Dinty W. Moore

The Inherent Dangers of Memoir Writing


There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir,
by accom­plish­ing some­thing note­wor­thy or hav­ing an extreme­ly unusu­al experience
…  But then came our cur­rent age of over­shar­ing, and all heck broke loose.”

~ Neal Genzlinger, The New York Times Book Review


I don’t mean to over­share here, but I wrote a mem­oir once, and all heck did not break loose.[1]

[1] DISCLAIMER: Some peo­ple have had changes in behav­ior, hos­til­i­ty, agi­ta­tion, depressed mood, sui­ci­dal thoughts or actions while using MEMOIR to help them exam­ine their lives. Some peo­ple had these symp­toms when they began writ­ing MEMOIR, and oth­ers devel­oped them after sev­er­al weeks of free-writ­ing and active verb replace­ment. If you, your fam­i­ly, or work­shop leader notice agi­ta­tion, hos­til­i­ty, depres­sion, or changes in behav­ior, think­ing, or mood that are not typ­i­cal for you, or you devel­op sui­ci­dal thoughts or actions, anx­i­ety, pan­ic, aggres­sion, gen­i­tal warts, or genre con­fu­sion, or if you begin to obsess day and night over the best ways to gain the atten­tion of a well-placed lit­er­ary agent, stop writ­ing MEMOIR and call your doc­tor right away. Also tell your doc­tor about any his­to­ry of SHORT FICTION or POETICS. Do not write MEMOIR if you have had seri­ous aller­gic or skin reac­tions after bathing in bour­bon.  The most com­mon side effects of MEMOIR include nau­sea, sleep prob­lems, con­sti­pa­tion, gas and swelling of the navel. If you have side effects that both­er you or don’t go away, tell your doc­tor prompt­ly. He won’t, how­ev­er, care one bit. He is work­ing on his mem­oir. You may have vivid, unusu­al or strange dreams while writ­ing MEMOIR. Write them down. Do not oper­ate a trac­tor or oth­er heavy equip­ment while writ­ing MEMOIR, unless you are writ­ing a mem­oir set on your fam­i­ly farm. MEMOIR should not be com­bined with oth­er forms of writ­ing, such as poet­ry, skin art, or ran­som notes. You may need a low­er dose of MEMOIR if you have rel­a­tives with far bet­ter mem­o­ry skills than you pos­sess. Before start­ing MEMOIR, tell your work­shop leader if you are preg­nant, plan to become preg­nant, or are tak­ing the sum­mer work­shop in the hopes of hav­ing an extra­mar­i­tal affair. If you find your­self in an unsa­vory, brief sex­u­al rela­tion­ship as a result of tak­ing MEMOIR, cap­ture the minute details in scenic form.


Dinty W. Moore worked briefly as a police reporter, a doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er, a mod­ern dancer, a zookeep­er, and a Greenwich Village wait­er, before decid­ing he was lousy at all of those jobs and real­ly want­ed to write mem­oir. He is a pro­fes­sor of non­fic­tion writ­ing at Ohio University.