The memoir I’ll never publish [Why some writers don’t publish their books]
Some of you will remember me talking about the memoir I was writing. Maybe you even remember reading the excerpts I shared as the project progressed.
Maybe you noticed I became strangely silent about it for a long time.
Maybe you didn’t notice, because a lot of things disappeared in the shuffle of politics, the pandemic, and the general weirdness of life.
Here’s the update on my memoir: I finished it. And, after sharing my memoir with some beta readers, discussing the project with a publisher, and even sending the book to a few reviewers who agreed to promote it, I’ve decided not to publish the memoir after all.
Sometimes what we write ends up being just for us.
Even if we never thought that was going to happen.
Here’s the thing: the writing journey is unpredictable.
For example, I started writing the memoir as a way of coping with the unfolding sorrows of my mom’s cancer journey. It helped me process in real time what was happening.
Really, it was just a journal at first.
As the processing of the present began to unearth things from the past, I realized I was writing my own story, trying to make sense of both past and present.
The writing of my mom’s cancer journey and, ultimately, my own story, resulted in a discovery of deep themes and insights. As these emerged, I knew it would be important for others to benefit from them too. As I started to share the stories through excerpts, people were moved and inspired.
That’s when I knew it was a book and would be published.
By the end, even though the feedback from beta readers, reviewers, and the publisher was all excellent, and even though I still believe others can benefit by the stories told, it ultimately remains in a drawer. Maybe forever.
Reasons Not to Publish a Memoir
Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of writers, editors, and publishers about memoir writing and publishing. Sometimes people publish their books (memoirs or not), and sometimes they don’t.
To publish or not to publish is a very personal decision, especially when what you’re sending out into the world is your own story.
Reasons writers choose not to publish their memoirs:
- Risks associated with releasing personal information
Could be used by hackers, identity thieves, abusive relatives, con artists, etc
- Fear of judgment by others
Authors could be seen as profiting from the stories or suffering of others, or be judged for the story they have lived and shared. Also, others may have a different perspective of your story than you do, and judge yours to be false
- Fear of oversharing
That pantsed-in-public feeling you get after oversharing, but exponentially increased because it’s being done with everyone.
- Overstepping boundaries
Sharing our stories usually involves disclosing at least part of someone else’s story too. We are not islands. As a result, writers must grapple with where those boundaries are of how much of someone else’s story they are prepared to disclose.
- Finances and other practical considerations
Sometimes what keeps authors from publishing is simply resources or know-how. It costs thousands of dollars to bring a book to market (editing, formatting, cover design, and printing). It also takes a lot of time and determination. And knowing people you can ask for help and support. Without money, time, and support, projects don’t reach completion. They just don’t.
For me, the reasons to not publish have more to do with deciding where my story ends and another’s begins. Before she died, mom gave me her go-ahead to write, share, and publish the story. But my family is not just made up of me and my mom. Others are named whose story shaped who I became and how I see the world. The story makes no sense without parts of theirs in it. For years I have grappled with how much of someone else’s story I am prepared to disclose. Years. I even discussed with a publisher the possibility of publishing it, but under a pseudonym. In the end, I decided that — at least for now — it will remain unpublished.
Reasons to Write a Memoir Anyway
Writers don’t write to publish and sell books. We may end up doing that, but it’s not the ultimate driver of our actions. We write to explore, understand, communicate, create, heal, process, or simply to experiment.
Writing a memoir does not obligate us to share it.
Sometimes writing our stories is just for us.
Writing my memoir was one of the most important things I’ve ever done for my own mental and emotional health. It helped me recall memories that I thought were inaccessible. It helped me recognize patterns in myself and others, and helped me understand how the past shaped my present and how I can choose differently going forward.
Writing my memoir made me a better person.
Published or not, that alone is worth every tear and every year it took to write it.
About Your Book…
If you’ve been thinking about writing a book, a story, or your own personal memoir, I just want to free you from the worries listed above as reasons not to publish. It’s okay to think and feel those things, but those are not reasons to not write, they are only reasons to not publish.
Write your story.
Write it, and leave the decision about publishing for another day.
Really, whether you publish or not may be a decision you make and remake over and again. I certainly have. And I will continue to grapple with the decision from time to time, I’m sure. That’s okay. Write your story anyway.
Ready to start writing your story?
I have something I’d like to offer you:
First, there is a mental health support you probably don’t know I offer. I’m a coach and soon-to-be licensed psychotherapist, and help people process those memories and emotions. They’ll come up as you write, so I thought I’d let you know I offer mental health coaching here .
Secondly, for your writing journey:
A) Write Your Book in 90 Days
This intensive group coaching program is for the busy, the driven, the get-it-done-NOW people. Weekly meetings. Plan for 2+ hours/week commitment. $333/mo. Info here.
B) Momentum Group coaching
This 6-month program will help you move forward in a supported environment with 2 expert guides. Meets twice monthly. $97/mo (Update: no longer available)
C) Weekly Writing Workshops
Each month we meet 8–10 times via video and for 90 minutes we write. That’s it. We get so. Much. DONE! (Day and evening sessions available)
$47/month. (Update: currently unavailable)