My Biggest Fear Is That I Won’t Be Able to Take the “Me” Out of “Memoir”

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Can you believe the color and transparency of Island Lake (above)? I took that photo last summer in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. It’s one of my happiest of happy places, a place to which I can transport myself when I’m stressed or upset – so needed this week since we’re talking about publishing fears.

The other day a few of us Debutante Ball authors were commiserating about our pre-publication jitters when one of us (who shall remain anonymous) noted that book deals should automatically come with scripts for anti-depressants and anxiety medication. You might think that’s a gloomy thought. After all, we writers struggle to create our works and then struggle to find agents and publishers; surely, everything after that is champagne and cake and cats. Turns out…not so fast. The angst and worry continue, of course thankfully jostled together with doses of hard-earned excitement and pride.

I’m not any different from the average author in that I have all the standard fears: Will early reviewers say horrible things about Caged Eyes; how many pre-sales will come in; what publicity might we be able to garner; will I earn back my advance; how many Amazon customers will give me one-star ratings and plead that I never write a sentence again…

The thing is that being a memoirist introduces its own unique tiers of terror. At the top of that separate column is the worry about feeling extraordinarily vulnerable and exposed, like I will forever live in one of those dreams in which you realize you are naked in some public place and everyone else is properly clothed. I wonder what it will feel like to meet people for the first time even though they might already know some of the most personal and intimate details of my life. (Assuming that I have any readers at all – see paragraph above about general writer anxiety.) I worry I’ll want to walk around asking people about their most humiliating moments, about times they’ve behaved badly or failed or sabotaged themselves or about how they lost their virginity or about their relationship with their mothers or about the baggage they brought into their marriage, because asking ALL of those questions would be the only way for my knowledge of their lives to match what they know about mine.

In reality, I’ve already had to deal with many of my fears about being a memoirist, at least to a small degree. I’ve been called names like “liar” or “whore” for my allegations. After one interview I gave last year, a stranger tweeted at me that I didn’t have any business having been in the military because I had the affect of a kindergarten teacher (Did she mean that being a certified child wrangler and educator of the upcoming generation is a weak profession? I hardly think that’s the case, but I give her props for creativity). Can I handle more of all that? Yeah, I can – thanks in large part to the incredibly supportive community around me.

One of my heaviest fears is that by telling my story I’ll hurt those I love who were someone involved. Unfortunately, that’s already happened at least once. Already my memoir has come between me and someone I love deeply. I pray there isn’t more of that to come.

But above all of those worries, I fear that the cost of publishing my memoir – in terms of vulnerability, retribution, and relationships – will be for naught because I won’t accomplish what I hoped for this book.

I didn’t write this story because I wanted the most painful parts of my life documented in excruciating detail for strangers. I certainly didn’t write it as an act of “healing” or redemption. I wrote it because Caged Eyes reflects the experiences of far too many. The details of my story are unique, but there isn’t a single element of it that happened to me alone. Each plot twist has happened to at least dozens if not hundreds or millions of other people.

Caged Eyes isn’t the story of my life; it’s the story of what happens to far too many young adults. The fear which most often keeps me awake at night is the fear that that translation will be lost.

Reading this review from Kirkus last week was a moment of pure relief because the anonymous reader beautifully expressed my most fundamental message: Caged Eyes “allows readers to truly understand how victims internalize the worst accusations of the culture around them and the monumental effort to combat their own self-doubt.” YES! This memoir isn’t about me. That’s one reader who understood. Will more? I hope so.

Maybe what I’m expressing is what is true for all authors. At the end of our publication journeys, what we want is for our intentions in our stories to be read and understood. Perhaps even though the packaging of my angst as a memoirist looks different than it does for most novelists, it’s not that different after all.

 

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Lynn Hall is a memoirist, activist in the movement to end sexual violence, ultra-runner, and crazy cat lady. Her memoir, CAGED EYES: AN AIR FORCE CADET’S STORY OF RAPE AND RESILIENCE, was published by Beacon Press in February 2017. Her writing has previously appeared in the New York Times, The LA Times, Hippocampus Magazine, The Sexual Assault Report, The Manifest-Station, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and elsewhere. In the summers, Lynn copes with publication anxiety by spending too many days in the Colorado mountains, and in the winters, with pans of brownies. She lives in Boulder with her partner and their 23 cats. Just kidding…she only has five.

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This article has 2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for writing this! I too, am writing a memoir and all of the things you describe above I am feeling or worry about. I am still in the editing stage. I recently gave someone I know casually but who is also writing a memoir, a draft of the first twenty chapters. Afterwards I realized that this person will now know things about me that only my closest friends and therapist know! It is a very humbling process. I look forward to reading Caged Eyes.

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