|The Glitter Globe/S.R. Karfelt|
I planned to write a memoir about the exact time I started writing it.
There were moments after I'd agreed to write the book that I stared at blank pages in utter terror, wondering if there was a step-by-step program somewhere explaining memoir rules. In the end I decided to make my own rules and took with me only a feeling or a flavor that I wanted to infuse into my memoir. It's not something I'd found in The Glass Castle.
The Glass Castle isn't even my favorite memoir. I prefer humor to temper painful realities. Trevor Noah's Born a Crime is my favorite, and Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes is a close second.
What I loved about The Glass Castle was the brutal honesty. That's something I've always admired. It takes courage and inspires.
When I set out to write my memoir I did it the way I do most things in life, by the seat of my pants. If that sounds like lack of preparation, I'd counter that that's an assumption. I prep while diving into the deep-end and I figure things out. It works for me. When I first started to write fiction novels, I opened up a blank journal and a new document and began to write.
My only guideline was to tell the truth. My truth.
With each new book I find that the process works best if I write with no filters from start to finish.
Then I go over it again. (And again.) (And again.) Each time I go over the manuscript I add and take away. I fluff out scenes, and tie loose threads together. I clean the book up and watch for unexpected opportunities to expand on a theme.
- Is this exactly what happened?
- How did I feel?
Those were the two most important truths. That is the skeleton of a memoir. As a writer those were the things I couldn't doctor up or change. I had to be honest, and with each revision to the story I added more truth. I can't know for certain what other people were thinking. I saw what they did, and I heard what they said, but even dialogue made me nervous. I'd dug through decades for this book. I couldn't always remember verbatim every word that was said.
My only outline was that flavor I wanted to infuse through the book. The one I got from knowing Gummy all these years. It tastes a bit like hope, humor, and orange zest.
Recently a reader told me the same thing. You never told us how you felt.
There's a reason for that. I showed you my truth, my thoughts, my actions. After that it's about how you feel.
I don't think that the writer should ever tell the reader how to feel.
When it comes to writing memoirs you have to tell your own truth in your own way. Your story. Your voice.
There will be blood.
After it's written with all the bloody truth you can slather into your manuscript, then you go over it. I looked for these problems first:
- Revenge. That's any story I told to avenge injustice against either Gummy or myself. It was so deliciously easy, and every word of that crap had to go.
- Exaggeration. Everything had to be honest.
- Other people's stories. It took concerted effort and focus to keep other people's stories out. Nobody Told Me works because I stuck to one main story. My relationship with Gummy. It's about a daughter-in-law's journey for better or worse. In our case that plows right into the crack of dementia.
- Other people's personal details. I changed names and locations to protect Gummy's privacy and periphery characters, because these are real people.
- Things that may or may not have happened that could or could not have resulted in legal trouble. I may have had to file down small details on the advice of my publisher and editors. I'm not saying that anyone said I could wind up in jail, but I'm not saying that they didn't. Just write the truth, then at some point go over it with a lawyer's eye if not the entire lawyer.
When do you temper facts?
Isn't the physicians' motto Do No Harm? That's not the writers' motto. But my personal writerly motto is Do No Harm Unless that Hides the Truth.
Only you can determine your own motto.