The Truth and What it Means in a Memoir or Autobiography

memoirs writing Nov 16, 2020

‘There is no truth, there is only perception.’ That’s a famous quote from 19th century French novelist, Gustave Flaubert.

If you’re writing a memoir or autobiography, you’re writing ‘your’ truth. That truth can be objective (factual), or it can be subjective and based on your perceptions. If it is subjective, that’s completely fine. After all, nobody will know your truths and the perceptions they’re based on better than you will. If you can’t write about your own truths in your own memoir or autobiography, what’s the point of writing it at all? It’s your story and your memories of what’s happened in your life.

Here are four benefits of writing ‘your truth’.

1. Setting the Record Straight
Writing the truth (or your truth) in your own memoir or autobiography allows you to correct any misconceptions people may have about you. 

 2. Providing a Context for Your Actions
Writing your truth can help you to provide your readers with a context for why you did what you did, why you feel the way you do, or why you believe what you do.

 3. Omitting Painful Incidents from Your Life
We’ve all experienced painful incidents in our lives that we may not want to relive in our memoir or autobiography. It’s your story, so you can choose what you will and won’t reveal to your readers. It doesn’t have to be a ‘warts and all’ account of your life.

4. Not Fracturing your Relationships
The 19th century Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote:

‘No man is bad enough to tell the truth about himself during his lifetime, involving, as it must, the truth about his family and friends and colleagues. And no man is good enough to tell the truth in a document which he suppresses until there is nobody left alive to contradict him’

Shaw’s sentiments highlight the fact that telling the objective truth of what you really think about someone in your memoir or autobiography can irreparably damage relationships. In a worst-case scenario, it can also leave you open to being sued for defamation. It’s worth remembering an old saying if you’re tempted to write damaging information about anyone else: ‘if you can’t say something nice about someone, it’s best not to say anything at all.’

The Difference Between Your Truth and Outright Lies
Of course, it’s important to understand the difference between telling your truth and telling outright lies in your memoir or autobiography. Telling lies damages your credibility if you’re caught out and it can also leave you liable to being sued if you defame someone. Again, it’s better to say nothing at all than to make up lies. Remember the old adage that ‘a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth puts its shoes on.’

The Impact of Time on Truth
Finally, it’s important to remember that writing a memoir or autobiography inevitably involves your recollections and memories of events, circumstances and people. Our memories of these things are often subjective, and they can also fade or be embellished over time to the point where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. As long as what you’re writing isn’t an outright lie or damaging to anyone else, you should feel free to tell your story as you see fit.