As a writer of personal nonfiction, I worry that with every memoir or essay, I risk fragmenting and simplifying my life into words living on pages.
Calvin and Hobbes
Speaking of honesty. For me, the editing process is a precious time to assess my motives for writing about my personal experience. While it is essential for memoirists to push into uncomfortable emotional places, the motivation for doing so should be simple. You want to enlighten and open minds, not merely shock your readers with a crazy plot. They may open your book because chapter one promises to keep pages turning, but it is your unique and authentic voice that will keep readers with you to the end. I really do strive to write as I speak; my speaking/writing voice won’t be anything like yours. I accept that my voice will change over time as I practice my craft. As you work, take time to listen to your own way of expressing ideas. The word choices and quirks of your voice are treasures to share now—and to store in your own personal time machine.
If you craft your time machine with care, it will be sturdier than Calvin’s flimsy cardboard and will hold all the many pieces of your life that you choose to share in your writing. If you have done your best to ground your work in authenticity, you can revisit your narrator self in his/her/their time machine from time to time, to see how you’ve grown and changed. In this way your life in the present and your life from the past, turned into art, are no longer separate, but unified. Like me, you too might find that as time passes, your earlier narrator self is hard to recognize, but the pages you’ve written will still reveal truth to your readers. That eternal truth is why we can pick up a memoir published a hundred years ago and still find a story that touches us in the present. And it is a good reason for you to persevere in your work today.
Julie Metz is the New York Times bestselling author of Perfection and her new memoir Eva and Eve. She has written for publications including the New York Times, Salon, Dame, and Tablet. Her essays have appeared in the anthologies The Moment and The House That Made Me. More information at juliemetz.com and follow on Instagram @juliemetzwriter