Why I Write Fiction Instead of Memoir


I don’t exactly keep it a secret that I’ve had some extraordinary experiences in my life. I published my first novel, Necessary Madness, at the age of 18. I’ve traveled the world on publicity tours and research trips. I’ve battled a major mental illness and, as an abuse survivor, a justice system that was anything but.

There’s enough material in that brief list for at least one memoir, maybe more. But I have no interest in writing one.

I’m sure that makes me an iconoclastic weirdo in our literary culture that applauds self-disclosure and personal epiphany, but I just don’t want to go there, for several reasons.

First of all, I place a high value on my family’s privacy. I’m not overly paranoid about it; I will occasionally share a funny anecdote from my young daughter on Twitter, for instance. But an entire book’s worth of identifying material? Nope. Not comfortable with that level of reveal.

And second, I find fiction to be just plain more satisfying of a genre to work in. I would much rather write a novel about mental illness, in which I get to inhabit the voice of another character and navigate their problematic situations, than just rehash my own painful experiences on the page.

For a long time I questioned myself about this preference. Was I hiding from myself, or giving in to shame or fear? Did I just need to push myself harder to explore my own truths in a public way?

Eventually I came to the conclusion that no, I wasn’t, and no, I didn’t. That for me, living honestly and transparently is personal legacy enough.

There are times when I feel disappointed — and yes, maybe even a tad bitter — that memoirs and essays receive so much more attention and acclaim than fiction these days. But the last thing I want to do is cash in on a trend or chase some artificial notion of authenticity at the high price of being inauthentic.

So if you need me, I’ll be over here in the corner, happily transcribing the words of imaginary people, escaping my own life struggles to immerse myself in theirs, if only for an afternoon. For me, fiction feels like the hugest truth of all.

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5 thoughts on “Why I Write Fiction Instead of Memoir

  1. Um, my postpartum bipolar book, ten years in the writing, comes out next year.It was written in part to draw attention to the least-recognized form of bipolar disorder and the most overlooked perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. I also wrote the book I wish I had when I was diagnosed.

    However, I adore both fiction and memoir!
    Off to read “The Portable Veblen” by novelist Elizabeth McKenzie.


      1. Thanks so much, Jenn, for your gracious offer! I’m putting your name at the top of my ARC list! Hope you have a wonderful Sunday. take care, Dyane


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