The Memoir Project

A while back—quite a few years ago—a friendly acquaintance asked me if I knew someone who could help her write her memoir. I suggested that I become her ghostwriter and as we worked on the initial draft, we moved from friendly acquaintances to being friends. Over the next couple of years there were drafts, rewrites, experiments in non-linear storytelling, long pauses in the process, and many, many, many serious discussions about big serious issues.

We talked about naming names.

We talked about guilt, responsibility, and ownership of bad decisions.

We talked about the difference between coping with an abusive past and continuing to experience victimization.

We talked about the culpability of family members.

We talked about how powerful people abuse the unequal relationships that come with superior positions.

We talked about hypocrisy, excuses, lies, religious orthodoxy, sex abuse, violence, sexuality, money, education, and the important roles played by witnesses in the larger scheme of evil in the world.

Her life took several wonderful twists and turns while we were writing. The years rolled on. At different points along the way we discussed additional rewrites and releasing a final draft. Sometimes we talked about me helping her again and other times we focused on a solo draft that I would simply read. All the while, she was working on another, even more compelling project—her life. After a circuitous route that took her through hell and back a few times, she landed in a much better place. She was happy, confident, and comfortable with her recent choices. Then the #MeToo movement took off and I was not alone in reaching out to her.

Do you want to finish the book?

I wasn’t the only one to ask. One of the powerful men in her story was among the many men finally getting outed as a serial abuser in the press. Did she want to return to that time of pain? Could there be another way to write the story? Was it possible to recall it all without reliving it? She determined that it simply wasn’t possible to continue to be her happy & healthy, new incarnation if she had to delve into her past.

I agree with her. The story—her story—was so sad, so frightening, so dramatic, and so filled with cruelty, that there was no way to tell it without upsetting her new life. Even saying that’ all’s well that ends well’ and writing it from a happy place was too big a risk. She told me and everyone else too, that the book would never become a reality. I want to thank her for the invaluable experience of chugging along for part of her journey, for the insights into a segment of the world that is thankfully far from my experience, and for becoming the new woman capable of letting the story go.

It takes time, but people eventually grow their metaphorical wings.


    • Candy Korman

      Yes, sometimes the process is the adventure and not the outcome. If I thought about this a few years ago, I’d have wanted the completed book, but I think the journey was the important part.

  1. I don’t think I realised how lucky most of us are until the #MeToo movement took off. I think it’s been wonderfully cathartic for many women, but each one of us handles pain our own way, and it sounds as if your friend has already worked her way through the worst of it. I’m so glad she’s reached a point in her life where she can let it go and look forward instead of back.

    • Candy Korman

      I can’t even begin to list the incidents of abuse in her saga. The fact that she is clear of it——free of it——is just about miraculous. As all of my #MeToo moments are minor harassments, I barely count them at all. Being the ghost to a woman with a sexual abuse history that goes back to childhood and continued for decades with different abusers was an education. I feel fortunate to have been out-of-the-line-of-fire AND to have gone through the writing process with her.

      I learned so much!

  2. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to fully recount my tale of woe. Writing has a way of rehashing events better left behind, yet it can also be a great way to process things. Maybe I’ll write the memoir and then fictionalize it. Yet my compulsion to write and speak the truth always makes fiction less appealing to me as a writer. Perhaps I’ll be happy with publishing some nonfiction short pieces without delving into a full-fledged memoir? Writing a life story raises so many pressing questions about who we are and how we live. Your client seems to have made the right choice for her, and how great that you got to be part of that process for her.

    • Candy Korman

      I think that writing is often viewed as therapy by non-writers. Those of use hellbent on being storytellers, weigh the consequences of recycling our truth into fiction. As for memoirs… I’ll wait until I’m very old to think about that one. But if YOU have a story to tell——and I believe YOU do——than go for it. Perhaps in bits & pieces, but tell it.