I sized up the sock I was knitting. While following a standard pattern—a one size fits all—I realized my almost-completed-sock would not fit my smaller-than-average foot. I thought about how the term sometimes can’t be taken literally, as for clothing, for example, or figuratively, like for a weight-loss program. I was reminded how “one size fits all” didn’t apply to memoir, too, after recently attending a writing organization event.
At the event, four published writers talked about their memoirs. What I really heard was how different was each story—the subject, why they wrote it, its structure. One author’s book was driven by hearing her mother’s stories about Poland and World War II and a half-sister. Anger, sadness and even grief seemed to have driven another author to write his story. One author wrote about her pilgrimage to Hungary.
Memories are the vehicle that allows a present writer to reflect on the past self. I thought how much a writers’ emotions, wrapped up in memories, drive their work. From anger, to sadness, to curiosity, to righting a wrong, or even clearing a long-held secret, there is no mold from which memoirs are made.
Memoir comes in many sizes and shapes. A memoirist is free of any assumed limitations, regardless of the reason to write memoir. A writer’s interpretation of experiences and conveyed meanings should not be called to fit into a box—a space with defined borders—but by digging deep inside to find freedom to interpret and to convey in the most compelling way without questioning if he or she has remained in the box.
If you want to write a memoir and just can’t seem to get started, or are currently writing one, consider the following where one size doesn’t fit all.
- Writing a memoir is not a competition. You are not called to write your memoir just because you feel you could write one just like the one you read.
- Structures vary. You may weave yourself into a historical piece of narration. My memoir, for example, is theme-driven—finding home, our places to be, and how a birch tree helped me to do that. One panelist’s book comprises essays tied together by a central theme.
- There are no right answers. Though you may conclude that anger or sadness or even grief drove an author to write his story, you may be writing your memoir out of gratitude or homage or just plain love of perhaps your adoptive family.
- There are plenty of seats at the table. Though the marketplace is filled with memoir, if you are driven enough to write your story, then someone else will feel compelled to read it. Just browse the memoir/autobiography section at your local bookstore. Notice what makes the memoirs different. But they all have a spot on the shelf, don’t they?
- Your work will not please all readers all the time. Readers will be drawn in infinite ways to different memoirs. What type of memoir do you like to read? Would you want to read your own memoir? Do you actually like your own book? Is it your best work? Is it your best fit?
Memoirs are not called to conformity. They are creative, learned reflections of nuggets of humanity and meaning. There are endless ways to execute stories, but the takeaway is one size does not fit all memoirs . . . or socks either!