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    Writing a Memoir: It's Not Just the Facts

    One of the obstacles which trips up people trying to write memoirs is their belief that they must get all of the facts exactly right before they can tell their story. They can’t remember precisely. They begin to try to research to try to discover the facts. And they never get the book done.

    While I would never say that a memoir or family history couldn’t benefit from some research. Getting the facts right is a good thing.  I would offer a caution. Don’t get too caught up in trying to give a factually correct account of everything that happened in your life. Too many people do. A memoirist is not a reporter. Novelist Gore Vidal gave a good definition of memoir in his own Palimpsest, “…a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life.” It is capturing ones emotional reactions to events and the insights that grow from them rather than the facts that give memoirs their power. Vivian Gornick in The Situation and the Story, put it well when she wrote, “Truth in a memoir is achieved not through a recital of actual events; it is achieved when the reader comes to believe that the writer is working hard to engage with the experience at hand. What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense the writer is able to make of what happened.”

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