Do Memoir Writers Really Lack Imagination?
Tom Robbins once stated that “People write memoirs because they lack the imagination to make things up.”
My inner critic has told me for years that I have no imagination. But it’s far from the real reason that I wrote my first memoir. Of late, memoirs have become hugely popular. In fact, some of my readers have told me they’d rather read memoir than fiction. And the more memoirs I read, the more I agree, because memoirs deal with the things that really matter … the good, the bad and sometimes, the downright horrible that exists in so many people’s lives. Sometimes, the only place a reader trying to cope with trauma can find help is in someone else’s memoir. In her book, Mothering Mother, Carol O’Dell helps those coping with an elderly parent’s dementia by sharing her story of how she handled it. Sandy Richards, a beautiful woman whom I had the pleasure to meet at the 2014 Readers Favorite Book Awards, told of her heartbreak in losing her 16-year-old son in a car accident in her memoir, A Far Cry…from Home, Bonnie Virag, in her memoir titled The Stovepipe, shared what it was like to be one of 5 children separated from their mother and shipped around to foster home after foster home. And in my own case, when I finally had the courage at 65 years of age to write about being a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I knew I was speaking for thousands in my book, No Tears for My Father.
Writing memoirs like these help both the writer and the reader: the writer finds relief for the heartache and pain of memories locked deep inside because, as Adair Lara says: ““When you pin your misfortune to a page, you rob it of its power. You begin to get distance from an event the moment you write it down. Even the most intimate and horrendous details of your life become transformed into material”. Simultaneously, as they identify with the experiences and feelings of the author, readers find comfort in knowing they are not alone in their pain. Many readers, in seeing how another person coped with a similar problem, find the inspiration and courage to do something about their own situation. Depending on how the memoir has been written, the reader closes the book with satisfaction and renewed hope that tomorrow will be a better day. What a wonderful and rewarding reason to write your memoir!
But before you say “I don’t have a traumatic story to share!” let me hasten to say that writing memoir, or memoirs, is not just for those with sad tales to share. Depending on your age, you might want to leave a collection of your memories for your loved ones, the grandchildren and their children. How else will they know that before computers and iPads came along, we used typewriters. Or that Grandma used a wringer washing machine? Or what it was like to run 30 feet to the outhouse in the middle of the night since there were no indoor toilets. What great reading future children will have thanks to those of us who decide to write our memoirs today. And who knows? Your memoir might just become a best seller like Mary Karr’s Liar’s Club, which in 1995 “took the world by storm and raised the art of the memoir to an entirely new level”. She let her past write her future. So did I. So can you, with help from Memoirabilia.
©Viga Boland, editor of Memoirabilia. Article originally published in the Inaugural Issue of Memoirabilia, December 31, 2014
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings