It took me a decade, more or less, of therapy to be at peace with my past. It took that much, if not more, to put just a piece of me and my past onto paper, ultimately publishing my first book, The S Word – a Memoir. With the book launch, I found myself surrounded by family and friends and even strangers and experiencing some … well … experiences that I’m learning aren’t all that uncommon. So I thought I would share what every memoirist might expect upon the launch of his or her book, courtesy of some of my favorite comedic moments:
This guest post is by Paolina Milana. For a long time, Paolina has told other people’s stories: first as a journalist; then as a PR pro for a nonprofit; then as a storyteller of students for a university; and most recently as a content marketer for the unsung heroes of small business. She has won awards for her fiction pieces and screenplays. The S-Word is her first full-length book.
My memoir is in part a coming-of-age story that, yes, involves the typical “S” word. S-E-X. A very brief but pretty significant scene has to do with sexual awareness and the “M” word. M-A-S-T-U-R-B-A-T-I-O-N. If your memoir touches on … um … bad choice of words … let me try again. If your memoir deals with anything having to do with, let’s call it “teenage angst” (think 1999 flick “American Pie”) you might want to prepare yourself for others reading about your private moments and wanting to share theirs. Note: this may include your grandparents. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] Just sayin’… And remember, they were young once, too.
Once you’ve taken that trip down memory lane and brick by brick built whatever color your road is back to the past, you’ll review what’s transpired and realize that what you thought back then may not have shown off just how brilliant you really are. As a matter of fact, I’ll bet that you’ll be able to come up with half-a-dozen different ways you could have said something, done something, reacted to something, etc., none of which would have been what you actually did. But good news: unlike WKRP in Cincinnati, take heart that probably no turkeys died as a result of your actions. And just remember what Maya Angelou used to say, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
You may start out writing a tell all. You may even succeed. But chances are good that if you really do the work and dig deep, your story will reveal more to you than even you thought possible. What you may have thought was, really wasn’t. What you may have assumed wasn’t, really was. The befuddled senior bartender Coach from the long-running series “Cheers” came to a revelation about his daughter, just as she realized and accepted something that had been missing within herself. The lovable goof of a dad packed some powerful wisdom. So consider cutting the people of our past a little slack and giving them credit where due. Trust me, it’ll mean more and matter – not to them – but to you.
Some people call it “opening a vein”; others call it “vomiting”; and I’m sure several other euphemisms exist, all to illustrate (quite graphically) the art (or torture) of telling a story that, at least to you and hopefully to others, is so profound in its meaning and message that it has the power to influence and change lives for the better. At least, that’s what memoirists may hope (I know I do). The truth, unfortunately, is that – especially to our most important target audiences – what one hopes hits home never even makes it to the right neighborhood. As Billy Crystal and his buddies made quite clear in the hilarious City Slickers’ scene, “He doesn’t get it. He’ll never get it.” Be prepared because some of your intendeds won’t either.
Choice. When it comes down to it, everything you are today is due to whatever choices you may have made. Writing your memoir helps you realize that sometimes you made some kick a** choices. And sometimes you really screwed up. But they were always your choices. The script for the 1985 hit “Back to the Future” was rejected 40 times before getting the green light. Forty people who said “no” probably kicked themselves just as many times. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t say yes to some other award-winning script. Same goes for McFly, both father and son. Each character’s life choices, sometimes small and sometimes big, mattered. Not all were life or death or game-changing, but every single choice opened the door to opportunity. Upon the launch of my book, I realized that the same goes for me…and for all of us. Whatever influenced us – good or bad – from our past doesn’t have to direct where we’re headed – good or bad – in our futures. And THAT means we all get to write our own stories.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.