INTERN was late getting to the Big Old Fancy Publishing Office today due to a combination of shoelace-caught-in-gears, helpful-but-insane-shoelace-caught-in-gears-incident-bystander, and a band of renegade, stepford-esque free granola bar sample giver-outers standing on the corner: "Take a bunch. They're free! THEY'RE FREE!"
Now INTERN is sitting at her usual spot on the red couch, wiping the bicycle grease off her leg with a napkin, listening to the classical music coming from Head Ed's computer speakers, and thinking about the one big nagging problem of memoirs.
The one big nagging problem of memoirs is that many would-be memoirists assume that a memoir is a story where the writer already knows what happens.
Yet in order for a memoir to be good, this cannot be true.
Consider a classical pianist playing a Beethoven sonata. The crummy pianist will merely play the sonata from memory—after all, she's been playing the sonata for years, and she *obviously* knows what's going to happen from note to note and movement to movement. And the listener's like, "So what? So you played a bunch of notes. Time for a grilled cheese sandwich."
The brilliant pianist—the really insano, genius pianist—discovers the sonata as she plays it. There are no foregone conclusions or premeditated moods. New things emerge, unusual, beautiful, canted-angle stuff. Insights and revelations come scurrying out of the music like ferrets. All who listen are Moved and Shaken. All grilled-cheese sandwiches are forgotten (except by INTERN, who is getting hungry).
You stifle your memoir in the grave when you consider it a passive account of things past rather than an active, completely new and surprising encounter with the music/your fascinating life. It's possible to know exactly what's coming, and still have a scene/character/entire book be new and unusual and awesome and completely uncanned.
In a nutshell:
Writing to tell what happened = less potential for greatness.
Writing to discover what happened (even when you technically know what happened) = more potential for greatness.
Same goes for fiction.
Someone just brought banana bread into the office, so INTERN has...urgent business to attend to. Grawr!