Part III – Writing Your Memoir

Posted in Excerpts at 10:34 am by admin


Anyone who has written a memoir has to decide, for each story and person involved, whether or not it is advisable to use the person’s real name. We are all human and make mistakes, and we all hope that these will not be exposed. Yet there are times when real names have to be used to tell the truth.

 I have a dear friend who has been writing her memoir for 15 years.  She said that, although she believes her life story would be helpful to some people, she cannot have it published until all the people in her story are dead, as she can not bear to have them hurt.  Also, the publishers are often afraid that someone will be so angry that they will attempt to bring a lawsuit.  So, there are major decisions the writer has to make.

In my story, I chose to use a pseudonym only once.  I chose to do this because I felt the person would be hurt if they recognized their radical behavior, after many years were past.  The other names, to the best of my knowledge, are real. 

 It is important to understand the difference between a memoir and a biography. These terms are often confused. Gore Vidal, in his own memoir “Palimpsest,” gave a personal definition of these two terms which clarifies them for me.  He said a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history–requiring research, dates, and facts that are double-checked. A memoir is more about what can be learned from a section of one’s life than about the outcome of the life as a whole.  The section of my memoir is my life from age three to eighteen years of age.


Reaction from my family

My family is very private. They believe in keeping family secrets. Many of them, after reading my memoir, felt that it was unnecessary and even wrong for me to divulge secrets that had been kept for so long.

Some questioned my memory of events.  It is interesting that if two or three persons see an accident or any major event, each one of them experiences it differently, based on their personal make up and past experiences.  This happened with my story.  I received e-mails and telephone calls by angry family members who said that I made up a lot of things, because they were there also and didn’t feel that way.  For instance, one person questioned my feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide. She said, “I don’t remember you being depressed or sad.”  My response was, “It was my experience, and no, I did not feel safe sharing my feelings with you, but I did with my parents.”  Another cousin was very upset because I didn’t like my Grandma Kolenda.   She wrote that she loved Grandma, and thought Grandma was a wonderful person.  My response to this was, “My relationship with Grandma was my experience, and on some level I envy your wonderful feelings towards her, and I wish I had that experience.  But remember this is my memoir, not yours.”  One very disturbed cousin wrote, “I think what you are doing is sick!”  I expected these reactions and had to prepare myself to accept them, and also to accept and love my family for who they are.

Also, I knew many people in my family would strongly disapprove of me sharing my spiritual journey, because most of them are fundamentalist evangelicals.  This caused me to feel very depressed, and for several days I was torn between filing the manuscript away and proceeding with its publication.  Like the little girl in Divine Betrayal, I still pray everyday and ask Jesus to help me in all major decisions.  It is a part of my life and personality.  I spent time praying and asking for God’s direction in making my choice.  I decided to go ahead and boldly share my controversial story.  I knew that I would get my share of criticism, some of which would be very painful and hard to endure.  When I receive harsh disapproval, I again turn to my prayers and find comfort and forgiveness.


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