[Photo from Unsplash]
Ever wanted to know the nitty gritty of writing a memoir? Here’s my attempt to answer some questions my readers might have about the writing of my falling-in-love story. You can read the story from the beginning here.
Is everything you’ve written true? How do you remember the story?
Yes, this story is true. During the season of my life in which I moved to Colorado, and met and married my husband Jeremy, I journaled extensively. In all, I filled 16 journals from this time period of my life (January 2009 – September 2010). Additionally, I emailed friends in other states nearly constantly (seriously, it’s absurd how many emails I sent from ages 22-23 😂), which act as even more accurate records (with dates, times, typos, other people’s words and perspectives) than my own words jotted down in a notebook.
All that to say: I have pieced together most of the story from extensive research into my past archives of this time-period.
HOWEVER, I am a storyteller. What I mean by this is that my goal in writing a memoir (rather than a straight autobiography) is to tell a true story WELL. So there are times in which I move facts around chronologically or exclude or insert my characters into the story a way that makes the story more compelling, and it might look different than what happened in real life.
Where I cannot find hard evidence of exactly what happened at different moments, I rely on my memory to fill in the details.
However, did the events and conversations I’m remembering actually happen? Yes.
Do these characters exist in real-life? Yes.
Do I always remember EXACTLY what happened or the exact moment when those events and conversations happened? No.
This is how my story differs from a biography you might buy from your local bookstore: I am a storyteller piecing together the disparate moments from my memories and records into a cohesive narrative. I am (trying) to write a work of literature, not to record the play-by-play court minutes.
My memory is flawed and biased. My perspective might not be the definitive history of what happened. My characters are DEFINITELY more nuanced than how I will write them. The scenes are ABSOLUTELY slower and more boring in real-life than they are in the story.
Personally, as I read other memoirs, I expect that the details aren’t exact, and I expect the story to be compelling.
I also expect the story to be fundamentally true – as in, true in spirit, which might work out to 90% true. Most of all, I think the storyteller should be up-front about HOW true the story is, and what is UNtrue about the story. This is my attempt to do just that.
Is your husband okay with you telling this story?
Absolutely! My husband has been on-board with this memoir since the beginning, several years back when I began writing our story. He also reads everything I write, and occasionally corrects me on things I mis-remember or get straight-up wrong – he has complete veto power over his dialogue, in particular, and I’ll often ask him to tell me if what I’ve written is something he would actually have said (or if I’ve completely missed it).😉
What about your other characters – have they signed off on this memoir?
Every memoirist approaches this differently – some ask every single person mentioned to give their approval before they share any details of their story with anyone (and definitely before the memoir is published). Other memoirists say whatever they want to say about anyone they want, giving a middle finger to accusations of libel.
I fall somewhere in between. I have approached several folks already who I know will be key characters in the story – particularly the ones about whom I share telling details or characters whose role in the story is less than flattering. And some characters have chosen to be anonymous: for example, Karen and Susanna have pseudonyms (one asked for one; the other I’ve given because of the nature of her role in the story).
All of the people I mention in this story will receive a copy of the manuscript before any kind of publication of this memoir in order to allow them to give me their feedback on the story – particularly on the parts of the story where they make an appearance – which I will take into consideration throughout the editing process.
However, I do fall into the camp that believes that, ultimately, writing a memoir is about recording your own unique perspective of the events of your past. For me, that means that I value the opinions and thoughts of the folks I write about, but that I get to make the final call about what I tell and about how I tell the story.
Why are you writing your falling-in-love story?
The season in which I fell in love with my husband-to-be was a rich one for me – I had just graduated from college, I had moved to a new city, I entered therapy for what I consider to be the first time, and, oh, by the way, I just happened to fall in love with the guy who would be my husband.
In other words, the season of our friendship, dating, and engagement encompassed a time of great change for me personally. I have found myself returning in my mind to that season often, particularly as I reflect on what God taught me during that season and how that changed me as a person.
Particularly, the main theme that continues to compel me is the question of how God speaks to us – and how that influences the events of our stories. A claim of a divine voice at all is disputed in many circles. So to me, these questions remain relevant even beyond our own personal story of falling in love.
I hope that this story will also be an affront and an encouragement to those who read it. My story is not tidy or easy, like a romance novel might suggest a dating relationship SHOULD be. For that reason, I think my story could be an important one to tell – particularly within the environment of present-day evangelicalism (evangelicalism: a particular movement within Christianity in which my husband and I grew up, fell in love, and currently live.)
How much of the story is written, and how much is left to write?
I have probably 125 pages written of the memoir so far.
I have focused most of my efforts so far on writing scenes, like the ones I’ve published here, but I also plan to include additional content in the book, such as chapters I’m calling “reference materials” (or at least until I can think of a more interesting thing to call these chapters).
My goal in these additional sections is to give my reader a chance to get to know more of my story, while trying to avoid doing it in a “talky” way. Rather than write essays about myself, my home life, my relationship with God growing up, etc., I’d prefer to do that less directly. I want my reader to feel like they’re reading a pile of research collected by a biographer about me. I’ve opted to write lists in which I share parts of my story (like this one), to publish real-life emails and journal entries from the time-period and from my past, or to include any other relevant bits of information about me in any other creative way that I can think to do it. (Text message conversations, perhaps? Bits of memorabilia, like tickets? I’m not exactly sure what will fit well with the finished scenes yet, but everything is game!).
I may also include the stories of others who have heard (or claimed to hear) a word from God (or an invisible being or consciousness outside of themselves), in order to contrast their experiences with the main storyline within the memoir.
I’m still exploring the best way to tell this story.
What do you plan to do with this story, once it’s written?
I plan to find a literary agent and publish it as a work of memoir at a publishing house – preferably one that doesn’t label itself as specifically “Christian.”
If you’re the praying type, please pray that I can reach that goal! 🙏🏻
Why are you publishing scenes from your memoir serially?
The publishing landscape has changed: once, publishing houses found an audience for each book and author that they published. Today, authors bring their audience with them to a publisher – the audience an author has developed over time is called an author’s “platform.” And since publishing a book is an expensive endeavor, when an author has a “platform,” that makes their work a good business investment for a publisher to take a risk on – a publisher has a better chance for a positive return on their investment (ROI, as it’s called in the business world).
My serialized publications of my memoir are an attempt to build a “platform,” or an audience who is committed to making this book a success and to supporting me as an author.
Additionally, I am utilizing the serial publication of the memoir on my blog as a chance to go back and edit my work before posting again, which helps me refine what I’ve already written. It also gives me just a bit more pressure to keep working than I’ve had before – which will hopefully reach my goal of finishing the work sooner!
How will the memoir end?
I married him, reader.
Have other questions?
Let me know in the comments. I’d love to address any other questions you have!
And most of all… thanks for reading!
You are the best. For realz. ✌🏻️