Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Firing of Weinstein a shift in culture regarding sexual harassment? »« Discover the joys of writing historical nonfiction

Seven things I wish I’d known before writing my memoir

  1.  People will project their own emotional baggage onto your story. For example, if a reader’s mother died recently, s/he might think you’re being too harsh on your mom. If someone has unresolved shame, s/he might not want to hear about your related anecdotes or incidents. But never self-censor. People who are striving to heal and gain greater self-awareness will appreciate your vulnerability and honesty.

 

  1.  The manuscript might take a lot longer than expected to complete. My memoir took eleven drafts (!). Based on a rough estimate by a former MFA professor, I figured it would be at least half that. But each draft got deeper, clearer, and better. Every tale takes as long as it takes. Be patient. Let the story take you where it wants to go.

 

  1.  Agents have their own agendas and won’t necessarily share your vision for the book. Yes, you can be successful without an agent. Your book’s attitude or slant might appeal more to an offbeat or niche audience rather than a mainstream one. Are you adamant about advocacy and your agent wants straight narration? Ask yourself if s/he is a good fit. Don’t sacrifice your creative vision for someone else’s profit motive. I heard things from agents like “No one’s interested in incest — write about your India travels”; “Rewrite your book like a novel” and “Your subject makes me uncomfortable.”

 

  1.  People close to you might threaten a lawsuit. As a pre-publication courtesy, I sent portions of my manuscript to someone from my past mentioned in my book. He said he would sue me if I left in that content. The brother of someone I know told her the same thing with her memoir. Did I acquiesce? No. I just changed his name and some of the identifying details. To be safe, it’s best to consult with a lawyer about such things.

 

  1.  Expect strong pushback if you’re presenting an admired figure in a negative light. I tracked down a former colleague of my father’s, who said my dad was the most supportive boss he’d ever had. He wrote a glowing letter about him after my father died. When I mentioned incest, he said, “I think you should forget about the whole thing.” Present a balanced portrait of someone, but don’t censor the negative.

 

  1.  If you’re writing about sexual assault or incest, be prepared to have others’ attitudes shock you. Sadly, even among so-called feminists and supposed female allies, I received comments that implied my sexual assaults in India must have resulted from my own actions or else I didn’t respond properly. Our cultural stance of “Blame the victim” is far more entrenched than I thought. Share your truth. Don’t let others’ skewed views diminish your story. Use their comments to make your experience even clearer.

 

  1.  Family members can make stronger allies than you think. In a family of secrecy like mine, I expected my three sisters to lash out at me about my memoir. Instead, they agreed to be interviewed and offered revealing anecdotes about my dad. Their support meant so much to me. Revealing your secret will inspire others to share theirs. Help break the silence. You’ll find allies in the most unexpected places.
,
July 31, 2017 at 2:45 pm
4 comments »
  • August 1, 2017 at 1:43 pmConstance

    Excellent and informative article.

  • August 1, 2017 at 6:50 amanneke

    dear Heather
    I was very interested to read your seven revelations. All these barriers and objections that people quickly throw up really tell a fair bit about THEM, in turn, eh? That .” don’t ask, don’t tell ” protective behavior goes deep and is well entrenched…..your advice of not letting other peoples’ skewed views to diminish the story is a good one. Inside us all is that liddle kiddy who still needs to be loved and accepted, eh? ? No matter how freekin old we get!
    I imagine you are helping a good many people release some baggage they don’t need to schlepp along any more on their life’s journey. And that is a Good thing ! best wishes, Anneke

  • July 31, 2017 at 11:06 pmSteve Rosenberg

    Thanks Heather
    You are a gifted and talented writer.
    Excellent blog!

    Steve

  • July 31, 2017 at 2:52 pmMiriam Mattila

    Thanks Dear Heather, The info. on writing a manuscript is very interesting, for I have dreamt often about writing my story, however too many mind blocks in the way. I aknowledge you for all your endevours, you are an amazing woman, and a woman of Power in our New Age. Thanks for all your contributions to humanity. You are loved by many. Lovya dear one…

Leave a Reply