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Shwebb
06-25-2007, 11:14 PM
Why, do you think, do people want to write about themselves?

Do you think there might be a stigma attached to someone wanting to write about his/her life? That it's perceived by some as self-indulgent?

RLB
06-25-2007, 11:20 PM
It's the story we know best, so I can understand the reasoning (though I'm not writing a memoir, so maybe someone who is will come along and answer).

I wouldn't say it's self indulgent necessarily. Some of the most gorgeous writing I can remember reading was in memoirs. But like they say with memoir, you have to have either an incredible story to tell or an amazingly compelling voice that shines through (or be a celebrity I suppose). I think it'd be a hard genre to tackle, so I respect those attempting it!

johnrobison
06-26-2007, 05:39 AM
By way of answer, I'll offer this quote from the beginning pages of my memoir. It explains some of the reasons I wrote my book.

* * *

Asperger’s is not a disease. It’s a way of being. There is no cure, nor is there a need for one. There is, however, a need for knowledge and adaptation on the part of Aspergian kids and their families and friends.

I hope readers – especially those who are struggling to grow up or live with Asperger’s– will see that the twists and turns and unconventional life choices I made led to a pretty good life, and will learn from my story.

It took a long while for me to get to this place, to learn who I am; to write this book. My days of hiding in the corner or crawling under a rock are over. I am proud to be an Aspergian.

(c) 2007 John Elder Robison

People write for many reasons, not all of which are self-indulgent.

Susan B
06-26-2007, 06:01 AM
Beautiful, John!

In my family, we are struggling with the realization that a tendency toward bipolar illness (in some of us, very muted) seems to be a part of our "way of being."

This is not something that comes up overtly in my memoir, but we've had family members diagnosed. (Most painfully, and recently, my older son.)

I've had to think long and hard about the relationship between the "bipolar tendency" and professional choices and various forms of creativity. As a psychologist by profession, then a late-in-life musician, and a later-still writer--well, it all ties in.

I am really looking forward to reading your book!

All the best,

Susan

Shwebb
06-26-2007, 06:50 AM
That is a wonderful start to your book, John. And I love the cover art!

I'm not saying that memoir is self-indulgent--I was trying to convey that I've felt that some people have that opinion, especially in the writing community, at times. I don't even like to admit that I'm aspiring to write one; the unasked question is, "What's so interesting about your life?"

One of the underlying questions, I think, are in determining why to do a memoir, what are we wanting to accomplish? To entertain, certainly. To inform? Who is our audience?

I have to say, though--I love reading about people. Always have. I remember seeking biographies in the little lending library my second grade teacher ran in her classroom.

johnrobison
06-26-2007, 07:00 AM
That is a wonderful start to your book, John. And I love the cover art!

I'm not saying that memoir is self-indulgent--I was trying to convey that I've felt that some people have that opinion, especially in the writing community, at times. I don't even like to admit that I'm aspiring to write one; the unasked question is, "What's so interesting about your life?"

One of the underlying questions, I think, are in determining why to do a memoir, what are we wanting to accomplish? To entertain, certainly. To inform? Who is our audience?

I have to say, though--I love reading about people. Always have. I remember seeking biographies in the little lending library my second grade teacher ran in her classroom.

With all due respect, if you are not sure why you'd want to write your own story, you must not be ready to do it yet.

I pondered writing a book for several years before taking any action. Then, in the space of a few months, I wrote Look Me in the Eye.

benbradley
06-26-2007, 07:35 AM
A bio/memoir is on my list of things to do, and the reason is more because it would (or might!) be cathartic more than any other consideration, such as publishability. I hope to write other things that are publishable. If my memoir is publishable, that would be icing on the cake. Well, it might actually be a miracle..

Shwebb
06-26-2007, 08:31 AM
John, I know exactly why I want to write the one memoir. It's a sort of "Cuckoo's Nest" experience I had while in the midst of fighting for my life during depression. (It's still an uphill battle at times!)

I'm interested in why others write theirs, as well. And within the "why" comes the viewpoint. I see memoir as a director of a movie might. Or as a cinematographer, to be more precise. We control what we want people to see, and from which angles. And what we don't want people to see, as well--the negative space that also defines.

But I also think I have more stories to tell than just the one. And more than one way to tell them all.

Susan, sometimes the stories we tell about ourselves are also more about the people around us, aren't they? I hope your son finds his balance.

And Ben, I agree. I don't know yet if my own story is marketable, but I hope that I'll at least get something out of the journey of writing it. I don't imagine it will be pleasurable, putting such painful things on paper. But I'm hoping it will be healing for me--and for those who might read it, someday.

Susan B
06-26-2007, 08:50 AM
I came around slowly to the idea that I was writing a book, much less something that would be classified as "memoir." And it did start more as a story about other people--another culture, a type of regional music I'd fallen in love with. And my experiences with my late mentor.

