What’s at stake for the memoirist at the beginning of her journey? What’s at stake for the reader? Why should he or she invest time reading your memoir?
Aside from the humor and occasional reversal of parent/child roles, my college memoir needs to demonstrate the importance for the mother to attend each class and in fact finish her educational journey. But there needs to be more. There needs to be risk.
The possibility of failure is a part of any worthwhile journey. If it isn’t, the journey becomes boring. It’s fine to enjoy a mother’s struggles through college, how she copes, how she discovers ways to succeed. But to add tension, Failure must be an active player, and in my memoir she is.
But is the fear of failure enough to hold the reader’s attention? How about the possibilities in succeeding? Could I possess a fear of failure and a fear of success? I was terrified when my community college put the Ivy League within my reach. How could I not attend when I had been awarded a scholarship? Everyone was proud of me and excited for me. I wanted to hide under my bed until everyone forgot about it.
Right now my memoir is a collection of scenes, a progression through college, but to be a successful memoir, it needs to be something more. Therein lays the reason for reading memoirs and writing help books. To discover how to make my college journey more than a sum of its educational parts.
One thing I have discovered in writing my college memoir is that I am forever learning. It’s just where I’m learning that has changed. I am hip deep in Beth Kephart’s wonderful writing reference book Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir. I highly recommend it to any budding memoirist.