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MEMOIR WRITING: TRICKY, BUT HEALING
When I decided that I wanted to publish a memoir about my role in the destruction of my three marriages, “Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages, I struggled with the fact that I would be disclosing intimate details about my marriages and the conduct of my ex-wives. Ultimately, after much soul searching, I came to the conclusion that I must simply tell the relevant truth as I perceived it.
There would be no point in publishing a watered-down version. The word, “relevant” is important. The memoir is about my role in the failure of the marriages. It would be unnecessarily cruel to disclose facts that were not necessary to the theme of my book, if I disclosed details for the mere sake of embarrassing my ex-wives, to show what bad people they were or for revenge. But to disclose relevant parts of their conduct in the marriage was necessary to understand my truth. I was very careful not to talk about extraneous conduct of my ex-wives. In the end, the memoir was my memoir, not theirs, so it had to be from my perspective. I recognized that. But I didn’t have to trash them in the process, and I don’t think that I did.
I dug deep to see the issues from my wives’ perspective, but in the end, they collaborated with me in destroying the marriages, no doubt about it. So I decided to tell the whole truth, as I saw it.
I tried to be as factually accurate as humanely possible and as memory allowed, but I concede, I wrote from my perspective and my memory. I did consult with two of my ex-wives who agreed to talk to me about several specific issues, and I mentioned those in the book, but otherwise, I didn’t ask them for their points of view. I decided not to do this, because it is my memoir, not theirs, and I wanted to keep it as purely that as possible.
I didn’t intend to write a debate about who was at fault.
I told each of them in advance that I was writing the memoir; I didn’t want to hide it from them. I got no reaction to that, except from my third wife, who said it made her nervous, and she hoped I would decide not to publish it. I decided not to show them any pre-publication drafts, because that would have resulted in endless debate about the accuracy and fairness of what I wrote.
Their reactions after publication: My first wife said it was well written and that she thoroughly enjoyed it and read it twice. My second wife did not respond to me, but from our adult children, I understand she was very upset. I’m sorry about that. My third wife told me she would not read it because it would upset her too much.
Although it seems obvious now, I wasn’t aware when I started writing the memoir what its affect on me would be. As I began trying to see issues from my wives’ perspective, my role in the failure of those marriages became increasingly apparent to me, something I had kept buried previously. To realize this was emotionally devastating at first. I consulted with a therapist, initially in hopes that she could shed some light on my role. But what she ended up doing was helping me with the guilt I felt as I unearthed my contributions to issues in the marriages. I was especially guilt ridden about the four children of the marriages. Fortunately (I don’t know how), all of them have turned out to be productive, reasonably well adjusted adults.
What was surprising to me was that after I finished the book, having understood for the first time a lot about my role in the destruction of these marriages, I felt healed, at peace with myself about my marriages. I hadn’t realized what a burden it was to carry around those unexamined issues, and how rewarding it felt to be relieved of that burden. I now realize how important it is after the breakup of a marriage or any committed relationship to examine and understand one’s role in what happened, rather than just burying the issues and “moving on” as I had done.
I also realized that not just thinking about these issues, but writing about them, was a big part of the healing. There is something about expressing these insights in writing that makes them graphic and permanent. So for anyone who likes to write, I especially recommend writing as a means of healing. I would have been thrilled to have written this memoir, even if I hadn’t published it, or even if it hadn’t sold a single copy, simply because of how it healed me.
Boyd Lemon-author of “Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages,” a memoir about the author’s journey to understand his role in the destruction of his three marriages
The Writer’s Digest is running a bunch of competitions in various genres. Most have entry fees, $15 and up. Is the $20 worth the bragging rights of having won the competition? You decide.
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Random House Struik (South Africa) has launched an ebook only imprint – eKhaya. Click here for the article.