When I started to take my writing more seriously, I connected with a wonderful teacher of creative nonfiction. She kept pushing the idea that I was writing a book--not just "little personal essays" as I protested.

When my music mentor died, then I knew: I would write a book, in part to memorialize him.

But in writing groups, I kept getting pushed to share more of my own struggles, my own story. How did a settled middle-aged psychologist, a wife and mother, get possessed by this music? Turn into a performing musician?

So it's not just my story, by a long shot. But it is through the lens of my own experience that I tell the story of this music, these people, this culture.

I don't much like the term "memoir" because it is so misunderstood. Like: I am so important, I am "writing my memoirs," my autobiography. Rather than the real meaning in my case: I want to share my experience of someone/somethng else that has enduring value.

Susan

Cassiopeia
06-27-2007, 02:02 PM
By way of answer, I'll offer this quote from the beginning pages of my memoir. It explains some of the reasons I wrote my book.

* * *

Aspergerís is not a disease. Itís a way of being. There is no cure, nor is there a need for one. There is, however, a need for knowledge and adaptation on the part of Aspergian kids and their families and friends.

I hope readers Ė especially those who are struggling to grow up or live with AspergerísĖ will see that the twists and turns and unconventional life choices I made led to a pretty good life, and will learn from my story.

It took a long while for me to get to this place, to learn who I am; to write this book. My days of hiding in the corner or crawling under a rock are over. I am proud to be an Aspergian.

(c) 2007 John Elder Robison

People write for many reasons, not all of which are self-indulgent.I think yours is a very good example of why some people write about themselves. I hope you get this finished and published, my son, who has not be diagnosed with Asperger's fully suffers from many of the symptoms and we struggle to get the world to understand him. He most of all works very hard at adaptation.

I do think there is a stigma Shwebb for some that writing one's memoirs is self indulgent but really memoir is just another way of saying Journaling.

No one would ever criticize someone for keeping a journal but you say memoir and people jump to ego. Some of the best stories ever are written in the quiet confines of our daily jounrals.

I think it rocks when someone has enough in their life that they can see it serving a purpose in sharing it with others.

johnrobison
06-27-2007, 03:27 PM
I think yours is a very good example of why some people write about themselves. I hope you get this finished and published, my son, who has not be diagnosed with Asperger's fully suffers from many of the symptoms and we struggle to get the world to understand him. He most of all works very hard at adaptation.

I do think there is a stigma Shwebb for some that writing one's memoirs is self indulgent but really memoir is just another way of saying Journaling.

No one would ever criticize someone for keeping a journal but you say memoir and people jump to ego. Some of the best stories ever are written in the quiet confines of our daily jounrals.

I think it rocks when someone has enough in their life that they can see it serving a purpose in sharing it with others.

Kim, my book is finished. I do hope it helps or inspires families who struggle with similar situations today. You can preorder it here, http://www.amazon.com/Look-Me-Eye-Life-Aspergers/dp/0307395987

It will be in bookstores everywhere September 25. In early July, I will be posting tour dates as well. I'll be doing a national tour this fall and winter.

In addition to the print book, you can also get an abridged audiobook (6 hours, 6 cds) or the full unabridged work. As a mother of an Aspergian child, you may be interested in that because I read it.

The audio book is going to be available as a download, and if you have a Sony Ebook reader it's available for that too.

Cassiopeia
06-27-2007, 03:47 PM
That is just great John. :) Thanks for the link. Congrats on getting it published!

Anthony Ravenscroft
06-28-2007, 10:14 AM
I think that all writing -- okay, with the exception of stuff like news reporting, term papoers, ad copy, etc. -- should be self-indulgent.

That's where the passion comes from.

But the question is whether the writing has anything to offer beyond passion (or, in many cases, whether the passion even comes through on paper, or was it used up in the writing process).

Memoir is especially vulnerable because some people try to use prose to substitute for therapy, or as a tool to embarrass those who've done the author some wrong in the past (much easier, apparently, than face-to-face confrontation & closure).

Judging by the queries I get, most errant memoirists are mere diarists. As well, most claim to want to set a path for others, yet -- aside from recounting their tale -- have no idea what that path is, who it would appeal specifically to, or why.

johnrobison
06-29-2007, 07:09 AM
Judging by the queries I get, most errant memoirists are mere diarists. As well, most claim to want to set a path for others, yet -- aside from recounting their tale -- have no idea what that path is, who it would appeal specifically to, or why.


Speaking of that, Anthony, I just read an excellent diary. It's called Last Night I Dreamed of Peace. It's written by a young girl, a medic in Vietman. She was killed in the fighting but her diary survided, and it's a very moving tale.

It's coming this fall from my publisher (Crown)

Susan B
06-29-2007, 09:24 PM
I think that all writing -- okay, with the exception of stuff like news reporting, term papoers, ad copy, etc. -- should be self-indulgent.

