Writing about your life

You take ownership of your story this way.

Listen to this episode: “Writing About Your Life”

Neither my wife nor I remembered who ordered the Janet Malcolm book, “Still Pictures,” but it showed up in the mail unannounced the other day. 

So I started to read it. 

Her final book is an autobiography written by the journalist, artist, and photographer Janet Malcolm, where she uses photographs as a springboard for recollections. I admit I didn’t know much about her before getting this book.

But I read the intro and a little bit of it today, and that led me to an article that she wrote for the New York Review of Books in 2010 called “Thoughts on Autobiography from an Abandoned Autobiography,” and while it’s short, it had this to say:

Memory is not a journalist’s tool. Memory glimmers and hints, but shows nothing sharply or clearly. Memory does not narrate or render character. Memory has no regard for the reader. If an autobiography is to be even minimally readable, the autobiographer must step in and subdue what you could call memory’s autism, its passion for the tedious. He must not be afraid to invent. Above all he must invent himself.

Janet Malcom

I mentioned on the podcast before that I wrote a book, which is a memoir, which is different from autobiography in that it tends to focus on a single event or set of events and dances with the idea of memory.

What do we remember, and how do we remember it? 

What does it mean to us as we live our lives? 

Whose telling matters? 

What happened? 

How much can we invent and fill in the gaps?

That’s what made it interesting to write. It’s not a journalistic report of “what happened” but a subjective exploration of how we experienced it. And it is about invention and self-invention.

So, that’s why I am talking about writing about your life on this week’s podcast.

Anyone can and should write about their life. 

That doesn’t mean writing a book or an exhaustive account of anything. And it doesn’t need to be anything extraordinary. People write about their jobs.

I wrote my book about discovering my grandfather, exploring family wounds, and traveling to foreign countries to learn about it all. But all of it hinges on reconciling the past with the present day. It’s not a story of my life but a thick slice of my life.

I found the process of writing about my life to be an excellent tool for self-knowledge, a journey that I talk about in the episode.

Even if you write about your life with no intention of publishing anything, you can still get value, so I hope you will join me as I share what I learned from a process that took me more than a decade to complete.

Listen to this episode: “Writing About Your Life”

PS - thanks for reading and listening. 🖤