Writing Memoir: A Confession and a Question 2


CONFESSION TIME. This week, I had planned to write about a topic that stymies many memoir writers — how to write about family members. When you write about your life, you will, at some point, wonder how much to include about your family members. In order to tell your story, you may uncover family secrets, bring the once unspeakable into print. You might portray them in a less-than-stellar light. You may worry that family members will dispute your version of events. Will they be offended, hate you or, worse, take you to court?

Writing about family is a controversial subject, with seemingly unlimited and opposing views. I have my own answer to this topic, which I planned to share with you, along with many famous memoirists’ opinions. And so, I began writing. 

About halfway in, I thought, This feels awfully familiar. Then, I did what I should have done to begin with: I searched my website for a similar article — and there it was. Not only had I already written about this topic, the piece I was now writing was nearly identical. This is what happens when you’ve been blogging for nine years. (I really need to keep better records!) So, rather than reinvent the blog post, I’ll just steer you to the original (and still relevant) article.

In Entanglements: Writing About Family, I discuss this issue in full and provide advice and perspective from a number of well-known memoirists.

Other frequently asked questions:

  • How do I know if my writing is good enough and if my story will interest anyone besides me?

    If you’re going to all the gut-wrenching work to write your memoir, you want it to be compelling. You want it to be a “good” memoir, worth your readers’ time. In What Makes a Memoir “Good”? I discuss how to discern the elements of “good” memoir.
  • How do I turn my memories into scenes?

    Memoir, like fiction, relies on scene to convey the story. But, if you’ve never written fiction, learning how to write scene can be a challenge. In How to Write a Scene, I define the elements of a scene, as well as provide tips and advice for using sensory details, which will draw your readers into your story.
  • How can I fit writing regularly into my busy life?

    One of the greatest challenges of writing is being consistent in your writing practice. In 5 Strategies for Writing Every Day, I outline five practical (meaning, doable) strategies that will help you maintain momentum in your writing life.
  • Is research really important? I mean, after all, isn’t memoir about memories?

    The short answer to that question is “yes.” Why Research is Important explains how research is important for more than fact checking. It can help you think more deeply about the context of your story. Research provides resources for reflection and additional information that you may end up wanting to include in your story.


Do you have other questions about memoir writing, journaling, or the general craft of writing?

My personal mission is to empower you to bring your true stories to life through education, resources, and encouragement. To do this, I need to hear from you. How can I best help you to accomplish your writing goals?

  • I'm interested in all writing challenges: journaling, memoir, the craft of writing in general, or technology and writing tools.



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


2 thoughts on “Writing Memoir: A Confession and a Question

  • Anne Bernard Becker

    Thank you, Amber. I read your original blog post and liked that you respected different approaches to this thorny problem. I have been reflecting on this issue of family exposure for several years now, before, during and after the publication of my book, Ollie Ollie In Come Free: A Memoir of Swallowed Time. I must admit Mary Karr’s practice of sharing her writing in advance would not have worked for me — I would never have had the courage to write my truth! But I do agree that being aware of any vengeful motives is absolutely key, and a reason not to publish one’s memoir.