How exposed do you feel?

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gettingby

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I am struggling a bit with how exposed I feel in writing about my life. It's hard to put this stuff down on the page, knowing all my secret fears and thoughts will be read by others. I'm not holding back at all because, for my memoir to truly be a good story, all this stuff needs to be a part of it. I am very happy with the writing. But I am starting to feel a bit naked.

How exposed do you guys feel while writing memoir? How do you deal with this? My goal is publication. I, personally, would never use a pen name. I want to tell this story and share it. I believe it is an important story. I have written several mini essays on the topic of my memoir that I am trying to publish now. But it makes me nervous. This is not just a story or stories. This is my life.

I think all memoirists must feel this sort of nakedness while writing. How do you not let it hold you back?
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

That's a hard one. Some of the most naked stuff has involved relationships with other people (and no, I don't mean sex, necessarily). Where I feel strongly that my going naked is going to expose someone else to injury or harm, I leave the story out. I'm not having innocent blood on my hands.

But other than that, I write the story, and acknowledge the good that will come because it's out in the world.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Sam Argent

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Not much. I'm going to use a pen name, and during the time my memoir takes place, I was wedged in with 120-130 women. Only about two of them probably remember my first name, and only one of them would know how to spell it. This lets me be as honest as I want. I don't know if I would feel the same way if I was publishing it under my real name.
 

Gringa

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How can something be a "memoir" with a pen name? Wouldn't an agent request the author match the real life MC in the story? For publicity press etc? Or am I missing something....
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Yes, a memoirist can use a pen name. It's essential for people whose stories could put them at risk. Then there're people like me who perceive the pen name to be the "real" name and use the legal name for legal purposes only.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Gringa

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Yes, a memoirist can use a pen name. It's essential for people whose stories could put them at risk. Then there're people like me who perceive the pen name to be the "real" name and use the legal name for legal purposes only.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Thanks Siri- Makes sense.

Gringa
 

SunshineonMe

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I write under a pseudonym. However, a lot of people really know who I am because I've spoken at a few women conferences. Sometimes I feel brave about it, and it doesn't bother me, and sometimes I wish I'd never done it. In general though, if it can help someone else, that makes it all worth it.

Hang in there Gettingby. *hugs*
 

mccardey

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What about just incorporating your life experience into a novel? That way you don't have to deal so much with the exposed thing, and if you're worried about hurting people, it's hardly an issue. Because everything's "made up".

It's just a thought. I love reading memoir, esp memoirs of famous, powerful people - but even these are to some extent fictionalised or bowdlerised. It's the way memory works.

(I'm not advocating this in general terms - just asking whether people who feel anxious about exposing themselves or other people through memoir, need to use memoir and real names and dates. I'm just interested, because I know those writers would have considered this. What stops them doing it?)
 

gettingby

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What about just incorporating your life experience into a novel? That way you don't have to deal so much with the exposed thing, and if you're worried about hurting people, it's hardly an issue. Because everything's "made up".

It's just a thought. I love reading memoir, esp memoirs of famous, powerful people - but even these are to some extent fictionalised or bowdlerised. It's the way memory works.

(I'm not advocating this in general terms - just asking whether people who feel anxious about exposing themselves or other people through memoir, need to use memoir and real names and dates. I'm just interested, because I know those writers would have considered this. What stops them doing it?)

If you try to pass a memoir off as a novel, then it isn't really a memoir. If you read a lot of memoirs, you can see that memoirs (even plot heavy ones) are written differently than novels. And knowing a story is true vs. made up provides a different experience for readers. There are many reasons a writer chooses to write memoir instead of a novel that draws on life experiences. They are not as interchangeable as you are trying to make the sound.
 

Gringa

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What I've concluded is. There are two hats. A fiction hat and a non-fiction hat. There's just something about trying to write non-fiction under the guise of fiction and vice versa. In non-fiction, if it's my life and I say it's my life then there's a belief as in "life is stranger than fiction." If I try to fictionalize my memoir, heck I may as well write another story. Yea, I can draw upon this, elaborate on that, erase this, delete, switch, cut and paste and before I know it I'm in another country, another book.

