“Feelings are everywhere–be gentle.” J. Masai
It is my pleasure to introduce Ken Myers to you and feature him in this guest post. Ken describes himself as an executive in the care industry–childcare, senior care, pet care–a poet, a Christian as well as a husband, father and entrepreneur. He contacted me to do a guest post and I initially told him I didn’t think his message matched by brand. But when he told me he was working on his own memoir, it was BINGO! I like what he has to say about this universal concern all memoir writers have. I hope you will enjoy it and will share your thoughts.
Be Gentle and Kind When Writing Memoir
Writing about real people is difficult. Not only is it hard to be accurate, as you can’t fully understand their thinking and motivations, but you have to deal with the backlash of misunderstandings if the person is still alive or if their loved ones are still around. For this reason, it is imperative that you are gentle and kind when writing about real people. That does not mean you can’t be honest or truthful, simply that you should be circumspect and wise in your writing and portrayal of others.
Here are some tips to make your memoir writing gentle and kind:
1. Know that you will end up offending someone – This first point is a hard one to take, but it is very true. Whenever you write about real people, someone will be offended. Try not to take these things to heart or let their anger dampen your own enthusiasm. While it is important to think about the impact your writing will have on the lives of others, you should not keep yourself from writing out of the fear that you will upset someone. Even writers of fiction upset people over portrayals they feel are not true or accurate. Do not take these attacks personally, and try to keep from letting their offense taint your writing. Your goal should be honesty and truthfulness, not to avoid offending anyone.
2. Deal with your anger before you publish – Many people turn to memoir writing after a tragedy or difficult circumstance in their life. With these tragedies and difficulties also comes pain and anger. Anger can make your writing deliberately offensive or hurtful towards someone or something. While it is good to let it out, make sure you have dealt with your anger before you publish your memoirs. Writing it down in the initial draft is fine. Just be sure that you have dealt with your anger in a healthy, productive way by the time the memoir is complete. A memoir is not an opportunity for revenge; it is a chance to share your life with others.
3. Edit with the help of others – With this same goal in mind, make sure you have a third party to edit your work. Actually, it is best to have at least two editors go over your work after it is complete. The first should be a third party that has nothing to do with the situation – someone who can maintain objectivity and an open mind and is able to cut out the fluff and sharpen up the story. The second should be someone close to the situation, like you, who can offer insight on how your writing will be taken. Do not pick someone who is volatile or easily upset. Try to choose an editor who can give you feedback without becoming overly emotional. By getting both points of view you can more accurately tell what the reaction to your memoir will be and also make sure you were clear and stayed on point.
4. Make sure the writing is clearly from your perspective – It is up to you to write your memoir from a first person or third person perspective. However, it should always be clear to your readers that the things you write about are from your perspective alone. Do not try to give motivations or mental voices to the people around you. Instead, say things like “I thought they were thinking ____” or “To me, it felt like they thought ____.” That way it is clear that everything is skewed by your perspective. This also makes it easier to defend your writing later if someone comments on it. We all see things differently, and what could be obvious to one person is not always obvious to another. Memoir writing is very subjective,so revel in that subjectivity and make it clear you are writing from your own perspective.
5. Be prepared for people to accuse you of not saying anything earlier –One difficult thing to combat is the accusation that “You didn’t say anything earlier”, meaning, of course, that now you are lying. While it is hard to hear those accusations, you need to remind yourself that you are a different person now. Even just writing down an experience can give you insight that you may not have had before. Just because you now understand or see something you did not previously see does not mean you cannot bring it up because too much time has passed. Be confident in your writing and the honesty of your statements and it will be easier to respond in a kind way: “No, I did not. I was not able to at the time/did not see it that way then/did not feel comfortable or safe bringing it up then.”
6. Have good mental boundaries in place before you publish – Speaking of having confidence, you need to have good mental boundaries in place and a script to work off of when you do have confrontations with others. Maybe there are some things you refuse to go into further detail about. Maybe there are people you left out of your memoirs for a reason. Maybe there are changes you made to further the story or to avoid hurting someone. Those are your choices. Just be sure you are ready to back those choices up. It is much better to be prepared then to have to scramble for an explanation when you are in a bind.
7. Leave out hurtful details that do not add to the story –Memoirs are about sharing your story, but it’s also important to be mindful not to overshare and hurt others. If a certain hurtful fact or point does not move the story along or is not a key step in your journey, leave it out. Something that could be harmful or embarrassing to someone else should always be treated with the utmost caution and thoughtfulness before sharing it. Your memoir is not a gossip rag or a way to get revenge on those that hurt you. Try to keep the Golden Rule in mind: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you wouldn’t want someone telling something like that about you, then you better think twice before telling it about them.
8. Make the story about you, not anyone else –The biggest defense you have in a memoir is that it is YOUR personal story. As long as you keep it all about you, what can anyone say? Being honest and open is also a great way to avoid scandal and backlash. How can someone threaten you or attack you when you have already revealed everything to the world? Make sure you keep your focus on sharing your story and not on sharing what others have done to you or what you think about other people’s stories. Yes, you can draw connections and include other people and the impact they had on you, but make sure your story stays about you first and foremost.
Writing memoir can be an uplifting and great way to share your struggles in life.
However, it can also invite in a lot of conflict and strife. Keep all that at a minimum by staying gentle, kind, and honest in your writing.
Thank you Ken for highlighting the importance of telling our stories with integrity and honesty without intentionally disparaging others who are key to our stories. This is a common obstacle memoir writers face and your points are thought-provoking and insightful.
Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. He is working on his own memoir. Learn more about him by visiting at his website: http://www.kenneymyers.com/#about-me and on Twitter @KenneyMyers
How about you? How do you handle writing your truth when you know it may offend others? For those who are published memoirists, what repercussions have you had to face?
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Next Week, Monday, 2/24/14: “Reflections on Hands: A Memoir Moment.”