Shortly before Christmas, my wife Claudia was reading through the stack of magazines that gradually accumulate by the sofa in our den. She stopped to rip an article from the latest AARP magazine and handed it to me. It was titled “Write the Next Great Memoir.”
The contest was sponsored by AARP and the Huffington Post. They were looking for entrants to submit the first 5,000 words and a synopsis before February 15. If selected, you would be asked to submit your completed memoir of 20,000 to 50,000 words. The winner gets prize money and his or her work published by Simon & Schuster with excerpts printed in the AARP magazine and the Huffington Post.
Intrigued, I stared at the article for several seconds. I’d entered writing contests in the past, but they had all been fiction, either short stories or the first chapters of my books. I’d recently won a short story contest, and I’m sure that’s what prompted Claudia to share the article. But this was a much larger stage than the prior contests I’d entered.
I’ve always written fiction for a reason—actually for several reasons. It freed me from facts. It let my imagination wander, and it let me hide within the story. This would be different—much different. I started listing in my mind what there was about me that might interest readers of AARP and the Huffington Post. When I think of memoirs, I think of war heroes, presidents, accomplished musicians, actors, mountain climbers, and astronauts. I was none of those. Still, the thought of writing my memoir fascinated me. I set the roughly torn article on my desk. Christmas was coming, and we were headed out of town to visit family. I’d think about it later.
On the flight back to our home in Charlotte, I jotted down thoughts on my laptop—mainly highlights and lowlights of my life. Could I share these events with others? Would they be of any interest? Should I make my memoir light-hearted and airy, or serious, filled with my life’s lessons?
With the exception of my wife, I’ve never written about my family in my short stories, in my novels, or even in my blog. My kids have been off limits and would stay that way. My memoir would have to be strictly about me, my work, my ups and downs, my friends, and my acquaintances. Even then, there are considerations to be made before including people from my past. How would they view the way I’ve portrayed them? Does it violate what they’d consider private?
I studied the list of events I’d composed. There was some good stuff on the list—some funny, some sad, some inspiring. I was a product of the 60s, a baby boomer. Maybe this would interest AARP readers. I began to think it possible, and closed the laptop.
At 2,000 words into my story, I’ve already found this the most difficult writing I’ve ever done. I parse my thoughts and my choice of words much more thoroughly. The character I’m developing for my readers is me. I know me. It should be easier, but it isn’t.
My wife is my editor. She’s a trained professional and very good at polishing my writing, but this project may need an additional set of eyes to review and suggest changes, someone not so close to the story. I will reassess my work before submitting the first 5,000 words to the judges. I may get cold feet before then. This may end up being a project just for me, or it may end up being published by Simon & Schuster.