Writers Write is a comprehensive writing resource. This post is the first in our series, The Truth About Memoirs. A memoir is about what happens when we’re forced off the desire line by extraordinary experiences.
If you’ve ever been to a park or on a hike, you’ve probably come across a desire line. A desire line is a rogue path caused by hundreds of feet, inadvertently causing a new trail. A desire line is usually the shortest distance between two points, a circuitous or ‘cheat’ route from beginning to end.
The Truth About Memoirs
It’s a great example of human nature. We all try to take the path of least resistance in life.
A memoir is often about what happens when you’re forced off the desire line by an extraordinary adventure – or experience – onto an unmapped and bewildering new course.
You want to have a baby with your new husband – until you realise you have endometriosis.
You’re ready to spend a quiet retirement – until your granddaughter and her newborn move in.
You’re complacently following a corporate career – then your teenage son is hospitalised for a drug overdose.
You’re unable to get over your painful divorce – when a scruffy stray dog shows up at your door.
What event took you off course?
Of course, we all veer off the path now and then and somehow find our way back to our ‘normal’ lives – with a few scrapes but no real scars. A memoir is about what happens when we start to learn from these ‘detours’ and carve a new path in life – whether it’s an emotional journey or a physical pilgrimage. We have come out on the other side irrevocably changed.
- You learn that there are other routes to motherhood that you never contemplated. After painful, failed medical procedures, you and your husband decide to adopt.
- You find that helping your granddaughter through the messy trails of motherhood has taught you about joy, innocence, and motherhood.
- Your son’s addiction turns you into a crusader for change. You quit your job to start an awareness campaign and launch a support group for the mothers and families with teens suffering through addiction.
- You adopt the stray and learn to love again, volunteering at an animal shelter and starting a blog about your lovable stray that readers love.
Paths to change
A memoir is about what happens when our normal lives are turned upside down by an event, a person, a group, or even an animal – like that stray dog. It can be a happy event – like the arrival of a child – or tragic – an illness, an addiction, even death. But it must be an event that causes a profound change in the way we live and the way we see life.
Of course, some memoirs are about people who deliberately choose the path of least resistance, who seek extreme adventure or change. That’s fine too. The journey through change is what will make the memoir enticing to readers.
What isn’t a memoir …?
Say you go to the supermarket to buy eggs for your upside-down pineapple cake when it’s held up by a gunman for an hour. After this ordeal, you go for counselling and, a month or two later, you start baking again. That’s probably enough for a ‘My Story’ in a magazine, but a whole book? I’m not sure.
Say you go to the supermarket to buy a home pregnancy kit and you are taken hostage for three weeks by the same gunman, well, yes, that’s something that can sustain a whole book.
Look out for next week’s blog on memoir.
P.S. If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.
If you enjoyed this post, read the series:
- The Truth About Memoirs – What Took You Off The Desire Line?
- The Truth About Memoirs – Is Yours A Brave Confession Or A Book Of Lies?
- The Truth About Memoirs — 6 Ways To Write A Memoir
- The Truth About Memoirs – 7 Simple Ways To Find Those Lost Moments
- The Truth About Memoirs – 4 Primal Connections And Their Universal Appeal
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