Memoir: Oversharing or just right?

Do you battle with how much to share about your life in your memoir? There are a few sides from which you can approach this issue. What can you write legally? What can you share with the world with your head held high? Be honest, is there a note of revenge? And most importantly, does it serve the story?

Legally Speaking

I live in Canada and can only report what’s been told to me by Canadian lawyers, and that is if you are telling the truth you have the right to write about how you experienced your life. Some people choose to change the names and places but that’s a personal choice. If you don’t feel protected by changing names and locations, you can always write your story as a fiction piece knowing it’s based on real-life events.

What will my family think?

Sometimes we do need to consider whose feelings will be hurt if they are reading a revealing incident for the first time. Only you know if there is a face to face, heart to heart conversation that needs to take place before your book is published. As difficult as it may be, relationships usually flourish with frank vulnerability more than keeping secrets. The same applies if you work in a profession that has standards you would be breaching with the publication of your book. More often than not, you’re well within your rights to publish your book, but it’s always good to ask the governing body of your profession before you get handed a pink slip.

Empower not victimhood

Be careful of your motive for sharing. I have built a career on empowering women to speak their truth. I will always champion sharing our stories, but for the purpose of being witnessed, serving other women to see they are not alone, and never to disgrace someone who hurt us. This is a victim mentality and the energy behind those stories will drain the author instead of building her up. There is a time and place to punish people who have committed atrocities and it’s not between the pages of your memoir.

Serve the story

A story is not an enumeration of events that happened, it is the emotional journey that the main character goes on and how they are changed through what has happened. We the reader want to identify with and go on that main character’s journey. You can often get the emotion and the growth across without sharing every incident. You can also show the transformation without sharing something that might be hurtful to a loved one. Share only what is in service of the reader.

One last piece of advice from one of the great writing teachers of our time:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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