It all comes down to one question. Did that really happen that way? Memory is a tricky thing. However, when writing a memoir, it is your job as an author to bring as much validity to the story as possible. We’ve all heard about that best selling author that turned out to be a liar. If I don’t remember this exactly the way it happened, will they call me a liar too?
Worrying about that prevented me from writing for a long time. Whenever I reached a moment of uncertainty, I stopped writing, and eventually gave up. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a professor at my school that I was able to put that fear aside.
He told me that a memoir is called creative non-fiction for a reason. While we try to keep as close to the truth as possible, in the end, you’re writing a story. Readers don’t think of the character as you do, they see it as a character in a book. He urged me to see it the same. “It is a character based on you, with a story based on your life.”
That one simple sentence helped me to keep writing when things got foggy. Is my memoir entirely true? In a word, no. The events that took place are true, but most of the people’s names have been changed. Some of the details about where we were or which day could be off. Dialogue gets reconstructed, and though I try my best to keep it to the actually conversations that took place, I don’t remember every word that was said. I recall the essence of a conversation and that’s where I get creative.
Do any of these things prevent you from writing? Do you agree that creativity can be a part of a true story? Some people don’t and that’s okay too. However, I believe intentions matter when writing. If you intentionally fool your audience, then that’s fraud. If you do your best to recreate truth, but have to fill in some gaps, then that’s the thin line of acceptability.