This is probably going to be be my most unpopular blog entry.
But it contains a harsh truth, something anyone writing their memoir should understand.
Don’t expect anyone to be interested in reading your memoir.
How many times have we seen the following in a play, a movie, or television series? — The protagonist, a writer of note, is hounded by some schlub hell-bent on coaxing said writer to read/critique/co-write their life’s story.
Theater critic Mortimer Brewster is hounded throughout much of “Arsenic and Old Lace” by an overbearing rookie policeman who pitches at length his tedious life story. And how many times had Jessica Fletcher in “Murder She Wrote” been dogged by people who want her to read their manuscript that is a thinly veiled fictionalization of the minutiae of their drab and dreary occupation?
The reason this happens so often in popular entertainment, penned by real-life writers, is because it happens so often to writers in real life!
I am barely on the beginning of my trek of published authorship, and I have already been approached by at least a dozen family/friends/strangers who tell me their desire to write The Great American Novel about their personal struggle with cancer/divorce/depression/angst/toenail-fungus/etc.
(Or worse yet, ask me to read what they’ve already written.)
Now I understand why a wolf gnaws their own leg off to escape a trap.
What these poor souls have yet to learn is the lesson that is beaten into writers day after day — make the material interesting or no one will read it.
Your life is interesting to you.
The challenge is to make your struggle interesting for Joe Blow on the street.
I have read a few memoirs — more accurately, I tried to read them, and gave up after a few chapters. Most of them are poorly written and tedious slogs through the writer’s personal turmoil. They document in tortuous detail every feeling, shadow, and fear that surrounds every unfortunate event and setback, real or imagined. Not the thing that makes a compelling read.
Are all memoirs terrible drek? Not in the slightest.
There is one memoir that I can recommend.
I read Betty MacDonald’s “The Plague and I” as research for a short story in “If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.”
I approached MacDonald’s book with reluctance, intending only to scan the bare minimum for background info about tuberculosis sanitoriums. The story was so compellingly told, that it sucked me right in, and I devoured the entire book.
Please read it and use it as a model to guide your memoir style.
Before you get out your pitchforks and torches to lynch the nasty blogger, let me get one thing straight.
I am not telling you to stop writing your story.
Please do — Continue to write your memoir.
It is a document that you probably need to write, for any number of reasons:
— it is something your descendants or immediate family would cherish;
— it would be a valuable document, should you become famous or infamous;
— it is probably the best therapy to work through your problem(s), and thereby reduce the chance of you becoming infamous.
So, write your memoir.
Just don’t expect people to line up to read it.
Or perhaps better advice would be:
Live a life noteworthy enough to inspire someone else to write it.