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    The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Memoir

    By Michele Karlsberg–

    Michele Karlsberg: Eric Poole’s new memoir Excuse Me While I Slip into Someone More Comfortable is featured in this issue. I asked Eric to talk about the Do’s and Don’ts of writing memoirs.

    Eric Poole:

    “Oh my God. Am I in it?”

    It is guaranteed that these are the first words friends and family will say to you when you announce that your memoir is getting published.

    Not: “Congratulations!”

    Not: “Your tireless pursuit of a literary goal is inspiring.”

    Just: “Oh my God. Am I in it?”
    This doesn’t make them bad people. It’s simply that publishing a memoir evokes one of two responses:

    1) fear that the truth of what a lousy human being they are will come out;
    2) excitement over a largely undeserved 15 minutes of fame.

    I’ve published two memoirs. The first was developed as a sitcom for ABC, which upped the ante even more, as those around me became obsessed with who should play them in the TV series. (Imagine a lot of suggestions in the Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence vein.)

    And I can say without hesitation that writing about your life can be incredibly cathartic. It can also be filled with land mines.

    So, I herewith present some suggestions to make your memoir experience slightly less traumatic than mine.

    • DO use fake names. Obviously, it doesn’t really work to change the names of your own family; that information is easily accessible on the internet, along with your social security number and bra size. But do consider changing the names of friends, co-workers, etc. This gives them a measure of privacy, and helps you to avoid slightly unpleasant situations, like getting sued or yelled at in public.

    • DON’T feel the need to introduce your readers to 85 different characters. Less is more. Make some characters composites. Eliminate some people. (This will piss them off, and you will never hear the end of it, but it makes for a cleaner, better read.)

    • DON’T pretend that every sentence is an exact replica of reality. Writing about events that happened decades ago means, among other things, reconstructing dialogue you couldn’t possibly remember word for word. (Readers often ask, “Do you have perfect recall, or something?”) Please. I can barely remember where I parked. What I remember in each incident is bits of dialogue (especially in the climax of a moment), along with the intent. Then I build around that. My friend “Kurt,” for example, is hilarious. He may not have said all of the lines I credit him with, but he absolutely could have. And the sum total of his character is exactly right.

    • With the exception of possible homicidal maniacs, DO try to be balanced in how you paint people. My mother was a holy handful—temperamental, demanding, a nutjob. She also had moments of incredible kindness. Throughout these two memoirs, I’ve shown her warts to the world; but I’ve also included a few of those lovely moments. They not only redeem her a bit (something that was important to me), but they also make her a more interesting, complex character. And aren’t we all interesting and complex?

    Eric Poole is the author of “Where’s My Wand? One Boy’s Magical Triumph Over Alienation and Shag Carpeting” and “Excuse Me While I Slip into Someone More Comfortable.” For more information, go to http://www.ericpoole.net/

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQI community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates thirty years of successful book campaigns.