How Not To Write A Memoir

I headed downtown on Monday for an interview at Elliott Bay Book Company. The interview was scheduled for 6:00, which meant arriving at the bookstore at 5:30, which meant driving in rush hour. It’s one city block from the Stewart Street exit to the left I needed to take on Denny, a distance I crawled in almost ten minutes flat. This wasn’t stop-and-go traffic; this was stop-and-what-hell-is-going-on traffic. I don’t like to be late. No matter. I reached Denny, the way seemed clear and I would still be on time. Then I got to Capital Hill and Broadway where, I discovered, the City of Seattle is installing a trolley car. Now four lanes were two, and at every green light someone had to turn right, but not until 400 Seattle Community College students safely crossed the street. I called my videographer and told him to set up without me. I don’t like to be late.

I arrived at the store, a shameful eight minutes tardy, brimming with a need to tell my tale of urban gridlock. As I greeted my videographer, and as I prepared to tell my story, a simple question stopped me: Why?

What with this column, my first finished memoir and my second begun, plus the stories I tell when I teach, you could say I am making a career of telling stories from my life. The more I tell these stories, the more I have learned I must first ask myself, “Why would this story be of use to anyone else? How can this story be more than just something that happened to me”

There is not always a good answer to that question. Strong feelings do not always make a good story. Being very annoyed at the slow traffic is not a good story; nor is the pain of hitting your thumb with a hammer. And so you let the story go untold until you learn why it might be of use, like using it to show how not to write a memoir.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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