“Nude Behind the Curtain” by Antoine Joseph Wiertz
Catharsis through writing is a wonderful, therapeutic activity; I cannot emphasize its value enough. You don’t even have to be a “good” writer to engage in this activity; everyone has the right to write. There are some things in my own life that I’ve only been able to work through by writing, and I’d be quite offended if anyone ever suggested that I shouldn’t.
However, from editing a good number of memoirs, I’ve come to believe the following:
- Just because the story is important to you does not mean that it’s important to everyone else. Does it have to be the next triumphant or heart-wrenching tale that flies off the bookstore shelves, or must it lead to television/radio interviews? Will you be crestfallen if that doesn’t happen? If so, why?
- If you’re motivated to publish your memoir specifically to have an audience be outraged on your behalf, or to punish those who have wronged you, prepare for the very real possibility that you will be disappointed in the response you receive from the public.
- Purging yourself of terrible memories through writing can indeed be legitimate therapy, but if you find that you’re repeating yourself—especially if it’s rehashing and reinforcing decades-old pains and selective memories—it may be unhealthy for you (not to mention your editor and your audience). There really is a time to just let go.
Don’t get me wrong—I firmly believe in the power of storytelling and the importance of both hearing and being heard; it’s a fundamentally human need. I fully endorse writing dark, messy, nasty, angry, frightening, violent, and even petty content. But when sharing this with the world, please consider the possibility that there’s a difference between telling a story that leads the reader somewhere and merely venting your spleen for the sake of pissing acid everywhere. It may sound cynical and unfeeling, but the reality is that just because something terrible happened in the writer’s life does not mean that an audience will care.
Lest anyone feel I’m discouraging them from ever letting their memoir see the light of day, let me reiterate that I do believe in the importance of writing and publishing our stories, both for the author’s sake and for the sake of the audience. If you wish to share your memoir with any audience, small or large, consider the following three steps:
- Take some time to sit quietly and journal your reasons for writing the manuscript, who your target audience is, and why you think they will be receptive to your story. This doesn’t mean that you have to justify it to yourself or anyone else—it’s simply a grounding exercise.
- When your manuscript is finished, proofread it and fix any spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.
- Have a few trustworthy individuals read it (friends, your writer’s group, or a professional editor) with the request to offer honest and constructive criticism without having to worry about wounding the author’s fragile ego.
Author Paulo Coehlo said, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public.” There’s getting naked (being vulnerable), and then there’s pure exhibitionism for the sake of attention alone. The choice, of course, is yours.
When getting naked in public, it’s a good idea to be clear about your motives, because people will look, and they will respond.