10 reasons why daring to share may be the best thing you ever did
A scene from The Writers' Circle in The Hague; credit Natalie Carstens
“What’s so interesting about me?”
“But isn’t writing about myself just self-indulgent?”
“Aren’t I just being a narcissist?”
“Isn’t it a bit of a pity-party?”
These are typical of the questions I get asked when running a writing workshop. Many students are understandably nervous about sharing true stories about some of the bad things that have happened to them.
I don’t agree.
In 2018, Terry Anne Wilson and I published Monday Morning Emails. It was the most honest and open book I had ever written. I shared about the abuse I suffered as a child, the mental health issues my twenty-something was going through, the pain of living a life in limbo as an expatriate whose next posting was controlled not by us but by my husband’s company. I shared about the ageing and illness of my father, who passed away soon after the book’s release. These and many other issues. Yes it was tough to do. Yes, Terry Anne and I sometimes questioned our motives but deep down we both knew that no one else had yet dared to share such truths about the mobile life and it needed to be done. The outpouring of gratitude and the emotional reviews we received since, prove we did the right thing.
And so, when I’m teaching, I do my best to soothe the worries of my students and encourage them to put pen to paper and even go so far as to press the terrifying Postbutton on their blog or social media platform. Here are some of the reasons I believe daring to share tough stuff is worthwhile:
Memoir hangs 100% on voice.
It's hard to believe that it took me so long to discover the work of Mary Karr. Karr is professor of writing at Syracuse University and her programmes are desperately over-subscribed. Yes, she is that good.
I first discovered her memoir, The Liar's Club, when it was recommended to me by a therapist, impressed by the way Mary managed to write to candidly and yet without indulgence about her dysfunctional childhood.
As I read, sure, I was delighted to see how she tackled the subject matter, but more than anything I was blown away by her style. Here was a writer who broke the rules, finished sentences with prepositions and had a tone that was completely her own.
After The Liar's Club I headed straight for Karr non-fiction book, The Art of Memoir, and it was here that I read the words:
"Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself onto the page What drives them crazy will keep you humble. You’ll need both sides of yourself – the beautiful and the beastly – to hold a reader’s attention."
In other words, you have to be true to yourself, your meaning and your story and the way you write must reflect this.
I went on from The Liar's Club to read Karr's second memoir, Lit, which tells of her failed marriage, her battle with alcoholism and the jerky progression of her career as a writer. Let me give you an example of her voice, found on the page that faced me when I cracked open Lit's spine at a random place:
"By age thirty, I'm not writing squat, which I blame on my ramped-up consulting schedule, knowing full well my favorite poet was a full-time insurance exec. Warren keeps urging me to deal with my complicated family on the page, but that seems too damp-eyed, though even I know the crap I crank out referring to Homer and Virgil is pretentious before Warren carefully pens pretentious on page bottom."
You see what I mean about voice? Sure, it's about what you write about, but it also about how you say it. If you are still confused, go read Mary Karr.
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