When I declared a writing major in the spring of 2005, at the end of my freshman year at Ithaca College, I decided to concentrate in non-fiction, hoping to one day best David Sedaris and write the next great memoir; I wanted to make people laugh, bring a few tears to their eyes, and ultimately make them think about their own lives using mine as a lens.
While I was in my program, I found it wonderfully helpful, and I was certain that my creative nonfiction essays were pure gold. The irony? All the while I was actually writing fiction. I took … well, A LOT of creative license when I would write about my life, and after a while I found myself re-writing my own history. I found it easier to rewrite my life’s story instead of reliving everything that I had already gone through.
I find it excruciatingly painful to write about myself and my life.
I didn’t want to write about my hurt, my fears, my family.
Once I actually started writing honestly about myself, I found that my essays took one of two routes:
- The Holy-Crap-This-Is-Completely-Boring-Why-Are-You-Writing-About-This Route OR
- The Wait-This-Isn’t-Non-Fiction-If-You’re-Writing-It-As-A-Fairytale/Fantasy Route.
I learned a lot in my nonfiction courses, though, and I don’t think that I would be able to write with the certainty and clarity that I can today without having taken those courses in undergrad. However, even though now I exclusively write YA, I definitely still employ nonfiction sensibilities.
Have you thought about turning your coming out story into a memoir? Sometimes, when I have tried to turn my true stories into fiction, I have also been told they are “unbelievable.” In many ways, I think non-fiction can give us MORE freedom and help us build a faster connection with the reader. Helps you learn a lot about yourself, as well. But then again, I’m biased. Keep trying- good luck!!
She makes a really good point. Memoir, when well-written, connects to readers on a more basic human level because it’s grounded in the real world and a unique interpretation of one’s real life experiences. But when you get down to it, so is YA. So is any book worth it’s salt. Even fantasy/paranormal/sci-fi. All relatable literature is grounded in reality somehow, in some way.
I write in for the young adult genre because that’s the lens through which I see the world. In many ways, I’m still a scared teenager trying desperately to make sense of the world. I still have a young mindset, even with all of my adult experience and professorial ways. I feel the need to make sense of everything that I’ve gone through, but I can’t imagine writing it as a straight-up memoir. It wouldn’t have anywhere near the impact. And maybe it’s because I still don’t have enough space from my real life fears and projections.
In undergrad, I took a class called “Autobiography.” The professor — and I’ll never forget this — told us that in order to write an effective personal essay/autobiography/memoir, you need to experience space from the event of which you’re writing about; you cannot be in the middle of something and write effectively, with perspective, about it without inadvertently injecting bias and unnecessarily heightened emotions. There needs to be a reflective period so that you can write the most effective essay possible.
In a lot of ways, I’m still in that limbo, trying to make sense of everything. And for me, writing YA has been more than therapeutic because not only do I respond to teen fiction more so than any other genre, but it allows me to explore my voice in ways that opens me up to so much more than memoir would. I can take everything I know and fictionalize it, re-writing my life so that it makes sense to me. In real life – and in memoir – you can’t have any re-do’s. Memoir is memory made sense of.
I get to live again.