To Memoir Or Not

Chavisa Woods quotes Harry Crews in this post on LitHub.

“The writer’s job is to get naked. To hide nothing. To look away from nothing. To look at it. To not blink. To be not embarrassed or ashamed of it. Strip it down and let’s get down to where the blood is, the bone is, instead of hiding it with clothes and all kinds of other stuff, luxury!”  [Harry Crews]

I have not read Chavisa's memoir (though I am bookmarking it for my next round of book buys), nor have I heard of Harry Crews before. Yet at the moment both of them are officially in my head and unintentionally intimidating me.

Minutes tick by while I sit here trying to formulate sentences about the concept of a writer getting naked in the pages of a manuscript. Hiding nothing in my writing is daunting to say the least. Where do I sit? Right on the cusp. On the edge of the cliff, my feet dangling. My heart pounding. Tentatively peeking over the edge, unable to jump.

Don't get me wrong. I try. Occasionally, I even grip the edge of the cliff and carefully shimmy down the side of it, one foot hold at a time. It gets me places. Slowly. Without the rush of diving head first into the pit of unabashed freedom that comes with that midnight skinny dipping session. Or so I've heard.

Secrets are meant to be kept. Abuse, dysfunction, drugs. You aren't supposed to talk about those things. And if you break the rules, you break the bonds. Confusing, I know. Seriously, how does a person memoir? Add to that the simple side of the dilemma that Chavisa mentioned: she didn't want to write her memoir because it was re-traumatizing. Think about that. If the raw, gritty details of a person's experience are awful, why would she want to relive it to write about it?

That's one thing I learned from hearing Amy Tan speak. She weaves memoir-like details into her fiction.

But is that the right approach for all writers? Is that the right approach for me? A few months ago, I wrote a first draft of a memoir. Typed it out in less than a month. One of those lousy first drafts. I even started back through with a first round of edits. I told my husband about it...mentioned to him that it wasn't something I'd sell at my pop-up shop because that would mean selling it to local people. You know, people I actually know.

Talk about putting clothes on something. Parka anyone? Long flannel pajamas? While hiding behind words isn't debilitating, it is frustrating. I want to flourish on the page. Hold nothing back. Like the episode of FRIENDS where Rachel is dared to walk around the house naked.

Although I adore Amy Tan's writing (The Bonesetter's Daughter, anyone?) and strive to emulate her writing style, I want to be all in. I want to feel that rush that comes with sharing a secret and pouring the gritty details on the page. So, I'm going back to that memoir during July's NaNo Camp. Finger's crossed this time I walk away with a better draft. One that sheds its outwear and shines through right to the marrow.

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