Ho… ho… hum? For memoir writers (Encore)

Hang on now, before you unload your holiday blunderbuss at me; I’m really not trying to play Scrooge here. All I’m hoping to do is save you some time developing your memoir, so hear me out.

The holidays, obviously, are a source of memories from all across the emotional spectrum. Hopefully, the positive ones outweigh the negatives, but for many of us, the holidays we remember are the traumatic ones. Someone’s missing, something’s lost, or we’ve somehow forgotten something which seemed important at the time. Do such occasions deserve a place in your memoir? You’re the only one who can decide that, but my guess is in most cases, the holidays don’t hold too many memories worth presenting in memoir form, no matter how tempted we are to dwell on them.

Stop and think about it; most of the major events in our lives, good and bad, don’t usually come as surprises. Some do, of course, and they’re typically grim events that strike from out of the blue, and they’re thankfully rare around holidays. Those things surely deserve inclusion in your life story, but unless you can find a larger context for Aunt Mabel dropping the Christmas turkey in the litter box or Grampa Grundy squishing Junior’s hamster with the motorized scooter he got for his birthday, you may want to just skip over those things.

On the other hand, if little Doober, your annoying nephew on your half-brother’s side, picked up the violin he got for preschool graduation and started playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 35, you’ve probably got a bona fide story to tell, especially if you gaveDollarphotoclub_94465407 small him the instrument. (Handy link to an audio of Itzhak Perlman’s rendition.) The point is, you have to make a decision about the interest value of every anecdote you include. Please don’t blow this idea off; it’s important, and it’ll have more impact than anything else you do: pick and choose what you put in your memoir with care. Make sure it’s relevant.

Here’s a thought: if your life consisted largely of misadventures, make them the pivots around which your stories turn.

If you intend to focus on one aspect of your life, be it career, hobby, family, politics, a life of crime, or anything else, you must do what you have to do to keep your goal in mind. Delve into holiday tales only if they contribute something meaningful to the overall story. Winning the local radio station’s contest for sound-alike rock stars doesn’t have anything to do with your career as a brain surgeon. Unless you can tie it into the main topic, let it go. No one cares. I really hate being the bearer of such bad news, but someone has to do it. <sigh> I guess it’s me.

Dollarphotoclub_29453389 txtIF, on the other hand, you had a habit of singing rock tunes by that one particular artist while you dug into some poor schlep’s brain, then by all means, include it! See how easy this is?

Life stories are rich with options, but it’s surprising how many memoir writers miss the obvious in favor of the obscure. It’s most likely a failing you won’t be able to avoid completely, so don’t be overly concerned. Instead, find a good editor, or at the very least, a trusted friend, who’ll read your work and offer constructive criticism. More on that elsewhere.

For now, rely on your own good judgment. Don’t let the holidays take over your memoir. If something happened which is truly worthy of mention, write it as if your life depended on it. If it didn’t, give some thought to leaving it out.

More soon,


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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