

    Sing the ballad of your days with the courage and assurance that it is your ballad not someone else's and as unique and as deserving to be heard as others' remembrances.

    That is what makes memoirs worthwhile : that they spring from the wellspring of those who pen them, saying as much about who they are as what they lived.

    Tell your story, Jessica, your way, for there are no truths ... there are only shadows of those truths called stories.

  9. Yea! on the poem being published.

    I have never written a memoir. Truth is relative. Time colors it, shades it. We erase and/or embellish particularly as the need arises. My sister and I have completely different memories of the same expereince. Our memories are both true, just differnt.

    Try not to over-analyse your experience. It is yours and no one elses.

    Try not

  10. Congrats on the poem publication! Can't really help with the memoir because I'd probably be guilty of all of the above. :)

  11. I haven't written a memoir and probably won't. I'm afraid things will end up be twisted from the truth. Instead, I use bits of my life to come up with orignal works. Way more interesting anyway. :)

  12. When I journal, my life sounds like fiction. I could never write a memoir!

  13. I do all these things as well. It happened with Uncut Diamonds, but when I changed it to 3rd person limited to Marcie's POV, all the issues went away. No more memoir, now a novel. It went from being crap to something publishable. For Farm Girl, I took liberties with my mom's words, just to organize them in a story format. But it wasn't as difficult as Uncut because I didn't have the memory involved.

  14. Yes. Yes. And yes. The truth is really hard to face. In my memoir I had some things I wanted to sugar coat – mostly trying to protect somebody. A suggestion. Write it the way it was intended. Write the truth. It will set you free! Also, agents are looking for narrative non-fiction, which by definition means creative. Things don't have to be EXACT. My God, all my dialog in my memoir is as close as I can remember it. Then again, it all happened last year. I'm rambling.

  15. This post is exactly why I don't think I'm strong enough to write a memoir. It's actually a compliment to you that you can even attempt it because that kind of strength and honesty is pretty rare. For me, I'd spend a fortune in tissues and therapy. ;)

  16. Yay! Congrats on the acceptance of your poem!
    I admire you for writing a memoir. I love reading them, but have never considered writing one - mostly for the seven sins you've posted. But, I'm going to go through my notes I took at a conference where one of the speakers talked about memoirs and if anything pops, I'll email you.

  17. After my cousin published his memoir (Mom's Marijuana), my aunt argued that some of his memories never happened, or didn't happen the way he described them. (He blamed the chemo, but I'm sure some were just vague memories like yours.) You can't be expected to remember every detail, so a memoir pretty much has to be your interpretation of events.

    And don't worry about making the prose shine like your fiction; as long as your voice shines through, you'll be fine.

  18. sheesh. Memoir writing sounds incredibly hard now... :D But I would imagine the stuff going on in #3 makes for super great reading... yes?

    good stuf, hon~ <3

  19. Thankfully I have never been tasked with writing truth, because like you I am afraid my cleaning it up would change the essence of it too much and turn it from fact to fiction almost by itself.

    Good Luck

  20. I have the same problem with my memory - there are things that my family remember and I don't. I think if it's a horrible thing that's happened, it's our brain's way of keeping us sane, of saving us the pain of remembering. About your 'hating' people who have hurt you in the past, I think it's only normal.

  21. Congratulations on the poetry entry!! That's so exciting.

    I remember things so strangely and there's an actual medical term for either false memories or embellished ones. I can't think of this tern of course but I could have made it up just to make my crappy memory sound better. Who knows?

  22. I don't think I'd WANT to write the truth. It's easier when I write fiction, because I can let little bits of truth in without admitting them to myself. Much less painful that way.

  23. The truth takes many forms, depending on your perspective, so I think what's probably worrying you is whether your truth is going to conflict with other's truth.

    Why a memoir? Can you deal with the same themes in fiction and thereby cut yourself a little more slack on the details?

    Congrats on the poem!!! that's such great news!

  24. I don't know if I'd be able to write a memoir, but I imagine I would run into many of the same problems. Something about writing fiction just seems easier.

    Congratulations on the acceptance of your poem!

  25. Jessica, maybe there is no such thing as the truth. We've been hashing this out for ages. Emotional truth maybe, truthfulness too, but absolute truth is dangerous, apart from things like dates of birth, days of the week, physical objects etc etc.

    If you think you've got hold of the truth you run the risk of becoming a zealot, a fanatic, a dictator. Besides everyone's version of the same event is different

    All you can do is write about your experience, and tell it like it is/was for you to the best of your ability. You can't get at absolutes. It helps to be able to tolerate a little uncertainly here.

    I think of that now famous quote 'the past is a foreign country' and idea that memory is based on continual reconstructions of the past, such that the past never stands still.

    I like the term 'autobiographical fiction' to help get me over some of these hurdles, but I get into trouble, too. We all get into trouble as writers, I think. It's the nature of the beast.

    Fiction writers get accused of writing autobiographically and non-fiction writers are accused of making it up.

    You can't win. You have to 'make things up', you have to choose words in order to construct, every time you sit down to write. You can't ever tell it like it actually is/was, because the way it is/was is no more.

    We all make things up. Once on the page, a story takes on its own life, it's in the hands of the readers, once you've let it go, that is.

    Thanks for raising this thorny issue once again. I can never get enough of it.

  26. Memoirs are hard because our memories are so darn jaded with our feelings. Congrats on the poem publication. Yeah!

  27. Some really excellent advice in your followers' comments. I suppose the main thing is to not knowingly write anything untrue if it's a straight memoir. But, leaving aside whatever catharsis you have from writing it, maybe you need to ask yourself objectively what you are aiming to achieve - is it a memory test or are you trying to write something which will highlight an issue/help other people/ be a rounded saleable story - all of these could warrant more flexibility with 'the truth'. (Sorry - you don't know me and I've just rambled on... *blushes*


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

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