In this book, I found gems and brutally honest insights about the joy and pain of writing a memoir. Here are a few punchlines.

Introduction, Meredith Maran

“If you want to ruin your life and/or others’, there’s really no more surefire method than writing a true-life tale according to you.”

Ishmael Beah, A long Way Gone

“My aspiration was to show how everyone is capable of violence if you happen to find yourself in circumstances that propel you toward violence as a way to live. I wanted to show that no one can decide ahead of time whether you will embrace violence or not until you are in a certain situation.”

Kate Christensen, How to Cook a Mouse

“It’s impossible to write about yourself when you’re hiding.”

“My friend Rosie Schaap, who wrote the brilliant, beautiful memoir Drinking with Men, told me, “The only person who should look like an asshole in your memoir is you.” I strove to follow that. I hope I didn’t fail too badly.”

Pat Conroy, My Losing Season

“Here’s what I know: If a story is not told, it’s the silence around that untold story that ends up killing people. The story can open up a secret to the light.”

Edwige Dandicat, Breath, Eyes, Memory

“I’d much rather write about others than about myself. But you have to let the material guide you. It’s hard to explain this in a very replicable way. But I think instinctively you know what should be written in what way.”

“I think it’s inevitable to feel exposed. I always feel a bit naked at first, as though I’ve just opened the door to my shower and let a bunch of people in there. I feel exposed. I feel raw. I feel vulnerable. I always worry what people close to me are going to think or say. It feels to me as though there are people waiting around with knives, waiting to skewer me.

When it’s fiction, it’s easier to accept public criticism. But when it’s memoir, they’re not talking  about just a book. They’re also talking about your life.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“People think my memoirs are very easy to write because I do sound like I talk. They don’t know it takes me five drafts for it to sound that way. But more than fifteen books later, I still struggle with the same feelings of self-worth, the same fear of failure, the same fears that I won’t be able to pull it off, that the well is running dry.”

“With memoirs, you break the contract you signed when you were three years old, promising not to ever, ever tell the truth, promising your family secrets would go with you to the grave. In a family, that’s life threatening. They tell you that if you ever tell the truth about the family, the long bony hand will come out of the sky and kill you.”

“I hate publication. It makes me extremely anxious. I can be at my most fragile for quite a long time, during that long, long period of waiting to see how a book is going to do. It’s an extremely painful part of the process. I get this feeling of grippage in my stomach before a book comes out. The easiest way not to have it is not to publish a lot more. I’m just too old for book tours. I’m sure you could find lots of people, like Margaret Atwood, who are a little older and they thrive on it. I don’t thrive on it. I’m wasted by it.”

James McBride, The Color of Water

“You write a memoir for the same reason you write a song—to help someone feel better. You don’t write it to show how smart you are or how dumb they are. You’re trying to share from a sense of humbleness. It’s almost like you’re asking forgiveness of the reader for being so kind as to allow you to indulge yourself at their expense.”

Dani Shapiro, Slow Motion

“I’m not a believer in memoir as catharsis. It’s a misapprehension that readers have that by writing memoir you’re purging yourself of your demons. Writing memoir has the opposite effect. It embeds your story deep inside you. It mediates the relationship between the present and the past by freezing a moment in time.”

Darin Strauss, Half a Life

“Amy Hempel tells a good story about when she was in a beginning workshop with Gordon Lish. He had the class write about the one thing that most embarrassed them. The only restriction was that you had to write it as honestly as possible. She said that out of that class of fifteen people, seven or eight published pieces they wrote in that class. If you write something honestly, it’ll be worth reading. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how good a writer you are. The reader will feel it.”

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“I decide what I make public through my work. I perform intimacy through my writing, but that doesn’t mean I’m intimate with everyone who reads it. When I say “perform,” I don’t mean it’s fake—in fact it’s incredibly authentic. I mean the way I’m raw and open in my writing is not an accident. It’s a crafted, considered effort. It’s something I’ve made with a great amount of intention and consciousness.”

“Good writing is built on craft and heart. Another way of saying it is you must do your work and it must cost you everything to do it.”

Ayelet Waldman, Bad Mother

“One of the first important posts I wrote was about my second-term abortion. The results of writing about that were so dramatic, both in terms of how I felt exposing this secret and in terms of the reactions I got from readers, that I found myself thinking, Oh, this is a thing. This satisfies a personal need for expression in a way that fiction doesn’t, both in a positive way and in a negative way. And more important, there’s a public purpose to this in a way that there isn’t to fiction.”

Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped,

“A lot of the time when I was writing about my mom, who’s a very private person, I felt like I was betraying her. Or when I was writing very personal things about my own experience, I’d stop and say, Am I really going to do this? The further I got into the book, the worse it got.”

“People ask me if I think I’ll write another memoir. I always say no. The process of writing the first one was so awful, I don’t know if I could do it again.”

Edmund White, A Boy’s Own Story

“In general, I try to be very honest in my memoirs. If I lose the friendship, so what? I believe Milosz, the Nobel-winning Polish poet, who said, “Whenever a writer is born into a family, that family is destroyed.”

Why We Write About Ourselves, Edited by Meredith Maran

Une réflexion sur “Why We Write About Ourselves

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