So here I have it, 66,000 plus words orchestrated to show my life experiences, baring my soul and sharing my bumpy journey through the years, my memoir.
I have witnessed its transformation from 75,000 words in tones of discontent, wonderment, resentment, with some anger and perhaps sadness thrown in there for drama’s sake whittled to an essence of bare minimum, the core. But by all true definitions of memoir, is it really one? Must a memoir meet certain genre defining criteria in order for it to be classified as a “real” memoir?”
And so I begin with my early years, where I use metaphor and symbolism to illustrate my central theme. I continue on my timeline with a brief mention of my birth, passing through grade school years, teens, and decades thereafter. I understand one’s biography does not a memoir make. And so begins the peeling of the layers, pulling back that which does not belong. Until I came to the center, the meaning behind the words, the reason for my writing, the purpose for my manuscript.
As per a professional’s critique, the manuscript needs development. Perhaps my through-threads are not being woven all the way through, tying everything together? Hence, I stray from my theme.
Memoir, like any other book, is a story with a beginning, middle and an end. According to Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) suggests a timeline exercise to “locate the main spine” of your story, uncovering the turning points along the line. Myers defines a memoir as a focused story about a theme. She also explains plot as a “series of dramatized events,” the “arc” of a narrative, how memoir can be challenging as memoir writers try to create a story out of chaos. I don’t disagree with this.
My memoir is no “Eat, Pray, Love.” It is not dramatic or unusual. It is not a block-buster tale, or a movie in the making, rather it is a reflection of life, perhaps a coming of age, of overcoming adversity, of understanding what home is, of even finding one. And that took development, revealing my years as I unfolded my theme.
I answer to those who would want to read about life expectancies just like what my reader is experiencing, to let them know we have similar experiences, learning as we go, commensurate with age. I do not write as problem-solver or guide to self-help, but rather as a connection, an inspiration, thoughtful questioning posed to life’s confusion.
I think of Thoreau’s “Walden.” Does his memoir have such “development?” in the stricter sense with a beginning, middle and end and the “arc”? Barbara Pym’s fiction book “Excellent Women” is about not much of anything but so much about some things. Not much happens to the main character; there really isn’t much of a plot, an arc, or an obvious beginning, middle or end. But there is lots of dialogue, showing not telling, snapshots of life, a scrapbook of the times.
Can I not craft my book in the only way I know how, and not have to write it according to checkpoints?
A memoir is an amalgam of memories, perceptions, beliefs, lessons from life. To make a beginning, a middle and then end it all would restrict the writer and cheat the reader. A writer should be able to take liberty with her prose, free of restrictions and definitions and still be called a memoir writer.