Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reflection: Authors and Their Own Lives

Some years back, a psychiatrist suggested I had a childhood experience worth writing about. "There’s a market for stories about early onset OCD," he said. "It will help people," he told me. And so I began.

But once I defined my audience and my topic, it began to define me. It wasn’t just a matter, to borrow Ursula Hegi's words, of "what to tell first -- though it hadn’t happened first -- or what to end the story with". It was a matter of what went in and what got left out. So much of childhood experience wasn’t relevant to a tale of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and so out it went.

In time I realized I was defining my story not just for some future audience, but for loved ones, too. "Why do they insist on defining certain behaviors in terms of OCD?" I would wonder. I have partly myself to blame; some people would scarcely know what the word means but for me. Ironically, OCD might not have been the 'best fit' label in the first place.

Many people imagine a memoir is a writer's own soul bleeding onto the page. Ah no, often memoir writing is extremely audience-conscious. Me, I've never written for self-therapy -- always for an audience of one or more others. (And putting my writing journal online has lead to a great increase in output.)