So, given we believe this is what God wants us to do, how do we go about it? Of course there are various ‘how to’ challenges we need to come to grips with, such as employing the right narrative voice, choosing a workable structure, using dialogue and maintaining good pacing. But over and above all that, I believe there are four big questions we need to answer before plunging in.
Firstly, what will the parameters of our proposed memoir be? Unlike autobiography, which usually involves recounting one’s entire life in chronological sequence, a memoir focuses on one main aspect or period of our lives—perhaps our childhood or a certain relationship or a particular place where we once lived. And this focus must always be maintained, if we are not to exasperate our readers with unnecessary detail or boring back stories.
A second factor to consider is why we want to write our memoir. Is it to share certain truths about the Christian life? Is it so others can perhaps learn from our experiences and be encouraged as they face similar issues? Is it even an attempt to make sense of things that have happened to us and who we are as a result? I believe these were some of the factors behind my writing my own memoir, Soul Friend. On the other hand, could we perhaps be letting self-indulgence run wild? After all, some people view memoirists as habitual ‘navel-gazers’. Worse still, could we even be trying to get back at someone or to set the record straight about past events?
A third factor to think about is how vulnerable we are prepared to be. To what extent do we need to bare our souls to the world in order to say what we feel should be said? Are we willing to risk being judged or misunderstood? Is it wiser to keep some things to ourselves? I am glad I decided to be honest and open in writing Soul Friend. I have had some very touching emails from readers who have thanked me for that. But I understand too the need for wisdom in this area.Finally, how will what we write affect others? Yes, we may decide to be open and honest—but at what cost to another’s reputation? At what cost to our own relationship with the person concerned? Again, there is wisdom required before putting something in print we might later regret. Perhaps asking others’ permission might be a sensible thing to do, as well as listening to the opinions of our manuscript readers in this regard.
So ... are you ready to write that memoir? Yes, writing about oneself can be a demanding journey, requiring untold hours of soul searching, emotional conflict and reflecting with God. But it’s worth it, many times over. After all, the results can be life-changing, for ourselves as well as for others.