Maybe you have a story in you. Maybe your life is full of stories. Perhaps you’ve been considering how your story is perfect memoir material. But have you considered what that means? Your memoir is not just about you. Your life, your story, inevitably involves others and you’ll be hard pressed to avoid writing about other people. So how do you go about writing personal stories that reveal truths and secrets others may not readily want to share? Do you at all, or do you bury the details and keep quiet?
In The Truth of Memoir: How to Write about Yourself and Others with Honesty, Emotion, and Integrity, author Kerry Cohen discusses the basics of memoir writing, including what motives and aims a writer may have in sharing personal stories, how to challenge one’s identities and perspectives while searching for a deeper purpose in writing about the self and about others. The author shares tips on considering one’s emotional state prior to penning a memoir, gauging and assessing what familial or media reactions a memoirist will receive post-publication, and deciding on timeframes and experiences to write about.
The focus of Cohen’s book, of course, is the impact and implications of writing about others. The author dedicates specific chapters to writing about family, friends, exes, and others and explores how other published authors have fared either favorably or to their demise in exposing others’ lives. To this, the author offers
“The question is not about whether you, as a writer, have a right to tell your story. The question is whether art is more important than personal loss, whether the benefit to your readers, who are mostly complete strangers, is more important than someone you love, or even someone you don’t love, getting emotionally hurt.”
A chapter on legalities offers useful information about how to prepare one’s self in writing about others, and details what risks are at stake. From lawsuits to fact-checking, Cohen shares her own take as well as experiences from other writers to offer readers an understanding of this subject.
In addition to anecdotes and experiences shared by dozens of other authors, Cohen also shares additional resources: recommended instructional reading for the writer, recommended memoirs that exemplify craft and technique, and names of essays of authors who appear in Cohen’s book. Combined with thoughtful suggestions and insight into the process of writing a memoir, Kerry Cohen’s The Truth of Memoir offers emerging and veteran writers alike a complete skills-building package.