6 What If’s of Memoir Writing

As I have traveled the memoir writing path, I have faced a number of “what if” questions. Perhaps you are beginning to write your story or are midway through. It’s possible these same questions have haunted you. Let me share with you how I have resolved some of these stumbling blocks.

WHAT IF I don’t know what to write?

Not everyone knows what they are going to write when they begin a book. That’s why we write the first draft without pausing to edit or correct as we go. This “stream of consciousness” writing will allow the memories or family stories to come back to you.

If you have a central subject, such as abuse, violence, grief, or illness, to build on, it will be easier to begin. But not everybody starts this way. Perhaps you have a diary or journal from some important time in your life. That will be a great help.

WHAT IF my memories are not 100% clear?

Memories are like photographs. Some fading occurs over the years. But items like photos, letters, diaries, or journals will sharpen those memories. Talking with family or friends about times past will also benefit in calling up memories for you. And, believe it or not, certain smells, colors, or places will do the same. Give it a try.

WHAT IF someone challenges my truth? WHAT IF family members object to my writing my story?

Your story is your story. Therefore, what you recall about your story is your truth. Not everyone in a family, workplace, group, or community remembers every incident the same. Not everyone in a family will be excited about your project. We are attuned to what goes on around us in different ways. We don’t perceive the same visuals or audibles, nor do we have the same abilities of recall. If someone questions your truth or recall or reason for writing, remind them this is how you remember it and if they don’t remember things the same, they’ll need to tell their own story.

WHAT IF family members don’t want to be included in my story?

This is a difficult question and a difference of opinion on this point is best handled on each particular writer’s watch. In my case, I have two brothers who could play major roles in some of my memories. I have asked their permission to include them by name; they have not responded. I have decided to include them with only generic references to who they are, i.e. “my older brother” and “my younger brother.” However, I’m writing under my name, using my family name and my parents’ full names, and people are going to know who those brothers are. I do not, however, include any stories of which I do not have first-hand knowledge.

If this is an issue in your writing experience, you will need to discuss this with your family members. Some may ask to see what you’ve written about them and if they ask politely, you may choose to cut any references unpleasing to them.

WHAT IF my story is the same story someone else has written?

My story is similar to many memoirs written before and some written in the future will be similar to mine and many others. It is a story of parental abuse. Yet, I am able to get beyond this “what if” because I believe my story is able to offer hope to victims in similar circumstances. It is my belief that each story resonates for at least one person who reads it. If that reader gains a miniscule grain of hope, then my writing has not been in vain.

WHAT IF no one wants to read my story?

Every writer faces this question. We have no way of knowing who, if anyone will want to read our stories or books. Writers usually write because they love the written word. Many cannot go a day without writing. We can only hope our articulation of our stories is capable of moving into the mainstream of books written. In so doing, they will perhaps make it to a bookshelf in a retail setting, a stack in a local library, or if digitally published to a site where traffic brings an interested reader our way. Don’t fret over whether someone will read your story. Write it first and then see what happens.

I hope these have been helpful to anyone facing some or all the “what if’s” I have addressed. If there is one I haven’t listed, and there are some, please let me know and I’ll add them to a later post.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? If you have faced some of these or other “what if’s” in your writing, how have you handled them?

11 thoughts on “6 What If’s of Memoir Writing

    1. Ashley, thanks for stopping in and reading. There is a wonderful community of memoir writers available to you, and if I can be of any help, please let me know. Yes, “your story is your story.” Remember that. πŸ™‚


  1. Thanks so much for this. I actually often wonder, what about family members …? So it was good to gain the mantra you supplied, “Your story is your story.” Also, thanks for including the Anne Lamott quote. Whew! I feel bolder already.


  2. Fabulous lowdown of key points in memoir writing Sherrey. In writing memoir, we always have those little nagging fears in the back of our minds about someone in our book who may feel resentful about it. I think that’s the hardest part, worrying about confrontation, or even the possibility of being sued. It’s a fine line we cross even though we change names and places, like you said, you write in your own name, so those who know you, know who you’re talking about. πŸ™‚


  3. These points resonated with me, especially # 1. Word-count wise I’m halfway through my first draft but unsure about what to write next. The stream-of-consciousness method probably is a good technique to help me proceed right now.
    I’m not too worried about family members’ objections: most of my main characters are no longer alive.


    1. You know, Marian, when most of your main characters are gone on to the great beyond, there’s not much to worry about, is there? You’ll get a jump start one of these days for that second half. And if you want right now, write about something else. That usually works for me.


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