Demystifying Memoir

When you are in your twenties, not famous, and somewhat ordinary, and you tell people you’ve written a memoir, very often you get the response, “you’re too young to write a memoir!” It’s annoying, and insulting, but it’s par for the course. Plus, it helps you build tough skin.

First of all, memoir isn’t autobiography. It’s not a lifelong chronicle. A memoir is a snapshot, a moment of a life lived through and realized.

When I was twenty-eight years old, I hadn’t planned on writing a memoir. I was in-between the first and second year of graduate school and was in the early throes of writing a true crime book. But over the holiday break, I went on a blind date. Less than four months later, I got pregnant—after never having missed my birth control pills—and we decided to get engaged. Then, in the fifth month of the pregnancy, we found out that the baby had no chance of survival outside the womb, and so terminated the pregnancy. And then we got married. And then graduate school started up again. And I was supposed to continue working on this book of true crime, but the voice in my head—the voice that was suffering and sad and traumatized and somewhat crazed and totally confused and baffled—was too loud.

So I started writing a memoir to exorcise the pain out of me. It came right out of me and right onto the page—I even wrote it in present tense. I was conscious of this literary choice; I wanted readers to feel and see what it’s like to be going through the loss of a child under the circumstances I faced. I wanted to be unfiltered, because grief is raw and messy.

I didn’t want to wait until I developed peace and a neat tidy answer or summary or perspective from a calmer distance. I wanted women (and their partners, friends, family members, etc.) to feel companionship when such a loss—the loss of a child—is experienced.

Writing about my abortion helped me break free. In some ways, it put a tombstone on this part of my heart, to give a tribute to the life that was lost, and I was able to move on with the belief that I did my best with what I had—and possibly helped others in a way no one had been able to before. Some people live a lifetime (and could write ten memoirs or an enormous navel-gazing autobiography) without looking up and around at what’s really going on.

Photo by Stanley Dai

Mira Ptacin is the author of the memoir POOR YOUR SOUL. She is also an educator, lecturer, editor, and occasional ghost-writer. She lives on Peaks Island, just off the coast of Portland, Maine, with her family.