Memory & Perception in Memoir: Is One Person’s “Inaccuracy” Another Person’s “Truth”?

wtmrn1Funny things, memory and perception. They can make a single event seem like three completely different experiences to three different people – all of whom were at the same place, at the same time.

When I’m teaching groups of first-time memoirists, there’s always someone who fears being accused of lying. And yes, there’s always a chance that someone might read your finished memoir and say, “Hey, that’s not exactly how it happened!”

Naturally, I encourage you to tell the truth. You certainly shouldn’t be fabricating anything; that would be fiction, not memoir.

However, after your sister reads your memoir for the first time, she could point a finger and say, “Hey, you wrote that Uncle Jerry’s 40th birthday barbecue was on a Saturday, but I know for a fact it was on a Wednesday. I know because when we came home, we sat on the family room floor and watched The Facts of Life, and that was always on a Wednesday. And by the way, Mommy was not wearing her culottes that day. She’d already ripped them by then, and recycled the material for a throw pillow for my bed.”

Even if your sister’s 100% correct, that doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is untrue.

So you remember that day differently than she does. So what. What’s important is that your entire family was together when Uncle Jerry got that chicken bone wedged in his throat, had to be rushed to the hospital, and lost the ability to speak forevermore.

Over time, small details can blur and merge in our memories. What’s more important in a memoir scene is what transpired and how you felt.

Here’s another example. You and your brother could’ve had an explosive argument, during which he confessed to kissing your wife on New Year’s Eve when you were in bed with the flu. If we were to ask you about it ten years later, you might remember the room being ice cold, your brother sneering in arrogant satisfaction, a feeling of impending nausea lurking at the back of your throat.  But if we asked your brother about the same argument that same ten years later, he might remember the room feeling uncomfortably close, his own heart racing and a dew of hot dread forming on his forehead. He might recall your strange indifference, the way you sat there staring at the wall, as if you didn’t care at all. He felt a pang of pity for your wife and disgust for your apathy and let out a bitter, ironic laugh.

Same scene, two perceptions.  But can we honestly say that either of you are lying about what happened?  No.

Want to have a little fun with this? Write down a memory of a time, place, or situation from your past. Next, interview someone who was also there. Without giving away anything you wrote, ask him or her to detail the event. Compare your recollections. I guarantee the results will be fascinating.

To get one-on-one help with your memoir, request a coaching session by phone

Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011). 

Featured Author: Charles A. Filius

wtmrn featured author logo



Charles A. Filius has written his stories — and now they’re available for all the world to share.  Proof that real people are writing their memoirs right now!

FiliusSelections from On A Wing & A Prayer, which is a forerunner to a larger project, was published in 2007. It is a collection of humorous and poignant essays documenting the author’s spiritual journey. He has chronicled the day-to-day existence of a befuddled and sometimes reluctant medium from the point of being a total non-believer to being one of the most unique mediums working today. There’s one thing Filius has learned that’s a constant in life – and in death: you must learn to laugh. And nobody knows that better than dead people. Life is the ultimate joke and the dead actually get it.

Dailies: Day-To-Day Reminders from My Spirit Guides was published in December, 2011. This 405-page channeled volume serves up daily messages of inspiration, encouragement, introspection and, of course, laughter. The voices of the author’s Guides are quite distinctive and diverse. Their channeled words give unique momentary glimpses into their personalities as well as their own heightened perspectives. Filius discovered over time that not all Spirit Guides see everything the same way. They are as much individuals now as energy as they were as physical beings. And, like us, they are still learning. It truly is an on-going process.

Purchase here:

Selections from On A Wing & A Prayer

Dailies: Day-To-Day Reminders from My Spirit Guides

WIN! 2 Leuchtturm1917 Notebooks by Kikkerland – The Ultimate Memoirist’s Notebook

leuchtturm blog photoWriters love notebooks.  But you’ve never seen notebooks like these.

The Leuchtturm1917 notebook by Kikkerland has some great features for memoirists.

In the large, lined version (shown above), the Leuchtturm1917 contains 249 numbered pages.  Plus, there’s a blank index, making it easy to organize and easily find your thoughts, stories and ideas.  Plus:
• Acid free 80gsm paper
• Stickers for labeling and archiving
• Thread bound book opens flat
• 8 perforated and detachable sheets
• Expandable pocket inside back cover

This is a writer’s notebook on steroids.

