Taking honesty to a new level (in your writing)

Writing an awesome memoir requires being honest with the reader.

This is pretty basic, Memoir Writing 101. You’ve got to reveal your true self through your story, because if you don’t, readers will know it. They might not be able to put their finger on it, but they’ll know something’s off. If you’re not completely and utterly honest, your voice won’t feel authentic and the story won’t work.

So we know the importance of being honest with the reader. But what about being honest with yourself?

During my last round of revisions, I kept feeling like something was missing from my story arc, from my tale of personal growth. It took a lot of digging, but I finally realized I wasn’t being completely honest with myself about why I chose to travel alone.

I’m not going to tell you exactly how this plays out in my manuscript because it’s crucial to my book’s theme, and I don’t want to give it away. It has to do with my deep-down fears and how they affect how I live. But my point here is that it took me this long — I’ve been working on my memoir now for a year and a half — for this light bulb to go off in my head. It took me this long to peel back the layers (cue the onion analogy) and see my story for what it really is, and to see myself for who I really am.

Let me tell you, I never expected to confront — or even think about — my fears through this memoir. After all, I’m writing a fun story of adventure travel! But the story arc gets stronger every time I peel back one of those layers. And I’ve peeled back so many by this point that I’m recognizing pieces of myself that I didn’t know existed. I never knew I had grown in this particular way until now. That’s the coolest thing about writing memoir — It has forced me to analyze myself, my motivations and my goals, and helped me learn more about me.

[tweetmeme source=”alexisgrant”]

So next time you sit down to work on your personal essay or life story or even understand the motivations behind a character in your novel, take the whole being-honest approach to the next level. Don’t just ask yourself whether you’re being honest with readers. Think hard about whether you’re being honest with yourself.

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7 Responses

  1. Excellent post, Alexis. Honesty is crucial, especially in our writing. Thanks for sharing how writing this memoir has revealed things to you about yourself. That’s an awesome benefit that can continue to work for you in the future.

  2. This, I think, is the hardest and most rewarding thing about writing. As Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” That’s the reason I write, and it’s the reason I avoid writing. Because that discovery is both invigorating and terrifying. And I often think that writing is the only way to get there.

    I’m glad you keep diving in. You’ll continue to find much, much more.

    • Was he also the one who said something like, I don’t know what I think until I write what I know? Or maybe I’m butchering it, but you get the idea…

  3. Alexis,
    These are great points you make about memoir writing. I am also finding new levels of awareness the more I write. The story just keeps revealing itself in new ways that I hadn’t even thought of or remembered. I think the honesty aspect is a key component and it is important to be open to it. I enjoyed the post. I posted on narrative arc this week

    Kathy Pooler

  4. This is so, so true. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve been struggling with one of my characters and making her feel authentic and real. It’s amazing how sometimes it’s so hard to be honest with yourself about emotions/feelings/fears, let alone your readers, even when you’re writing a fictional character. Writing truly does force you to bear your soul. Thanks for this post.

  5. I worked on my memoir for 10 years and it was a constant process of discovery. You think you know your own life. What you know are the events that occurred and the people involved. But the deep work is finding out about you as you relate to all these things. Way to go, Alexis. Can’t wait to read it.

  6. […] direction of some interesting and useful advice from around the blogosphere and www – Ask yourself: are you being honest on the page and with yourself? – And, just for fun, let’s have a laugh with […]

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