Inventing the Truth As You Recall


“With a little help from our imaginations, desires, and experiences,” wrote Willett Stanek in Writing Your Life, “we have the power and the privilege to invent the truth.”

“We construct our pasts in tune with our heart’s desires to become the heroes of our own myths,” she continues.

Memoir writing is not simply retelling the facts, but of constructing story from our lives. Writers weave myths out of memories. Our recollection of an event is certain to be different from someone else’s recollection of the same event: both have viewed it, and then recalled it, from our unique perspective. How often have you recounted an event in the presence of someone else who was there, only to be corrected in the details, details that are vivid in your mind? Are you wrong or is the other person wrong? Or are you both equally correct? You are correct in your perceptions, if not in factual memory. And that is the essence of memoir writing. You write YOUR memory of events, and don’t worry about other peoples’ memories.

Your memoir doesn’t have to encompass your entire life. It can be narrowed and focused, highlighting moments of change, insight, or reflection. You decide what to incorporate into memoir, and write from your point of view alone. Don’t worry about what others might think. You are writing your story, not theirs.

“Although a memoir and an autobiography are kissing cousins,” wrote Stanek, “the similarities can be slight. Most autobiographies tent to spread all over your life, like a runny batter, while a memoir can be neat, tidy, and much easier to handle and contain.

“Imagine your life rolled out in one huge piece of dough, but what interests you at the moment is your ghastly thirteenth summer. Cut out that one piece and roll the rest up for another day. Working with a small piece of your past makes it easier to keep focused.”

Don’t worry if you don’t recall every significant or insignificant fact. Write what you remember, and delve into the impact of that memory on your life. Invent what you must, but tell the truth within.