Go ahead, do it. Drag and drop. Hold down the “delete” button for 45 minutes. Throw away your entire laptop if you must, but just get rid of it. Please, enough with the goddamn memoirs.
I’m going to upset some people, but I’m willing to hurt the feelings of a few to help the population of hungry book-lovers who are inundated with the vanity projects of people we’d get bored talking to at a party. Frankly, the memoir genre is sagging under the hubris of celebrity, the desire for a fat check, and the desperation of pushy agents and editors. Aspiring memoirists need to recognize their odds here and quit.
Here is a short list of memoirs that have come out in the last few years: Mindy Kaling’s Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me, soon to be followed up with her book with B.J. Novak about them; Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please; Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl; Sophia Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS, Grace Helbig’s The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-Up; Rachel Dratch’s Girl Walks Into a Bar; Lea Michele’s Brunette Ambition; Giuliana Rancic’s Going Off Script; Sarah Silverman’s The Bedwetter; Portia de Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness; Ellen Degeneres’s Seriously, I’m Kidding; Chelsea Handler’s Uganda Be Kidding Me.
Those are just memoirs by famous women. If we got into the male writers and the non-celebrities we’d be here all day. No one wants that. No one wants any of this.
The overwhelming boredom and exhaustion of their potential readership will not stop the many people who are five drafts deep and have already blown their advances, but hopefully I can use this space to extinguish the spark and optimism of those who are reflecting, thinking, wondering to themselves: “Should I write a book about my life and my experiences with the unique and sarcastic twist that is my individual voice?” No, you very well should not. Stop it right now.
You should delete your memoir because, among a long list of other reasons, the story of your life is not as interesting as you think it is. That is the Alpha and Omega of the memoir glut.
We seem to be living in the era of, “Everybody has a story to tell.” And yes, they probably do, but that sure as shit doesn’t mean they should. Just as not all opinions are valid, not all lives translate into captivating stories when edited to maximize the marketing dollars.
Simply having lived and grown into a competent human being doesn’t mean anyone wants to read 300 pages about it. Just because you’ve achieved something great doesn’t mean your path to getting there was a thrill. Being an interesting person does not mean your life story is particularly compelling. If you grew up in an upper-middle-class town in the contiguous United States and had loving parents but always felt “different,” don’t write a damn memoir.
We all have embarrassing moments that we can look back upon and glean a bit of wisdom from. We all have humorous anecdotes about growing up in this crazy world that we can weave into life lessons about trusting yourself and working hard and BLAH blah blah. All of our moms did weird things, OK?
All of this counts for double when you factor in the ages of most of the people writing memoirs these days. I’m not saying that at 29 years old you haven’t lived a pretty cool life, but you don’t really need to be filling our bookshelves with your ironic reflections on it. Do you think Miley Cyrus is glad she “wrote” her 2009 memoir, Miles to Go? I doubt it.
And what’s going to happen after your book comes out, anyway? Let’s say you’re 30 years old and you write a memoir. You’re probably going to live for another 60 years. What if the latter two-thirds of your life are significantly more interesting than the first third? What do you do? Write another memoir, like an asshole or a desperate politician?
Please, just don’t.
This brings me to another point: Politicians are probably the only group of people who have some leniency when it comes to writing memoirs because they know nobody is reading that shit anyway. They didn’t write the book themselves and it’s solely a tool so they can appear on late night talk shows and seem personable and human-like before they announce that they’re running for office.
Still want to write that memoir? But Kara, my story—it’s different. Nobody who’s lived the life I have has talked about. I think I can really help people.
If you really want to help people, pay for their therapy sessions or volunteer somewhere. Collecting a check on your book is helping people in the same way that nixing the sour cream in your burrito bowl makes it healthy—sort of, but not really.
If you want to tell a story, do so without centering every single detail around yourself and your pithy afterthoughts. Maybe you have had a life experience that truly is unique and riveting and can teach us all something about life and love and loss and whatever other adjectives you suggest to the person writing your forward. If you can fill an entire book with that specific story, go for it—but nobody cares about the first time you saw a penis.
Better yet, go write some fiction that’s loosely based on your own life but much more interesting because you get to change all the stuff that nobody cares about. Be David Sedaris! He’s got it figured out!
Alternatively, as my colleague Jia puts it, you can write a memoir if you are “a fucking phenomenal flames writer.” However, at least seven different people across different professional backgrounds, ages, and races have to have used that exact phrase to describe your writing before you qualify.
How many memoirs are really that good? When’s the last time you a) actually finished reading an entire memoir and b) felt fully satisfied—that it was time well spent? Just write a pilot that’s canceled after two seasons and call it a day.
Contact the author firstname.lastname@example.org
Images via Amazon.