Even Your Memoir Is Not All About You

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Refrain from the use of “I.”

That writing advice may seem hypocritical coming from the author of two memoirs and a new book of personal essays, but even in the most intimate episodes of baring your soul in your writing, readers do not need the constant reminder that it is you writing about yourself.

They are actually trying to be sure it is about themselves.

Because you are writing about your life with your byline, readers assume that you are the narrator, conjuring up each scene, section of dialogue and description. So literally writing, “I saw,” “she said to me,” “I said,” or “I remembered,” becomes as tedious a reminder of your presence as the person who has cornered you with their opinions about what is wrong with the media.

Your presence is implied. Of course, you have to write “I” every now and then for clarity, but repeatedly starting sentences or paragraphs with your pronoun declaration is unnecessary.

. . . .

Writing first person commentary, memoirs and essays for love and money, my work pays the mortgage and the gas bill, occasional trips to Whole Foods for the blackened chicken salad that is about $30 for a container, and shoes on sale at DSW. In four decades of writing I have learned a few things about why my work matters not just to me, but to others.

You may think your writing personal stories it is all about you, but it is about the reader as well. That is why there is a tired cliché, “The personal is universal.”

Zora Neale Hurston said, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

So many of us are living confined lives of working from home, sheltering in place, eliminating trips to museums, coffee shops, bars, favorite restaurants, beaches, even family parties and trips with friends. Our worlds have shrunk and save the mandatory zoom calls for work conferences and webinars, there may be a station wagon full of people you encounter in real life. But our words are larger than our lives.

. . . .

Make sure what you are writing is not simply a chronological regurgitation of events. Brushing your teeth is not so interesting a topic. Unless from that prompt, you begin writing about the woodsy smell of bourbon on your uncle’s breath, or the first grade teacher whose teeth were the color of sand. Begin with your memory and expand into a kaleidoscope of imagery and memories tied back to the simple task of brushing your teeth as a metaphor for much more.

A desire to profoundly articulate a meaningful experience, applying the techniques of literature to a life moment or phase, that is what readers connect to. Even when the specifics are not what they know firsthand, the feelings and emotions you conjure certainly are.  

Write in a tone, voice and style that allows your personality to venture onto the page. Write the way you speak. We all know when we receive a card or email that is insincere.. Try to avoid that kind of insincerity in your writing. 

Your genius is in the details but also in the connections you make. Highly creative people have the ability to take completely disparate ideas and events, find the commonality and connect them. 

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books