Why I Write: Memoir Edition

Last week, I had lunch with a friend, who asked me how my writing was going. I told her that it was going well; that I have over 60,000 words and 185 pages; and that she should read my blog, like my author Facebook page, and follow me on the Twitter. She laughed at the last things (but I hope she actually does them!), and also asked, “Why are you writing your book?”

I didn’t have to take long to think about that. I said, “I want fatherless kids—people who didn’t grow up with their dads or who just aren’t close to them—to know that they’re not alone, and that they’re okay, too.”

Plenty of authors have written their “Why I Write” stories. I’ve read George Orwell’s and some of Joan Didion’s. I haven’t gotten around to Stephen King’s, mostly because he freaks me out a little, but I intend to get to his one day, too. I think writers put their purpose on paper because it helps to focus them. Writing is stressful as hell because it’s a mental activity, and the mind is a battlefield. Writers constantly face inner demons and voices that tell them that their work will never be good enough for people to want to read and that they should be doing something else with their lives. (Okay, maybe only mine say that. I feel like George, Joan, and Stephen had/have made enough money that they could/can shove dollar bills down their demons’ throats to silence them.)

Last week, in my memoir class at Gotham Writers Workshop, I got some really valuable feedback on the first three chapters of my book. I’m writing a very close narrative, meaning that I use the voice I used at the age that I was during that time period (so, I use the vocabulary of a four-year-old for parts in 1989, a 14-year-old in 1999, and a 24-year-old in 2009, for example). The consensus was that I executed the voice of a young child very well, but that more adult voice and reflection would be helpful to ground the reader and to add tension in the plot. (See! Isn’t that some really constructive feedback?) I was so grateful for the criticism because I want to know what my readers are thinking, but I spent the whole week daunted, wondering how I was going to implement it while staying true to my own style. I got to the point where I questioned if I should really be writing this book at all. Would people get my message or would they think it’s just relatively well-written garbage?

Luckily, that’s when I had lunch with my friend. I felt empowered just by saying my reason for telling my story: I want fatherless kids of all ages to know that they are okay, that they are lovable, that they are enough.

“That’s a noble mission,” my friend said. “Now, stay focused on it.”

And that is why I wrote this post, to remind myself of who I’m writing for, and to make my mission public. I probably won’t be salve to every person who has been hurt by their absent father. I won’t cure the “stereotype” of rampant fatherlessness in Black communities because the problem is bigger than me (Side note: I heard recently that fatherlessness in this context has become a “stereotype,” implying that is not a real thing. I, and actual data, beg to differ. It’s not everyone’s experience, but it’s happened to enough of us to be considered disconcerting, at the least).

But I hope to make some people feel like they’re okay. I survived, and I know others who have, and our lives aren’t complete shit, so there’s hope for every fatherless kid out there. That is the story I’m going tell, regardless of what the voices say to me, because it is the truth.

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One thought on “Why I Write: Memoir Edition

  1. Pingback: Stop & Smell the Grapes | Vonetta Young

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