13 Apr A Memoir Is For Nobody, Somebody, Anybody.
There are many theories as to why memoirs and autobiographies are being both written and read by more and more people. Millennials are reading more true-life stories and Baby Boomers are writing more autobiographies.
Never too young.
It’s been touted that Millennials, distanced from real relationships by technology, are getting inspiration and guidance from reading autobiographies. It’s also true that Millennials themselves are writing autobiographies, eschewing the notion that they have not lived enough to know enough.
At the age of 29, Noelle Howry wrote ‘Dress Codes’ a coming of age memoir and account of her transgender father’s transition to womanhood. She later wrote that although she was embarrassed that her children could access this ‘tell-all’ account of her early life, she was still proud of her memoir. Another memoirist, Laurie Sandell published ‘The Imposter’s Daughter’ when she was in her 30s. She used her talents as a cartoonist to tell the story of her con-artist father in drawings. She says she is more inhibited than she was and doesn’t know if she could be that honest now.
Some people can live a lifetime and remain as ignorant as when they first started out and some learn more in their first twenty years than their parents ever did. It’s not about how old you are, it’s about what you’ve experienced and how relevant those experiences are to your readers. In addition, the younger writer’s ignorance of how much more censored they might become is the reader’s gain because we get the truth.
The Nobody Memoir.
Then there are the ‘nobody memoirs’ or memoirs written by unknowns, some of whom, as a result of their scribblings may become very well-known indeed. Think ‘Angela’s Ashes’ by Frank McCourt. Self-publishing and reality TV put both tools and inspiration into the hands of ordinary people with stories to tell.
In a New York Times article Neil Genzlinger described the nobody memoirs as ‘people you’ve never heard of, writing uninterestingly about the unexceptional.’ That may be true of a lot of memoirs but heck, Amazon is littered with the autobiographies of people you have heard of writing about the exceptional and making it uninteresting. Genzlinger’s rule of thumb is: ‘If you didn’t feel you were discovering something as you wrote your memoir, don’t publish it.’ He’s right, although it’s hard to believe that anyone could write a memoir without discovering something about themselves; and not publishing is different to not writing. Writing a memoir is a galvanising experience and everyone who does it feels stronger for the mental and emotional detox. So, you don’t necessarily need to put it out there.
Never too old.
Why are more and more Baby Boomers writing about their lives? Maybe because later in life when mortality bites and we realise a few yellowing photo albums and a house full of bric-a-brac might be our only legacy, a stab at a memoir becomes more appealing. Combined with the fact that we have more time on our hands for longer, and internet access to all the tools we need there’s not much that stands in the way of immortalising our lives.
And of course, who’d miss the chance to teach those Millennials a thing or two?
Have a go at writing about your childhood with Johnnybio’s Child and Teenager chapter, it’s free to try.