Writers who work on memoir or personal essay often debate how much to reveal and worry about offending family or friends with stories that might be embarrassing. A person who witnessed or who was part of something that happened in your life, may remember the event or incident in a totally different way.
As a writer, you should be honest and you should try to stay as true as you can to what you believe and remember in relating a story or anecdote. Tell the reader what you do remember and what you don’t remember. But above all, get the story written first and don’t worry about what anyone else might think.
In my own work, I have written about a certain defining incident in my past. In addition to being a private tragedy, it was a public crime. I have researched in newspaper accounts and found that in some ways my memory differs from the news reports. I was ten years old during this period of time, so not only has my memory been distorted by time, children see and hear things in a different way.
Sometimes a writer will avoid writing about certain period in his or her life because the memories are uncomfortable or there’s been no closure. Writer Judy Goldman often tells her classes: “Write about what keeps you up at night.”
Writing a memoir can be therapeutic — but it should not be self-indulgent therapy. When I write about my life, I hope to make people think but also to laugh and shake their heads and remember a time when they were young and foolish. Or happy. Or drunk. Or in love. Or all of the above.