When You Shouldn’t Write Your Memoir
Are you debating whether or not to write your life story? You’re not alone. I have had quite a few clients who have waffled over the same dilemma. And more often than not, I will advise people to go ahead and write down the chronological details of their past, if only for their immediate family. Recording your personal history for your children, and your children’s children, is a wonderful gift.
However, there are times when I would say you shouldn’t write your memoir. Here are a few examples that I have encountered this past year:
“I’ve lived a horrible life.” This might surprise you, but I get a ton of memoir requests from people who have lived a life of misery and despair. For instance, their childhood might have been filled with abuse then they later married another abuser, continuing the pattern. When I ask them about the purpose of their book, they usually say that it shows how one can live through anything.
While this may be a decent message for some, it isn’t really one to hammer into those who are trying to better their lives. It’s true that not every story has to have a happy ending, but most stories, particularly the memorable ones, inspire us. And it’s hard to be inspired when you’re reading such a depressing story. Most people would have no interest in picking and reading up such a book.
“I just can’t remember much.” A few times this year I received requests to write a book from people who truly can’t remember many details or stories from their past. Typically, when I interview a client I can help them remember things they never thought they could. However, if you aren’t able to remember much, it will be hard to put together your life story.
“I can’t write and I don’t have any money to hire a writer.” This is another popular comment. Though I’m not sure, I suspect these folks want me to offer to write their book for free (or for a percentage of the profits). Unfortunately, not everyone is completely upfront about their situation and will sometimes pretend they are shopping for a ghostwriter, even if they don’t ever plan to hire one. If you can’t write and can’t afford to hire someone to write it for you, your book won’t get written.
“I’d really like to get back at so-and-so.” Ah, revenge is a dish best served cold, right? Remember, though, that when you put things in writing, they are pretty permanent. You can’t take it back. It’s out there for all eternity for many readers to review over and over again. Writing a book to hurt someone else, even if you feel it is justified, is a bad idea.
“My family and close friends would kill me.” Surprisingly, this is a common fear. When I talk to most client prospects to give them advice and learn more about their projects, quite a few people have mentioned that they’re worried about hurting the feelings of loved ones. It’s a very valid concern, one that should be taken seriously. For as I mentioned earlier, once it’s in writing, it’s permanent.
As a ghostwriter, I can hide the identity of most people in your life through pseudonyms, but I can’t hide Momma or that eccentric uncle. Those close to you will know whom you’re talking about and they might not like what you have to say.
“I’ve lived a boring life, except for this one incident.” If you had, say, a near death experience, it might have been very exciting and worthy of a short story or newspaper feature article. However, if the rest of your life was relatively normal, or “boring,” most likely that one event won’t make for a good memoir.
“I don’t want everyone to know what happened to me.” Writing a memoir is like putting your personal life on display for all to see. If you are concerned about others knowing what happened to you, it’s probably not a good idea to write a book. However, I have clients who write their memoir not for the whole world to read, but rather just for their family. If even that bothers you then, well, I’m not sure what to tell you. The only way around it would be to fictionalize your story, but then it wouldn’t really be a memoir, and there’s a good chance your family and close friends would still guess that it has something to do with you.
Most of the time I encourage people to write their book, because I do feel people often have a book or two within them. However, sometimes one must be a bit flexible about the subject matter. Perhaps it isn’t your life story that you should write about, but rather a how-to book about your niche area of expertise or a science fiction novel. Whatever the case may be, I’m here to help.
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