Have You Ever Thought About Writing a Memoir?

I have. In fact, I have three non‑fiction book ideas I’m thinking about right now, and they really could be written as memoirs. Or would it be better to write them as novels, give my MC (that would be moi) a different name and take great “Poetic License”?

My three books ideas are

  1.  About my nearly 30‑year fight with three‑time bouts of cancer.
  2. My trip in 1967 driving to California (shortly before the ’67 riots), flying to Hawaii, taking a 29‑day cruise past our west coast, through the Panama Canal, through the Caribbean islands, across the Atlantic, to Portugal, France, and England — where I bought a mo‑ped to drive through England, Scotland, then France, Spain and Italy.
  3. My evolution from student to career teacher in junior high schools (just enough to know not to do that again!), multiple high schools and most of Utah’s colleges and/or Universities.

I happened to look at an old article in Writer’s Digest online, from Jan. 23, 2012 called “10 Ways to Tell If Your Story Should be a Memoir or a Novel” by Adair Lara. It seemed like a pretty good guide to help you (ME!) decide.

I’ll give you her 10 categories, but I urge you to read the original, (if you can’t find it, let me know — I’ll send it to you from my archive (BenschWensch@yahoo.com) — if this is something of serious consideration for you.

Write It as a Novel:

  1. If I need to make up some things.
  2. If I would like my family to stay on speaking terms.
  3. If I think I may not remember some things as clearly as I’d like.
  4. If I need to include events that did not happen to me, personally.
  5. If my “inspiration” for this story is just a spark of real life, but probably not a complete story arc.

Write It as a Memoir:

  1. If readers will strongly identify with my story, and I want to share the truth of it.
  2. If I don’t want to work around inconvenient, stranger‑than‑fiction facts to maintain a “shapely plot.”
  3. If I find fiction’s “unlimited choices” overwhelming.
  4. If I want to write in a quirky, appealing voice.
  5. If I’m writing this to explore questions I have about the events.

What examining these 10 items told me about my stories:

Cancer story: straight memoir, throughout; even though I intend to have the “quirky” voice

The Trip: oh, boy: sounds like novel . . . only it really could be memoir

Evolution to teacher: memoir, if I can make it as “real” as the old Up the Down Staircase.

Guess I’ll just have to start with the Cancer story: I’ve got good back‑up for information with my current surgeon and former radiologist, and the others are more likely to be mongrel breeds between novel and memoir. And that’s OK. Just looking at the ten categories above did help me think my stories through. And, hopefully, they’ll help your thinking as well.