In which I rant about memoir and autobiography and display mean-spirited tendencies

I have a confession . . .

keep calm
You’ll see the point of this image if you just read to the end of the post.

I usually hate memoirs. Not just a little. A lot.

The last memoir I read willingly was about twelve years ago. I was on a camping trip** near Pemberton, B.C. (close to Whistler, if you want a landmark). It was 2 am. It 35 degrees celsius (about 100 degrees F for any American cousins reading this). Humidity was easily 80%. Who knew a Westcoast rainforest could impersonate New Orleans so well? Not I.

It will surprise no one when I report that I could not sleep.

Another problem: I had already read everything I brought with me. D’oh.

I scrounged around the campsite through other people’s books. All I could come up with Michael J. Fox’s first autobiography.

What I can say was that reading it was more fun than lying on a sleeping bag while bored out of my mind and sweating profusely. Barely. With no offense to Mr. Fox, I think that unless you have cured some form of cancer, walked on the moon, or reversed climate change, you probably have no business writing a memoir. A blog? Sure. Why not? Any asshole can have a blog . . . as I myself demonstrate *makes small bow in your direction*.

Needless to say, this goes double is you are under 30 years of age. What can you have possibly done by age 30 that is weighty enough to merit an autobiography or memoir? Jeebus Feist, people that age still wear short pants and ride skateboards without even a trace of self-consciousness. This does not suggest wisdom from which I can learn, amirite?

I should also say that this goes double-double if you want to write a memoir of your recovery from addiction or from the long-term effects of abuse. Why do I think this?

I’ll answer that question with some other questions:

  • Do you think you are the only person who has struggled with these things and overcome them?
  • Do you think you are the only person who thought to write down his journey?
  • Why do you want to tell the story? Do you suppose that others can learn from your suffering? (IMO we human beings can barely learn from their own suffering, so I think it’s doubtful we can learn from another person’s)
  • Do you want to create a memoir so that other people acknowledge you for your “courage” and “bravery”?

I think that the answer for most confessional memoirists is “yes” — to at least one of these questions.

And because I believe this about memoirists and memoirs, I shun them both.***

So I’ve told you all that so I can tell you this:

Recently an emerging writer asked for my feedback and guidance on the memoir she plans to write. Gah. Boy, did she dial the wrong number. *face palm*. Apparently she also is looking for ghostwriting services. (not a service I provide, BTW). Oh, and she wants it all for free, with the idea that she’d share profits from the sale with the ghostwriter as a way to compensate her for her work . . . y’know *after* the book has been published and hit the NY Times bestseller list.

At which point both parties will retire to their respective fantasy fucking islands. Yeesh.

Before you give me the judgemental side-eye, know that I saved all my bile for this blog post. I actually gave the individual some links to reputable writing professionals that can help her realize her dreams, as well as some links to the reality of the publishing industry at this time. All the best to her and Jeebus Feist bless and keep her while she high-fives a million angels.

So while I responded kindly and reasonably to this young writer’s request, let me state for the ages: I hate giving virgin writers feedback.

I hate it more than I hate reading memoirs.

Partly it’s ’cause I’m not qualified. Even though I’ve been writing (off and on) for most of my life, I’m not a particularly successful writer. I don’t think I’m a particularly good one. On my best days, I can keep you entertained for about 10 minutes before my various writerly tics start to get annoying. *sigh*

But it’s also because talking to newbies who are in love with the idea of “being a writer”  just hurts me.

For me, and for many many other writers I’ve talked to,  a person writes because the only other alternative is to let language pile up in our minds until– dangerously full of our own poison– we pop and drown in our own mental pus.

For some, writing is not about wanting to, it’s about having to (even though you hate it before, during, and after).

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** Don’t even get me stated on why a person like me was camping. It’s ridiculous, really.

*** Before you yell at me, please know that I am aware these are just my opinions, they may not be actually true. If your opinions are different, I am ok with that. Feel free to rant about them on your blog.

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