Family Secrets in Your Personal Memoir?

What Family Secrets Lurk in Your Closet?

Which Secrets Will I Tell?

Which Family Secrets Will I Tell?

We all have skeletons in our closets, but how many family secrets should our stories expose? Some are trivial secrets about family members and friends. They have little valance at this point in our lives, yet others have more consequence and might affect people who are living today. An example could be a child born “out of wedlock” generations ago. A divorce or family feud might linger in your memory. An old injury inflicted by a family member might fester and beg to be told.

Students in my memoir classes ask if they should include family secrets in their personal memoirs. I always ask them,

“Who are you willing to hurt?”

I felt free to reveal exactly how my father behaved within our family after he passed away. I exposed every detail and spared no hurt to my childhood ego. I thought that his death gave me a free pass, but I soon learned that my current family felt uncomfortable with my account.

I sought to tell an authentic story to family and friends, but I mistook authenticity for self-indulgence. I had to find a way to make it clear that my father had damaged my childhood through his lack of self-control. Yet I wanted to do this without catering to my own need for emotional release.

I wrote a catharsis of memories. Then I edited my story to create a balance between emotional cleansing and good story telling.

Family Stories or Published Memoir?

As a start for family stories, I encourage writers to flush out detailed memories, write them, and then consider, “Who are you willing to hurt?”

For those who are looking to publish a memoir that will sell, there are other considerations.

A writer who wants to explore the question of family secrets further can look at these websites.

Gotham Writers offers excellent resources for writers at

Here’s a great article by Ruth Zaryski Jackson about the nature of family secrets.

In the end, it’s your story to tell, and your secrets to share. When you read my forthcoming book, Remembering Childhood: Workbook Your Way to a Finished Memoir to be released on September 15, 2016, you’ll have access to my Jump-Start Your Memoir videos with tips about writing a personal memoir including topics for consideration as you begin.

Write your memoir, one story at a time!

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