Is your memoir too clean?

Ghostwriter Kim Pearson recently blogged an excellent post on Blood Red Pencil about telling the truth about yourself in memoir. Clients open up to her, chatting comfortably about themselves and their lives, but when they see their voices in writing they freak out. “Did I say that?” They want to edit out all the interesting quirks and anything they construe as negative, thus they “kill the writing.”

I have had similar experiences ghost writing memoirs. With one couple, the husband was open and willing to have his words in print, but the wife was so worried about any sense of impropriety. Being from the “old generation” and from a conservative family, her sense of propriety was very restrictive. I sided with the husband saying, “That’s just the way things were then,” and “This gives you a personality,” and was able to shoehorn some tidbits in. Another woman was appalled that she had slipped into a dialect that she felt wasn’t “proper.” I and a friend working with her tried to convince her that it gave flavor and color to her life experiences. She did not buy that at all.

When you write your life stories or memoir, please don’t clean yourself up so well no one recognizes you. You are three-dimensional with faults and oddities like the rest of us. These traits and experiences make you the interesting and special person you are. You will be worth remembering if you are not boring. This does not mean you have to include all the dirt, but leave some there so others can find common ground.


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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