I must confess that I love editing memoirs more than I like writing them. Writing a memoir is hard work; editing it is, relatively speaking, so much easier. This does not mean to say, however, that memoir editing is a cakewalk. To the contrary, some memoirs require substantial editing before the authors comprehend what they must do to elevate their evolving manuscript to publishable quality and appeal to critical readers. This is especially true for first-time memoirists unfamiliar with this genre.
I must also confess that I really enjoy editing memoirs that reveal valuable life lessons in a unique or interesting way. Memoir writing offers authors a very personal way to educate, inspire and enthrall readers all at once. That the story actually happened is what separates it from fiction; but much like an intriguing novel, it’s a tale well told.
I must further confess that I especially like editing memoirs where the author reflects on an unresolved childhood issue and details how it affected their life. Writing the memoir without reservation provides authors a unique means for self-analysis and understanding and offers a message of hope for those struggling with the same issue. That was the purpose of my memoir, The Other Side of Delinquency, Rutgers University Press, 1983. I learned a lot about why I am who I am and, in the process, provided professionals, parents and troubled youth access to an intimate perspective of rebellion and recovery.
I must confess, too, that I get great satisfaction when a first-time author finally understands how to write a memoir. What a feeling of accomplishment for both parties. The author now knows what must be done to get their memoir to publishable quality and the editor now realizes that their editorial instructions did not fall on deaf ears. Additionally, the author knows they got their money’s worth and the editor knows they earned it.
Finally, I must confess that editing a memoir is a great way to make new friends. That became clear when I edited the foster care stories of ten other alumni for the book, Growing Up in the Care of Strangers: the Experiences, Insights and Recommendations of Eleven Former Foster Kids, William Gladden Foundation Press, 2009. The relationships I built, and what I learned in the process, has everything to do with why I became a memoir editor.
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