To collate our memories

In writing memoir, since the point is to collate our memories and experiences, we do not need to do exhaustive research.

Of course, if someone does offer useful feedback, use it, so long as that information is about practical, everyday details that will make our narrative more interesting or credible. Thus, household details and timelines wil be useful; on the other hand, no matter how often Great Aunt Augusta reassures you that, “Yes, of course you can mention that I was born in an orphanage dear, no-one cares about that sort of thing nowadays…!” resist the urge to wander into the thickets of another person’s past. The past is murky, at best, Aunt Agatha may later have qualms, and without being privy to her social and emotional context, we are most unlikely to do Aunt Agatha justice.

If we are clear that we are writing about our own experiences as we remember them, this also, and quite naturally, preserves our best defence: that we are allowed to express ourselves and, in so doing, to record our impressions of our own experiences. And while the best version of these will be what we can clearly remember at that time, even our erroneous interpretations of the past, taken as a snapshot in the present day, are allowable and can be excused.

I have said that during “Stage One” writing we may borrow and abuse as much information as we like. In the privacy of our rooms we can indeed use the “delve and expose” methodology for our own catharsis; and laying bare what lies in the deepest recesses of our hearts may be necessary for our own sanity. In this situation, no-one will ever know, and no-one can challenge, what we first write. So long as we later have the courage to excise and refine ruthlessly.

Since it very challenging to be objective about events and circumstances that have caused us the most emotional pain, I prefer to stick to the “no borrowing” rule as much as possible from the outset. If we find that to be too difficult, I suggest having a separate document marked “Private and confidential” in which we record painful details before we even attempt a version that might be for publication.

Thanks for listening.

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