Plus there's a voice in memoir. A voice of truth. In fiction, to me, the dots need to connect more. Otherwise it might slip into disbelief. The stakes might need to be higher in fiction. In fiction the story "might" have to make more sense. Otherwise the reader might say, "hmmm..." that makes no sense. The reader might ask why all of the sudden this happens, then that. Whereas in real life this and that happens all the time and we never question it.

It's almost the truth of opposites. A memoir can be nutty and believable. Fiction has to be believable to believe the nut.

Gringa
 

mccardey

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If you try to pass a memoir off as a novel, then it isn't really a memoir. If you read a lot of memoirs, you can see that memoirs (even plot heavy ones) are written differently than novels. And knowing a story is true vs. made up provides a different experience for readers. There are many reasons a writer chooses to write memoir instead of a novel that draws on life experiences. They are not as interchangeable as you are trying to make the sound.

Sorry - I expressed it badly. I know they're not interchangeable, I I was just wondering if someone could explain what the reasons are that makes it worthwhile to write the memoir despite the issues of exposure. I kind of get the answer from Gringa's post though.

Carry on! :Sun:
 

Jim Williams

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Having lived on the streets for a number of years, I'm familiar with feeling exposed. In my experience, writing a memoir also left me exposed but in a different way. On the street, I was constantly aware of people being able to see everything I was doing. Such things as sex were close to being impossible, or at least only done with elaborate hiding. Everything related to taking care of personal business, from hygiene to the bathroom were also done with the exposure one would find in a locker room.

I found all such things in writing a memoir barely mattered in the least. Even talking about one's dirty laundry or misadventures, (jail time spent or such) also didn't matter so much anymore. It's as if from having been homeless, one expects everyone who sees you feels you don't have such a desirable past in the first place, and such sensitivities as to what people may think, quickly fade.

Now, having finished the book, what I find I'm feeling most exposed about is any personal emotional truths I believe and have shown. It seems anything I've said that could make someone else angry or upset, results in my having imaginary arguments with such a reader, who strongly disagrees or is disgusted or some such thing with some position I've exposed. Exposing what may have led to having such an opinion, doesn't seem to have the same impact as to what the opinion is itself.
 

johnrobison

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In my opinion, if you use a pen name, you lost a lot of credibility. I felt exposed too, when I first published stuff, but the response was overwhelmingly supportive and I am largely free of that fear today as a result
 

Clairels

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I started out writing mostly fiction, and when I used to workshop my novels and short stories, even that was agony. I once described it to a classmate as being mentally assaulted. I know that sounds overdramatic, but sometimes it was brutal. Even when you're not writing about yourself, there's a lot of you on the page.

I worry a lot more about exposing myself, to be honest, than I do about exposing others. I use false names for everybody in my memoir, and I know most of them will never read it anyway or make the connection between my book and the person they knew.

Then again, my memoir hasn't been released yet, so we'll see what happens. I did have a personal essay get some exposure online, and the people in it (including one very well-known writer) took it all with good humor, though I worried about how they'd come off. Sometimes you find things are a much bigger deal to you than they are to others.
 

Ravioli

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I got the same problem, both with fiction and non-fiction.

I'm currently working on some final touches of my fiction WIP, which has many dark and twisted elements in it. Praise the Lord that the 17-year-old raping her callboy brother, is of legal age in the place of the story, and where the book is being written. But still *coughledeewheeze*

And then there's my memoir. It wouldn't be worth writing without those anecdotes that make me unmarriable/undateable/untouchable in the eyes of many. While I'm not ashamed of any of it, I know society. I know how to see things from the eyes of the majority, and I don't like what I'm seeing. I see DOOOOOOOOOOOOOM-ah!

Now you'll all say "PEN NAME DUDE!" but dayum I love my anecdotes... my crazy memories... my fiction... I kinda want to take full credit and say THIS IS MINE I'M INCREDIBLE Y'ALL but seriously, that stuff is messed up... I don't want my Mom getting her hands on the novel and commenting on it, or looking at me funny. But on the other hand, I'm a very narciciss... how to spell that? who likes to say "Yeah that'd be mine, now give me attention".

