Everyone Wins With Memoir

Last weekend at a panel discussion on various forms of electronic publishing, someone in the audience mentioned that the number of publishers listed as accepting fiction submissions in the current edition of Writer’s Market has shrunk dramatically from previous years. “Only a handful are interested,” she lamented.

This could be a sign of the turmoil currently swirling through the traditional publishing industry. Perhaps more significant is the surging shift of public preference toward memoir. It’s tippy to compare the memoir craze to the glut of reality show programming on television, but both feature presumably real people with the emphasis on real. Few people seriously believe reality shows aren’t scripted, but catch a memoir writer playing fast and loose with the facts, and the blogosphere conflagrates. People want to believe memoir is true. They relate to it.

Maybe the memoir mania springs from a sense of isolation due as people turn increasingly often to Facebook and text messages rather than personal contact. Memoir offers a sense of genuine connection with the author. Reading a memoir can offer hope to those in similar situations and reassurance to those who may see their own lives in a more positive light by comparison. Light or humorous memoir is pure fun to read.

Memoir may both entertain and benefit readers, but it benefits the author even more. I’m currently reading Growing Old, by Swiss psychoanalyst Danielle Quinodoz. The book focuses on the enormous value elderly people derive from reviewing their memories and attaining an integrated overview of their lives, for better or worse. Her observation is that people who are able to view their lives in this meaningful way experience more joy in living, especially in their last years. They tend to approach aging more actively, retaining curiosity and involvement with life and the people around them, and they are more likely to die peacefully and serenely.

As I read, I’m struck by the thought that this benefit of living more joyfully and meaningfully is available at any age, and although her focus is totally on psychoanalysis, the integrated overview she describes fits memoir perfectly.

I’ve written a number of posts here and on Writing for the Health of It about the physical and emotional health benefits of writing. The “raw” writing modes of freewriting and journaling are beneficial for exploration of specific issues. “Processed” writing in the form of stories and essays serve well to focus memories of events, people and reactions. Memoir draws on both raw and processed components to provide an integrated overview of a specific time or aspect of life, lending greater meaning and depth.

Psychoanalysis can lead to profound transformation for those who can afford it. The rest of us can invest in paper, pens, and maybe a few guidebooks (The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing is a great place to begin if you’re starting cold, and The Power of Memoir is superb). Taking a class, locally or online can help you hone your skills. You can enhance your results by joining a writing group specializing in life writing – start one if you can’t find one already meeting. Join an online group like the free Life Writers Forum or the National Association of Memoir Writers. Or find a writing coach to work with. You can work with a coach for a long time for a fraction of the cost of psychoanalysis.

However you do it, whether you publish your memoir or not, you’ll gain enormous perspective and insight on your life. You’ll win even if nobody ever reads it. But the time has never been better to publish your story. The publishing industry has never been more approachable, and the self-publishing option is wide open.

However you go about it, both you and your readers win with memoir.

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Photo credit: Lissalou66


SuziCate said...

While I've written pieces here and there, I'm not quite sure of how I'd like to put it together if I choose to continue with it. I don't want to do it chronologically which I'm sure doesn't surprise you...I'd like somehow to tie it in with life lessons/growth...that is IF I get enough courage to attempt it. I have a problem with disciplining myself to complete writing projects, or any project for that matter!

Sharon Lippincott said...

SuziCate, I get it about the discipline to finish things. Two minutes ago I folded up a sweater I've been working on off and on for nearly 25 years. I have another that's in its fourth knitting for the body (I've never gotten to sleeves). I've only had that yarn six or seven years.

Keep writing your stories. Let them pile up. Some day you'll sort through them and find clusters that go together. The pattern will gradually emerge.

By the time you do, you'll have 90,000 followers and ePublishing will be the obvious way to get your work out there. It will be full color by then to do justice to the amazing photography that's sure to grace the stories.

kathleen said...

I love this post and your advice to SuziCate. My stories are piling up like crazy and though I still have no clue how they will all fit together, I know I must keep writing and eventually the overall story will reveal itself to me.I am hopeful! I have chosen to work on them chronologically though I know the story may take a much different shape. Thanks for another thought-provoking and informative post.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Many of my piled up stories look rather different a few years later. Writing has dramatically changed my perspective. But they are also beginning to cluster together in my mind as my life story arc becomes more clear -- actually takes on the appearance of a rainbow...