To fictionalize or to write a memoir?

After coming from a painful encounter last week, least of which was seeing my uncle in a coma and his family–especially my younger cousins–in so much grief and pain, I decided that I was going to channel a lot of my hurt and emotions-in-process into a book. Unlike the memoir which was already half-written, I thought that this project should be written in fiction, perhaps through a novel.

So one morning, while doing my Morning Pages, I laid out the basic characters and plot. I read up on fiction-writing tips. I psyched myself up and told myself that it could be done.

Until of my my writing idols, Tweet Sering (Astigirl), messaged me this morning and sent THIS LINK.

It was a blog post by Ashley Dartnell, author of a memoir called Farangi Girl, about “growing up in Iran during the time of the Shah”. She has this to say about her memoir-writing experience, to which I could totally, absolutely relate:

… I knew that by not writing the book honestly, I would deprive my parents of a legacy to their extraordinary lives. Plus, as a writer, I believed that it was a great story and that if I could capture it, I would have a book that was gripping and could change people’s lives. For someone as passionate about books and reading as I, this was powerful.

 

I knew that fictionalising wasn’t an option—the people who were sensitive would still be hurt regardless of whether it was a memoir or fiction. And finally, the painful bits, the sad bits, the shameful bits—the bits my family wouldn’t want revealed—I felt that these are what make a life and we no longer live in a world where people believe that any life is immune from pain or mistakes. It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t worried about revealing our family secrets, just that I had thought through the implications. So,  I followed Blake’s [Morrison, Dartnell’s writing teacher and author of the memoirs When Was the Last Time You Saw Your Father and Things my Mother Never Told Me] advice and I wrote the book that was true to my life. And of course, probably predictably, it was the right decision because even just a few weeks after publication, I know that the book resonates with many people. Every day I receive emails, texts and messages telling me how moved people are and how much they relate to the book.  Having said that, there are still moments when I feel a sharp prick of guilt and I quickly say, ‘Sorry Mom, sorry Dad’…

One big reason why I still cannot write my memoir is that it is bound to hurt some people–especially some whom I love and care about very deeply. But I also wonder how long I can keep all of this bottled up inside of me, when I know that a large part of my healing–and, perhaps, the healing of others like me–is to share the story and make good use of the gifts with which I have been bestowed.

To fictionalize or to write a memoir? It is a question I will keep asking myself. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll start writing the stories anyway.

A letter to myself | Image by NTZ

A letter to myself | Image by NTZ

P.S. Thanks to Tweet Sering for that dose of inspiration! To know more about Tweet and her books, visit her website, DotheRightThing.ph.

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