Message Memoir vs Self Indulgence

The best memoirs are written with purpose. While a memoir may contain musings to one’s self, as in a journal, an outstanding memoir is directed at others and contains some kind of message that pushes it beyond just a book of facts, or a waterfall of feelings, to something rewarding. It gives readers a “take-away.” What are you trying to say to them? What are you leaving them with? Perhaps it is a better understanding of history, a culture, a disease, a trauma, or why you are the way you are. Summerhayes Cariou has written Sixtyfive Roses, a memoir about her younger sister’s struggle with cystic fibrosis. Heather could have documented with bland facts her sister’s lengthy suffering and eventual death, or whined about her own feelings of pain and perhaps neglect. Instead she reached into this sad story, pulled out the message, and shared it. Readers learn about a disease and its impact on a family, and are inspired by a brave girl who made her sister stronger. Heather covers all bases.

Reading My Sister Pam, posted on the Handprints on My Heart blog, I found so much going on in this short essay related to the book. Note how facts mesh with feelings and reactions, “I descended into a caldron of resentment, sorrow and anger.” Note the way she effectively describes Pam to let us know she was talented, and uses a story to illustrate how she was a realist—“Oral Roberts can’t make me better.” She gives us Pam’s words of frustration, and finally a message from Pam that she shares with her world of readers. We get an inspiring take-away.

Few of us are as good a writer as Heather, and many of us do not have big stories to tell, but everyone is a writer with interesting stories of themselves and the world around them. We can learn the basics and aspire to be better writers, but being good is not necessary to write for our beloved family and friends. Write your story, but keep in mind the future generations of your family—or the strangers—you are writing to and tell them something interesting about who you are, what you experienced, and what you learned. Memoir can be merely a self-indulgent tale of me-me-me, but it can also be a lesson in history and life—your history and life.


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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2 Responses to Message Memoir vs Self Indulgence

  1. Linda – Thank you for this. Picking up on the theme for your blog post, "Message Memoir vs Self Indulgence," you may be interested to visit to read a piece I've posted there about Memoir writing, and also to get info on the Teleseminar I'm doing for the National Association of Memoir Writers on September 17th. And again, my deep appreciation for this post. With every good blessing, Heather

  2. Linda Austin says:

    Thanks, Heather. For my blog readers, the National Association of Memoir Writers provides a newsletter and many workshops and teleseminars on the art of memoir writing.

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