What’s not to love?

To see the entire line of Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, shop the official site.  The large notebook shown above sells for $16.00.

Meanwhile, how’d you like to win TWO large lined Leuchtturm1917 notebooks for your memoir project?  FIVE RANDOM WINNERS will win TWO large lined Leuchtturm1917 notebooks.   Here’s how to enter:

Like Write That Memoir Right Now on Facebook by midnight, EST on Sunday, February 3, 2013.  (That means, go to our Facebook page and click the “Like” button.)

Five winners will be selected at random.  Winners will be contacted via Facebook.  We must receive a reply including your shipping address no later than midnight EST on February 13, 2013.  If we don’t hear from you, another winner will be selected.

Good luck, authors!

Hmm…Are You SURE You’re Writing Your “Biography”?

wtmrnblog2Writing your biography is somebody else’s job — not yours.

The author of a biography is writing about the life of someone else.  Typically biographies are about the rich and famous: actors, corporate giants, star athletes, politicians.

When you’re writing a true story about yourself, you’re either writing a memoir or an autobiography.

So what’s the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?

An autobiography is a book the author writes about himself, but it tends to be broad in scope, covering all the major events and phases of his life.  In an autobiography, you’re likely to learn about the author’s birthplace, his parents and siblings, his education, career, marriages, children, etc.  This is why autobiographies are usually written by older people.  An autobiography takes a birds-eye view of the author’s entire life — so if you’re, say, 21 years old and you expect to stick around for a while, it doesn’t make sense to write your autobiography.  You’ve still got a lot of living left to do.  What you want to write will most likely be a memoir.

A memoir focuses on a narrow sliver of the author’s life. Rather than covering all the major areas of an individual’s experience, it gives the reader a more detailed glimpse into just one part of that life. That one part can be defined in many different ways, such as a period of time, an emotional challenge, or an illness or other adversity.

And by the way, this is why it’s possible for one author to write multiple memoirs. He hasn’t lived more than one life – he’s simply writing separate books about separate aspects of his life.

For example, let’s look at the multiple memoirs of Wade Rouse and Josh Kilmer-Purcell.

Josh Kilmer-Purcell debuted on the literary scene with his memoir I Am Not Myself These Days in 2006, which was about his adventures as a female impersonator.  Later, in 2011, Josh published The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir.  Two books about two very different periods in his life.

Wade Rouse has written several memoirs, including Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler, a book that tells tales from a time when he worked in a high-brow prep school. In his book America’s Boy, Wade wrote about the challenges of growing up gay in the Missouri Ozarks in the 1960s and ‘70s. In still another memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream, Wade relates the story of moving to rural Michigan and adjusting to life in the remote woods.

Memoirs also tend to be more personal and reflective than autobiographies. Think about it – an autobiography has a lot of ground to cover. It’s a summary of a person’s entire life.

But a memoir has more room to breathe. The author has gained some distance between herself and her experience and has identified how that experience has changed her. Memoirs helps us learn more about ourselves by looking deeply into what others have learned about themselves.

To get one-on-one help with your memoir, request a coaching session by phone

Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011). 

Promote Your Memoir — Be a Featured Author!

Read My Hips reading & book signing at Barnes & Noble

Here’s a reading/booksigning I did for my memoir Read My Hips at Barnes & Noble.

Looking for a publisher for your memoir manuscript?

Or are you looking for the very readers who will LOVE your self-published memoir about carving presidents’ profiles in grains of rice?

Whatever you’re looking for, you just might get it — especially if you’re chosen as a featured author, right here on the Write That Memoir Right Now blog!

Starting immediately, I want to help you expose your memoir (or memoir-in-progress) to the reading universe.  Tell me about your memoir!

  • What’s the title?
  • Is it finished yet?
  • Is it for sale?
  • What’s it about?

Send a brief message.  If I tap you to be featured, I’ll get in touch with you about posting an image of your book cover, a link to where it’s for sale (if it’s already published), and possibly an excerpt. You just might find yourself — and your fabulous memoir — featured right here on the Write That Memoir Right Now blog.  And who knows where that might lead!

So c’mon — let’s get this party started!

— Kim