Answer: Memoir writing is a skilled form of storytelling based on fact.
Did you know the word ‘memoir’ has its origin in the French word for ‘memory’ or
‘reminiscence?’ Memory certainly doesn’t have a reputation for being infallible. Like memory, a
memoir isn’t fool-proof either. A common criticism by memoir readers is that they doubt the
details of the story without understanding it as the art form it is.
Some earlier reviews from Overlay, read:
“How could anyone remember these details?”
“A great deal of literary license taken unless we are to believe such detailed recall by a child.”
“I imagine she did keep journals but I am sure some of the events were embellished.”
Those looking for factual accounts of life should read autobiographies.
Memoirs are personal collections of memories told from a life that can cover aspects, themes,
events, and choices in life. They can start or end at any point.
Anyone considering their memory will see they can and have been wrong in their impressions
when compared to factual reality. I think while we can safely assume all the characters in a
memoir existed; it is the memoirist’s impression of them we read.
A memoir will contain impressions of people, circumstances, and places, and no one can argue
with a person’s perception. (Or at least we shouldn’t.)
One rule I teach memoirists is to publish nothing you don’t feel comfortable reading to the
person you’re writing about.
In Angeles, my second memoir, I ran a chapter by an ex-boyfriend whom I dated for quite a few
years. He didn’t even want his family mentioned, so they are absent from the story.
Question: Can I take creative license and make stuff up?
My latest memoir, Rest In Places: My Father’s Post-Life Journey Around The World, tells the
story of my experience taking my father’s ashes on a healing journey with my 16-year-old son.
I’ve included chapters that my deceased father ‘wrote’ when I sat before my laptop and asked him
aloud what he thought about the latest place where we had disseminated his ashes. My father had
passed and did not write these chapters. However, in my mind, he did. That, to me, is the point of
Being a memoirist requires skill in weaving, and if you don’t have it to start, you’d be wise to
develop it while writing your memoir. Creating art from actual life requires storytelling talent, a
good memory, and skill in combining the two.