Retrospection is Key in Memoir Creation

Part three of a three part series. 
“Writing memoir is like preparing yourself to go to confession,” says Frank McCourt, who didn’t publish Angela’s Ashes until he was 66. “You have to examine your conscience.” And that entails honesty. You can’t write an effective memoir if you’re worried about family and friends looking over your shoulder. Even if the truth hurts, if it is truthful, then there’s no other way to present it. At the very least, readers will recognize the courage in that and respect you for it.
The most integral part of successful memoir writing is retrospection. It’s not enough to just chronicle your life as if you were a newspaper reporter. Memoir demands that you write about what you’ve learned from your experiences. For instance, Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle initially wrote about her childhood as a detached observer, and the result, her literary agent told her, was a story that read like it was “wrapped in cellophane.” Only when she assumed the persona of herself as a little girl did it become real and powerful.
In many ways, writing a memoir is like painting. You slap some words on a blank canvas, take a few steps back, look at how they’re coming together, then refine things further. That step back is retrospection. It’s thoughtfulness. It’s an attempt to figure things out. It’s the search for your truth.
“A smart therapist once told me that what I had done in this book was exactly what he tries to get patients to do, and that is confront the truth,” says Walls. “For many years I was running from it, but the truth has a way of catching up with you, and this was my way of coming to terms with it. The things that haunt you, the things that have power over you—once you confront them, they lose their power. So many people ask me, ‘How can you forgive your parents for treating you that way?’ Well, actually, the person I had to forgive was myself. By sitting down and telling what really happened, I was able to understand it for the first time.” 


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