Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
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Memoirs: Is honesty the best policy?

July 16, 2009

Tags: memoirs, biography, personal history

Graceanne K. Deters includes provocative copy in her website copy about the hidden story of a missionary daughter navigating a maze of religious fanaticism, and the dark side of her early life in Brazil. Deters is author (with Jeannine Ouellette) of Divine Betrayal: An Inspirational Story of Love, Rebellion and Redemption.

Those of us with less exotic lives to write about, with fewer traumas, with less to reveal, sometimes also censor what we might write about if we were writing honestly--mostly in the name of not hurting someone's feelings or not stirring up trouble or tension in the family. Dawn Thurston, in a blog entry called Honesty Is the Best Policy, writes, "Honest writing fairly jumps off the page at you and typically evokes some kind of visceral response. Sometimes we’re guarded in the way we shape our stories because we fear appearing anything less than stoic, forgiving, appreciative, victorious—nice. What’s so bad about sharing a time of depression, or exasperation with an ornery, aging parent, or bitterness about a father who repeatedly let you down? Safe writing is surface writing that fairly sucks the life out of your story, and the humanity out of you."



You can see the difference in the reaction of readers and listeners, writes Thurston: "I’ve been blown away by how my students have responded to these more self-revelatory stories. You can see it on their faces and hear it in their comments."

What raises the merely revelatory to the level of literature? Tell your story in such a way that it is accessible to others, has elements of the universal (it resonates for many readers at a basic level), and is somehow transformative (both the writer and the reader learn from and are changed by it).

You can read more about Thurston at her website, Memoir Mentor. Dawn will be giving both a brief workshop and a daylong preconference seminar on
How to Write a Page-Turner Memoir… and Still Tell the Truth! at the conference of the Association of Personal Historians, near Philadelphia, October 21-25, 2009. I'll be there!