What’s Keeping You From Writing Your Memoir?

thJames Frey

Happy Friday to all brave souls who have answered the call to write! Writing is hard, but, you know you’ve done it well, when it flows so easily on the page. You people are my kind of folk:) If you haven’t already heard, the month of April will be dedicated to the memoirist who have written or in the act of writing their truths.

To some degree, I’ve harbored thoughts of how friends and family might feel after reading my story. Would they be hurt? disappointed? disagreeable? Would they be offended? Nagging thoughts of what other people think can hinder someone wanting to write their memoir. Frankly, I wasn’t too bummed out when a virus attack and no backup system totally destroyed 40,000 words to my less than stellar attempts to write my memoir a few years ago. Now, that I’ve written a little personal e-book, A Life Toward Authenticity-My Authentic Woman Story :)I realize that my truths are mine and mine alone. Memoir writers have to have thick skins.

When Oprah Winfrey touted James Frey for his memoir “A Million Little Pieces” back in 2006, I was one of many who ran out to purchase his masterpiece. I was inspired by his courage and saddened by the death of his girlfriend… and then, James Frey fell from grace for fabricating important details in his book. A memoir is based on ones’ truth-their authentic stories. Stories that could affect any number of people in any number of ways. What James Frey did was wrong, in that he called his story “memoir” I was reluctant to tell certain details of my story and that’s okay. No one need tell every detail in the telling of their story. And ,there are creative ways to get around hurt feelings, but, lies have no place in truth writing.

Should memoir writers use avoidance where it could be a pivotal point in the story? I think I’d prefer reading a work devoid of certain facts, instead of one filled with inconsistencies and fabrications. If James Frey had labeled his story a work of fiction, he could have avoided the fallout from his distorting the truth. So, how much is too much in the telling of your story and why should you care, as long as it’s based on the facts as you remember them occurring in your life?


It’s difficult to write ones memoir. Even if you have had a wonderful life, it’s not easy to share with others. When I wrote my memoir, “Of Roots and Wings,” I committed myself to total honesty. In my heart and soul the truth would set me free – but only if I were honest. For two years my rational thoughts considered who I might offend, did my sisters see things differently than me?, would I expose people I had put on a pedestal for years of my life? Will there by retribution by the church for clergy abuse? Will there be repercussions from the mafia by exposing the truth, from a little girls perspective? Will my abusive ex-spouse seek me out ? Such a myriad and cyclonic dervish wind surrounded me. One night while drifting off to sleep, I carefully considered sharing my pain and triumphs with an audience. Somewhere in the night, I awoke and realized that most of the pain in my life had been kept hidden – once shared my pain eased. Then I heard a clear, confident voice from within –what has been the purpose of my life if not to share it with others? In so doing, others may be encouraged by my experiences, thoughts, and feelings. I decided to share my memoir and offer inspiration and hope to others. My memoir has done that and more I am truly blessed.

Julie Swope, http://www.julieswope.com

thmary and jane

Mary Williams, the adopted daughter of Jane Fonda, have said in interviews that she refused to listen to the star when she wanted to confide in Mary about the deterioration of her 10 year marriage to Ted Turner. One can only imagine how the story would have read, if Mary Williams had been made privy to the actual cause of the Jane Fonda/Ted Turner divorce. The brave people who write their authentic truths, for whatever reason, always stir emotions in their readers, in some form or fashion. I’m encouraged by reading the truths of others.

Are you hesitant about writing your memoir because you fear what others might think or you fear the possibility of hurting a loved one? Did you read a Million Little Pieces? Any thoughts you’d like to share?

6 thoughts on “What’s Keeping You From Writing Your Memoir?”

  1. Clara, I love this quote from Julie Swope: “I awoke and realized that most of the pain in my life had been kept hidden – once shared, my pain eased.” Telling the truth is probably the #1 concern of memoir writers, but in speaking with dozens of memoirists, I almost never hear regret about sharing their story once their book is out in the world. In fact, when the truth is revealed in a mature and balanced way, finally talking about what happened has had a healing effect on many strained relationships.

    There are a variety of options for how to handle sensitive issues when you write, and fictionalizing your story is one of them. However, I agree that writers shouldn’t follow what Frey did and present fiction as the truth. If you choose to fictionalize your story, you can say “based on a true story,” but you can’t call it memoir anymore.

    On the other hand, it is understood that a memoir is one person’s perception of what happened, so writers don’t need to feel apologetic if their memories aren’t perfect or their perspective on what happened differs from someone else’s. As long as the intent is to provide an honest account, then the implied contract with the reader that the story is “true” will be honored.


    1. Thanks for stopping in, Sue! I so appreciate Julie’s tips on writing the memoir. I know her words will resonate with those of us who might have hesitated when faced with indecision on truth-telling. I agree with you and have come to terms with how perception of ones’ truths might differ from, say, a loved one’s and yet, these would be based upon an honest perception from that person’s own memories.

      Love your An Untold Story, by the way:)


  2. I am one of the hesitant writers. I have written much of my memoir, keeping to the truth yet as I approach completion, I am in fear for my grandchildren. They are unaware that their grandfather is actually in jail, they just know we no longer live together. They are of an age that their school friends, once the story hits the papers, once the publicity ban is lifted, will talk, so they need to be given the truth even if the truth is horrible and confusing for an 8 and 10 year old. Oh the dilemmas of life.. What I realize is: truth often hurts.


    1. Lily, I agree, those fears will surface, but then, we have to consider how our truths might impact or make a positive difference in another person’s life. Children are so resilient! I’m sure there will be questions, but, it’s the fear that holds us back from doing what we’re led to do. Congratulations on getting so far ahead in your memoir! I’m encouraged by you all:)



  3. On November 2, 2007, the Associated Press published a story about a judgment in favor of readers who felt deceived by Frey’s claims of A Million Little Pieces being a memoir. Although the publisher, Random House, had set aside $2.35 million for lawsuits, only 1,729 readers came forward to receive a refund for the book. The refund offer was extended to anyone who had purchased the book prior to Frey’s disclosing the falsehoods therein. The total claimants’ refunds issued only came to $27,348. Approximately $1.3 million will be spent in legal fees, distribution of the legal notice, and charitable donations to three charities. The publisher also agreed to provide a disclosure at the beginning of the book, citing the somewhat fictitious nature of the text.


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