I’ve spent most of my time in the lab today editing memoir pieces for Lip Magazine. Several writers have sent me their pitches and drafts and it’s my job to offer structural suggestions and comments on their language used. By the end of the process of editing, the pieces are of publishable quality — whatever that means.
Working on these memoir pieces today — written by other people, about their childhoods, experiences and trauma — has led me to think about the extent to which we can edit someone’s work. There might be a piece (and this is an example I’ve made up) about grieving the death of a parent, where the details are listed vaguely and in a similar way to other stories of family deaths. But how can I ask a writer to tell their story a different way? This is how they recall it — who am I to try to change their story? What could be the effects of me suggesting something as simple as ‘Can you expand this paragraph?’ when the subject content is so close to home? Perhaps the day really was a ‘blur’. Maybe it really did ‘feel like a dream’. Who am I to tell someone to cut what some readers might call ‘cliches’?
I’m currently editing my own work for publication too. My memoir needs structural changes and many sentences make me cringe. That said, I’m hesitant to hand out the manuscript to others to read, as the content is still so raw. I’m not ready to be told that how I felt in certain scenes was a cliched way to feel, or that what I did wasn’t a believable response. Regardless of the truth-aspect, I think writing memoir uses a different part of the brain to writing fiction.