“Your diary is meant solely for a reader of one.” ~ Margaret Atwood
Writing a memoir can be liberating, perhaps even illuminating for you as well as your loved ones—even if your story is news to them. It can be a poignant way to reflect on your life up until this present moment. But, unless your writing from life is a diary, don’t forget to think about your audience, your future readership. Ask yourself, “For whom am I writing this memoir?
In Faith Born of Seduction, my first published book, though not a formal memoir, I chose to use my life experience as the lens to read the lives of other women—the ones just like me—who had been struggling with weight, food, body image and religion (spiritual issues) after experiencing domestic and sexual violence. These were concerns of mine and after attending so many support groups for one or the other issue (food and religious imagination, abuse and body image, etc.), they all seemed to come together again and again. I had to write about this crystalization AND still, I was afraid of “outing” myself and my upstanding, Roman Catholic family. Like the nine women I interviewed, I decided to remain anonymous. For some of the authors I work with, remaining anonymous feels to be the wisest choice. Why? Whether it’s true or not, some authors choose this kind of protection because of one or more of the following concerns:
1. They’re on the run.
2. The unveiling the truth of their experience makes them feel vulnerable.
3. They’re not ready to deal with the repercussions of their disclosures.
4. They’re ashamed of their past experiences and/or the unskillful choices they’ve made.
I came out of the shadows in my second book, Loving Life As It Is. I published that one myself. Those stories were my own and drew from my experiences within the institution of marriage, my audience was other people like me…people—probably women who peruse those self-help aisles in bookstores—who felt like fools for getting married when anyone in their right mind would not have made the same mistake. In this recollection, I kept in mind an anxious reader who might want spiritual and philosophical support because the only free support groups available to them seemed to be found in churches or 12-step groups—ones fraught with god talk. Because I was a philosophy professor who looked at psychology and gender issues within world traditions, I had ample material to guide women to think outside the cultural traditions that may have led them to make self-abandoning mistakes in partnering.
My third book that held a memoir-like framework is called Cracking Up: A Letter to My Nieces. It was meant to be a sardonic warning to girls raised with strict “good Catholic girl” mandates. That my nieces may never be the actual readers of this book, doesn’t diminish the utility of having them in mind. The majority of girls and women will find themselves in those pages whether they are as “liberated” as Lady GaGa or as conservative as Ann Coulter (sometimes called “Beltway Barbie”).
My fourth book, Polishing the Mirror, was also a book for which I used the lens of my (midlife) life after job loss to support others feeling similar horrors of confusion and existential despair. I I figured cultivating calm, stilling thoughts, dusting off social conditioning, and letting go of worry about the future certainly couldn’t hurt t before “going out there” to trade your talents for pay. It offers about 90 days of techniques and clever questions to help the reader uncover hidden passions, psycho-social temperament and natural talents, which, in turn, give them an increasingly sharp focus for going forward. I continue to find these methods helpful and still share them with my clients. Again, the reader’s benefit has been my priority—of course I like to test the benefits myself first.
I’m fairly sure my readers have been glad to have been considered so important to me. Thinking of my writing as a missive for them continues to guide me when I feel like I’m losing focus or forgetting the purpose of the book that I had in mind originally. I encourage you, memoir writer, to think about them not just for them but for yourself.