I’ve been toying with the idea of writing my memoirs for a while now. But I’ve always written fiction, and memoirs present challenges to the what-if mindset of fiction writers. Memoirs are factual, with elements of fancy used very carefully. That’s a tall order because we rely on dialogue and vivid description to advance our plots. Also, remembering exactly what occurred, or what was said in the past is often difficult, if not impossible, and the temptation to polish up dialogue, descriptions and characters is strong. Most fiction writers need to pull their readers along by building interest, so the temptation to fictionalize memoir becomes very powerful. I’ve decided to avoid the temptation, I’m going to utilize my creative liberties and treat my memoir material as fiction; change names and alter situations where needed.

I’ve had plenty of time to read during the lockdown, and a piece of the late Alistair MacLeod’s writing helped me make this decision. He addressed this dilemma in a notation at the start of a short story – To Every Thing There Is a Season – one of my favourites, a beautifully written piece.

He wrote in the notation…‘Yet when I speak (of the past), I am not sure how much I speak with the voice of that time or how much in the voice of what I have since become. And I am not sure how many liberties I may be taking with (who) I think I was…For both past and present…are often imperfectly blended. As we step into nowness we often look behind.’ MacLeod nailed it.

I will still write and keep a private copy of my non-fictionalized memoirs, but I’m fictionalizing some of them. That way, I’ll have more short story material, and I’ll be free to tell the stories in a way that has a better chance to entertain readers, and hopefully compel them to read on. I’ll always have plenty to write about. I wonder if writers occasionally suffer from writer’s block because they’re seeking inspiration from the outside. They ignore the inspirational treasure boxes within: experiences, memories and an imagination that is not compromised by fear of crossing the line between fiction and memoir.

This post originally appeared on Festival of the Arts, edited by Kim Aubrey and Felicity Sidnell Reid.

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