I worked really hard not to write a memoir.
My first book was one. Nothing wrong with that. There's something satisifying about telling our story. And even if it's a hard story, it's an easy one to write because it's within reach. But that's all anyone's doing anymore.
We take a roadtrip and write a book about it. We adopt a child and write a book about it. We now undertake adventures with the sole intent of writing a book about it. Books have become our professional diaries.
But I think we've let ourselves off the hook too easily.
Memoirs are the first step in our writing career. They consist of what we know. They don't make us venture too far outside of ourselves. They only take a year to write. If that. And they're more likely to satisfy us than the reader.
But once we get it out of our system, it's time to grow as a writer.
When I wrote Dream Year, I vowed to tell the stories of other people. I wanted to reach beyond my own knowledge and experience. And I determined to write the kind of book that I wanted to read. The kind strangers would be spotted with on an airplane. The kind that would stand on its own at Barnes & Noble.
After all, I wanted it to line bookstore shelves, not my garage.
The result was a two-foot high pile of articles, print-outs, interviews, transcripts, and ripped-out pages that were stored in folders labeled with my chapter titles. I killed a ton of trees in an effort to replace my experience with the stories of others.
These kind of books take longer than a year to write. Their indexes run for several pages. And their notes reveal the blood and sweat that went into the process.
Mind you, a few of my own stories made it into the book when I had absolutely no other examples to cite. But otherwise I wrote myself out of it. I know what kind of books I want to write. And they have absolutely nothing to do with me.