For now, I'm using an anagram. I mean, if I use a pen name and people who know me, read it, they'll recognize me for the content. I also made the mistake of signing my illustrations with my real name. But at least people who don't know me won't judge me for my work.
But mehhh, it's a proud name from a family of writers and book lovers, hiding it is like... meh :(
 

Lavinia

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I have to agree with John Robison. I don't want to read a memoir of someone who is still hiding for whatever reason. A big part of the reason people read memoirs is the relatability factor. That's the power of memoir - to relate to your reader. It's also very important to the publishing industry. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to market a book where the author can't be a part of that. Publishers have you fill out a very long and detailed author questionnaire so that they can think of every angle to use to market the book. For example, if you graduated from NYU, or you belong to a certain philanthropic organization - they'll use that in their marketing plan for you. I would think that using an assumed name would tie their hands behind their backs. But that's just my thoughts.

And yes, you're absolutely correct in telling the difficult truth of your life. When I speak at conferences, I often say that the most important moments to include, are the ones that make you cringe when you think about including them. That's what makes readers relate. In my memoir, I talked about my father's fits of cruelty due to PTSD. I had him read it first. I was so nervous. When he finished it, he said, "Well, it's the truth." I still think he's very brave for allowing that to stay in the book.

Best of luck to you. Write it the way that it comes out. Worry about publishers and so forth after it's done.
 

Emily Winslow

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Lavinia! You're back! Nice to see you here again :)

A lot of people have assumed that I will use a pen name for my memoir, but I've never considered it. It's inseparably about me.
 

Lavinia

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Hi, Emily! Your story is your truth and that's what will resonate with your readers. Glad you're not using a pen name! Karen
 

Ruth2

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More so than I thought I would. Now that I'm working on the English version, I'm cutting nuances that I let pass in the Slovenian version. It's not the story that I'm cutting, but the voice is getting toned down.
 

rolandogomez

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Nice thread/post. I really enjoyed reading all the comments because even though I've published non-fiction self-help and how-to books, I've led an interesting life as an established photographer of women, photojournalist, journalist, etc., traveling and working in 43 countries. From Playboy Playmates to American Idol stars and even photographing the Presidents of various countries including ours at one time or another. I was a soldier too, from Desert Storm to Haiti, to the Rwanda Refugee crisis. I apologize in advance if this sounds narcissist, but it's who I am and that's how I earned my largest tearsheet, cover story, Parade magazine, circulation 30 million.

Now my dilemma is that everyone tells me to write about my life, that it would make an interesting book. Part of me wants to, the other part constantly asks, "Do you really want the world to know 'all' the truth?" Once it's out there, it's out there and you really can't take it back. How will you be looked upon after it's out? It does make me nervous as you mentioned, but at the same time, It's like I feel I need to share these things so people can better understand what shaped me, not just the things like being there when the Berlin wall came down, or seeing the thousands of dead refugees in Rwanda, but also how my father treated my mother and as a child how that impacted me into what led to whom I am today.

The other part of me started writing about my life as "fiction based on true events" novel where only I would know the true parts. Herein lies the problem, as I'm always been a non-fiction writer and it's like everything I see in fiction is all these rules of things you must have, must do, or not do. The rules scare me more than the writing. Non-fiction is just proper grammar, a well written manuscript, no real hard-fast rules I've ever worried about.

So when I look at "do I make it a fictionalized account, with made up names," or "do I just tell like it really was," the easy way out from a writing standpoint is just tell it like it was, write freely, don't worry about the rules, just be yourself. There are things I've done that I'm proud of, and other things I'm not. So on one hand, thanks for this thread/posts and comments by everyone. I'm still undecided, but this whole dialogue is helping me understand and hopefully I'll figure out the approach soon. I fear with you the nakedness and I'm leaning to just tell it like it is, shock factor to some and all, and overcome that fear. Thanks everyone participating on this thread as it truly inspires me. rg
 

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