Why choose to write a memoir

May 31, 2018

writing, memoir, creative nonfiction

Someone once told me, without realizing the full context of the situation, that too many people were writing memoirs. “Why does everyone believe their lives are soooo interesting?” he asked.

He didn’t know I’m in the middle of writing one myself.

But the question this person asked is one to give thoughtful consideration to before setting out on the grueling journey of writing a book. After all, why not take creative liberties and have published a literary novel or a young adult dystopian fantasy cultivated from your own experience?

Memoirs, by virtue of the genre, seem a little self-involved. They seem a natural fit for politicians, celebrities, the famous, opinion makers, policy shapers.

memoir, creative nonfiction, writing
Real life stories connect to readers in profound ways.

And yet, people like me try to write one. What makes us believe our lives would be interesting to others?

The answer can be found in writing any book.

Writing, of course, is a form of self-expression, but it’s also motivated by providing something to the reader. Motivation. Inspiration. Nostalgia. The comfort of knowing the reader’s not alone in the world.

I love the look on people’s faces when I tell them the subject material of my memoir-in-progress. It’s the true story of a man who as an infant was ripped away from his birth mother, and the son who 60 years later tries to reunite them.

People emote shock when they hear the oral version of the events. They’re captivated. They’re moved by the material to give consideration to their own experiences, to their own families, and imagine what it must be like to have been deceived by them.

When I witness these reactions, I know as a storyteller I’ve connected to the audience. That the story I'm telling is true makes it all the more powerful. Click To Tweet

When I sat down and considered writing a book, I could’ve chose to fictionalize the experience. But I’m a natural-born creative nonfiction writer with almost 20 years of journalism carrying me forward. That the events of my life and the lives of the people I’m writing about actually happened, it seems to touch people in profound ways, as if it inspires them to consider their own lives and experiences.

That’s why we write memoirs. One of the primary reasons, anyway. We want to show readers what’s possible in their own lives, for our experience on the pages to lift up someone else.

Otherwise to not consider the reader’s experience makes writing a memoir really is self-serving. That’s true of writing any book, fiction or nonfiction. The reader is at the heart of the story, after all.

Dave is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. 

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