Are you a victim? Do you feel as though life has been unfair to you and if you could only write about, let the world know how tough things have been for you, the story would be a best seller? Some writers look at memoir this way – a chance to tell all about the abuse they have suffered. All you have to do is look at the shelves of memoirs at your local bookstore to see they are chock full of terrible stories – abusive childhoods; terrible marriages and/or divorces; sex, drugs, and rock and roll experiences that didn’t turn out well; catastrophic health nightmares, to name a few. It’s time someone tell the truth about that scumbag spouse, those uncaring doctors, that vicious teacher from 8th grade.

While it is true that memoirs are filled with details about terrible things and the people who perpetrated those atrocities, those experiences are not what the book is about. Adair Lara notes in her book, Naked, Drunk, and Writing, that a good memoir is not about the painful blows life has pummeled you with. Memoirs are about what happened next: how you overcame those blows, how you created a better life, how you learned forgiveness. It’s about how humans change when they are under pressure, says Lara, not about all the terrible tragedies in our lives – readers can find their share of those stories on the evening news.

She’s absolutely right. Look at any memoir and see how the main character changes, how he finds new strengths or perspectives, how she learns to not be so controlling, how he realizes nothing is more important than family, how she finds out she can overcome her addiction and then help others do the same, how he can accept his own limitations.

If your goal is to gripe, lay blame, go after those who have hurt you, you are in the wrong genre. Check out fiction: Turn those rotten people in your life into evil characters (though you still have to acknowledge some kind of humanity in them – even in fiction, no one can be all bad). Take the hellacious experiences you survived and put them to use in a story. Take the just yucky experiences and make them funny. Make your persecutors pay for their sins in your tale.

But for memoir, show us your growth, your change. Show us, as Lara says, that you are a hero.

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