I want you to like me. I want to connect with you. I hope to move you with my words, and with the heart and soul I put behind them.
I’m going to tell you secrets. I’m going to show you the side of me that I’d prefer to keep in the shadows, or better yet, in the closet. You’re going to come to know my darkest moments, to understand my fears.
Am I really suggesting you write like that? Yeah, sort of. Perhaps not in these words. Perhaps not even in second person. However, I am advocating putting your heart, pride, and maybe even your dignity on the line.
Why? Because that’s how we connect with readers, whether those readers are comprised of three uncritical family members or millions of strangers.
When you write about your past or your family’s past, you’re not simply providing entertainment for your readers. You’re inviting them to go on a journey with you. That’s the gift of memoir. You could be a simple tour-guide, but that would be passing up on the opportunity to bond with readers.
Bond with Readers
Bonding with readers involves more than good stories. It requires a higher degree of honesty and transparency on the writers part. And, to do that, you have to want to bond with readers. But, it’s worth it.
I once had a short friendship with a woman named Kathleen. It was short because Kathleen didn’t live very long after I met her.
We knew of each other through mutual friends, but had never met. She was fighting stage three breast cancer. I was grieving the simultaneous deaths of my parents and trying to cope with chronic fatigue.
Both of us signed up for a Christmas wreath arrangement workshop and ended up working at the same table. As we attempted to reassemble small branches of evergreens into a somewhat artistic, pleasing form, we talked.
It was no time for niceties. We dispensed with the normal getting-to-know-each-other chitchat. Instead, we spoke of the things that mattered. Making sure children knew how much they were loved, regardless of how long their parents or grandparents trod this earth. Being afraid. Having courage. Feeling willing to pursue any wacky “cure,” including dancing naked in the moonlight while we did it, if it would help. Trying to figure out how to be a good parent while being a sick parent. Wondering if faith was strong enough.
I felt an immediate bond with Kathleen, but at the same time, understood that she didn’t need another friend. She had more friends than she had time to let them know how much she loved them.
I never saw Kathleen again. That workshop lasted about 3½ hours and took place over 15 years ago, but Kathleen stays with me. I remember not only her words and wisdom, but also her generosity with her feelings, her willingness to give of herself. I want to call it her vulnerability; however, that would be a misnomer. Kathleen spoke unashamedly of the things most people only reveal to their closest confidants.
It felt like I was meeting her—getting to know her on a different emotional plane. A plane free of pettiness and pretense.
My point, in case you’ve missed it, is that through your writing, you can bond with readers the way that Kathleen connected with me. In Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life, there’s a whole section of ideas on revealing this “vulnerable” side, if you need help.
However you do it—whatever you call it—I encourage you to put yourself on your pages. Whether you’re writing about your own past or telling the story of an ancestor who lived five-hundred years ago, bond with readers. Don’t make them search for your personality between the lines as your stories progress. Put your heart on the line—literally. Maybe even on the first page.