“Aren’t you too young to write a memoir?”
I’m asked this question almost every time I tell someone that I’m writing a memoir. I get this question not only from strangers, but from well-meaning friends and family members as well. I know that I’m going to have to explain this a lot as the years go by, and I doubt the question will stop even after my memoir is published. But I’m going to put my answer out there now in the hopes that I can clear this up.
Here’s the short answer: No. I’m not too young to write a memoir.
I think the root of the misconception that one has to be “old” to write a memoir is that people confuse memoir with autobiography. That’s the reason that the people who say only famous or exceptionally interesting people should be allowed to write memoirs are wrong too. A memoir is not meant to give a sweeping overview of someone’s life. It’s not meant to chronicle fame or accomplishment. A memoir is, by definition, an autobiographical work that focuses on a specific theme in a person’s life.
For example, the memoir Manic by Terri Cheney is not about Cheney’s life story. The memoir focuses on her experiences living with manic-depressive disorder. This is not to say that the memoir doesn’t occasionally stray into other aspects of her life, but there is a clear, focused theme. And you don’t have to be an elderly person or someone of great fame and renown to write a book like that.
Another assumption that may prompt this question is the idea that young people couldn’t possibly have anything interesting or meaningful to say about life. I think that’s the implication of this question that upsets me the most. Part of that is personal, because I’ve often felt my opinion and feelings have been discounted based solely on my age. But I know that I personally have a whole lot to say, and I’ve seen more in my 23 years than some people in their 80s.
Memoirs, as I see them, offer a slice of a person’s life. And I firmly believe that anyone can write a memoir if they feel they have something to say. If you have something to say when you’re 14 years old, go for it. In fact, I started working on my memoir around that age. The question of whether a person is ready, skill-wise, to write a memoir at a young age is an entirely different question. But some people are better writers at 14 than writers who are 60, so I’m not sure that question is particularly valid either.
To my fellow young writers – I urge you not to let anyone feel that you don’t have a right to tell your story. Whether that story takes the form of a memoir, a novel, a short story…it doesn’t matter. You absolutely do.