10 Tips for Tackling Telling Your Truth About Others
Writing a memoir, especially one about a slice of your life, can be frightening and intimidating: it can also be cathartic. We’re talking about revealing yourself, your foibles, your triumphs, your faults, the decisions you’ve made (or not made), throughout that portion of your life. Just remember, a memoir is not an autobiography of your entire life, but rather a peek into a significant portion of it.
How is that not scary? Your life laid bare…well, congratulations for being here in the first place, because it must mean you are more or less committed to giving us a peek after all—a peek at the truth—of the real you.
For real, nitty gritty advice on just how to approach the sensitive parts, let me give you the short version of a checklist (I love checklists!) that may be found in Mary Karr’s wonderful book, The Art of Memoir. (I’m paraphrasing):
- Tell the people about whom you are writing, and let them know what to expect, especially if it’s sensitive.
- Don’t show anybody your work until it’s polished!
- When writing about those you don’t like, do it compassionately.
- You can speculate about why they did something, but make it clear it’s only speculation (from your point of view).
- If someone tells a story different from yours on the same subject, just “mention it in passing.”
- Tell it the way you heard or saw or felt it, but let them know it’s your view, which is subjective.
- Let them choose their own pseudonyms. (I love this one. Sheer genius!)
- Remember that your own views might be wrong. “Correct as needed.”
- Let close friends read finished pages, especially those that might be hurtful.
- If someone “flat out denies” an event, cut it.
There will always be sensitive parts. In the end, it’s your compassionate judgement that counts. After all, it’s your book!
And be ready for what comes next—which, it is hoped, will be praise, but folks can be blunt when reading your memoir. Recently, I had a reader/fan come up to me at a book signing, and say: “I loved your book. Now I know more about you than you know about me!”—Yikes! And good luck.