That's where the passion comes from.

But the question is whether the writing has anything to offer beyond passion (or, in many cases, whether the passion even comes through on paper, or was it used up in the writing process).

Memoir is especially vulnerable because some people try to use prose to substitute for therapy, or as a tool to embarrass those who've done the author some wrong in the past (much easier, apparently, than face-to-face confrontation & closure).

Judging by the queries I get, most errant memoirists are mere diarists. As well, most claim to want to set a path for others, yet -- aside from recounting their tale -- have no idea what that path is, who it would appeal specifically to, or why.

Well said, Anthony!

Anyone who writes, or follows a creative path, or is committed to his/her own vision is vulnerable to the accusation of "self indulgence."

Really, why is it less "self indulgent" to create an entire fictional world and expect someone else to want to enter it?

You are right, I think, that the problem with memoir comes not in the choice to write it, but in the greater difficulty making tough-minded critical judgements when it comes time to revise and edit. "Kill your darlings" is tougher when it's pieces of your own life!

Maybe this is one test for "self indulgence" for writers of memoir: Do you do much reading of other memoirs? If you do, then it suggests you are drawn to the genre. If not, better ask yourself why :-)

Susan

pconsidine
06-30-2007, 01:43 AM
The issue is separated into two distinct questions for me:

1) Why would one write a memoir?

and

2) Why would one try to publish their memoir?


As far as #1 is concerned, I think everyone should write a memoir. Everyone should paint a painting, compose a symphony, knit a sweater or anything else that contributes to their sense of creative worth.

The second question is a much different matter. As I am fond of saying, "everyone should paint a painting, but not everyone should get a gallery show." I think the best memoirists are those who have had either uniquely interesting lives (Shirley Temple Black comes immediately to mind) or who have found, to their surprise, that their experiences aren't as unique as they thought (as in the example of living with Asperger's). The latter is a matter of forming community while the former is a matter of entertainment. Both are valid and both are susceptible to a flawed self-assessment that might lead me to believe I'm one or the other when the truth is that I'm neither.

Shwebb
07-02-2007, 11:50 PM
Yes, there has to be a purpose to writing memoir. Or else it can just be a recounting of a life. We have to be our own authors and editors.

So many viewpoints, camera angles--which to choose? And which to cut?

A recounting of one's history might be interesting only to our relatives and close friends. We do have to winnow out what is necessary for the true voice to be heard.

Angela's Ashes works great for me, in this respect. The voice is distinctive; I can't imagine reading this without the haunting and insistent child's voice.

For me, I want to convey two things with my own memoir--one is the idea that what I've been through in certain stages of my life (one, in particular) is different and scary and interesting--and two, that it's interesting partly because it could (and does) happen to others. It remains to be seen whether I can walk this particular tightrope without falling off it.

ResearchGuy
07-03-2007, 11:55 PM
Why, do you think, do people want to write about themselves?

Do you think there might be a stigma attached to someone wanting to write about his/her life? That it's perceived by some as self-indulgent?
Maybe, but the essential question, I believe, is whether there is a larger meaning to the memoir. If it simply a recounting of events, with no deeper truths, then it serves little purpose. But a memoir like Kiyo Sato's Dandelion Through the Crack (to be published next month) documents significant historical events (in this case, the unjust internment of some 120,000 Japanese-Americans in particular, and the immigration and Americanization of a generation more generally) while at the same time demonstrating life lessons in the value of work, the love of learning, patriotism (despite prejudice and oppression), family--especially family and its centrality!-- devotion to the land and to making it productive, and a poetic sense of life. THAT is a signal accomplishment.

See http://www.sacbee.com/creamer/story/235673.html (http://www.sacbee.com/creamer/story/235673.html) for evidence that the result is not viewed as self-indulgent.

Then read the excerpt at http://www.sacbee.com/107/story/235669.html (http://www.sacbee.com/107/story/235669.html) for a sample of style.

My review of the book (publication not until some time in the fall at the earliest, as a result of the journal's schedule) is titled (my working title, at least), "Internment and the Art of Memoir." That suggests a point of view.

So . . . in that author's case, she had a mission--a continuation of much of her life's work, I should add--to document that history as eyewitness for a generation. That is important stuff. The sheer grace of the narrative is a bonus. The fact that prominent best-selling authors like historian Kevin Starr and journalist James Fallows have raved about the book says much about how well she succeeded.

FWIW.

--Ken

Shwebb
07-04-2007, 12:58 AM
I've been following your thread in "goals and accomplishments" on the book, RG, and it sounds like a wonderful, compelling, and necessary work.

Sometimes a memoir is more of a testimony, a witness, if you will, to the world around the person. There are stories that need to be written and heard around the world, to put a face to the experience.