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The Most Important Quality of a Successful Memoir

Today, I want to consider the best quality that a narrator can exhibit while writing a memoir. It’s not a nuanced understanding of words or a crafty way with sentences. It’s not a great memory for outside events and circumstances or the ability to patiently pore over descriptions of minute details. These things are certainly important, and without them an otherwise good memoir might fail, but there’s another quality that is necessary in order for a memoir with all of these virtues to succeed yet.

What is that quality? It’s the author’s level of self awareness! Self awareness is the key to framing unique personal experiences in a way that they can enrich and interest the minds and lives of strangers with whom we might have precious little in common.

I was recently reading the first chapters of a memoir. The writing wasn’t bad–it could have improved with some structural edits, but nothing major. But the pages almost reeked of self-delusion. Small inconveniences were stretched for paragraphs against the background of a life of immense privilege and unusual luck. And yet these foundational building blocks of the very inconveniences that were bemoaned were not even acknowledged.

I personally believe there is no life not worth writing about and no human whose story, given a good storyteller, isn’t good. And yet it takes great awareness to connect the dots and figure out what the story is. In this case, the aforementioned author’s despair had nothing to do with the trivialities of life, but with the immensity of the prospect of having peaked before middle age, being stuck, etc.

It’s important to not only find the maturity to meet and acknowledge such despair but to share it with readers who might then root for the arc to follow, one of rising to the occasion and finding the courage to sail against winds, come what may.

That’s an arc that can inspire anybody. And yet this person entirely missed their own heroic journey.

On that note, my favourite memoir of all time is Broken Music by Sting. You can check it out by clicking the link (Amazon) and you can read an excerpt from it.

Comment your thoughts. Writing to you from my mobile device.

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