Denis Ledoux’s new memoir brings up sadness and pain (Part One)

While I’m writing a new memoir about aging and what I’m doing to get along during the last years of my life, memoir guru and teacher, Denis Ledoux, is writing a memoir about his early childhood. I very much appreciate his sharing his thoughts about this new project with our Choices readers, in spite of the sadness and pain the writing has brought up.

Denis’ classic book on memoir writing

I’ve posted Part One of his guest post. I plan to post Part Two one week from today, February 11.


Why Does the Truth Have To Be Coupled with Pain?
Part One

 Denis Ledoux

My new memoir is about my early years, my childhood. Much about this time in my life has a context that is unique and consequently different from that of my contemporaries. This memoir has a place in the world of memoirs, and I want it to find that place, but it has also brought up some pain which I do not want.

My parents were thoughtful and loving people so their behavior towards me is not an issue. I am not writing about a reprehensible or shameful experience. I am dealing with a more average pain that is both little for the world and big for me.

Denis’ Parents

As I have been writing my memoir, I must necessarily include much material about my parents. At one point in the story I am narrating, my parents are 30 and 31 years old. They are young people— certainly in comparison to the age at which I am writing about them—and I realize they are at the beginning of their adult lives. Knowing what will happen to them later, I’m aware that, in the present of the story, they are making decisions which will not contribute to their happiness and well-being. This, of course, makes me sad for them because I want my parents—who are good people after all—to have successful and happy lives, but I know that ahead of them lies some very difficult days that will result from their present decisions. It will produce a smaller, more difficult life than they had hoped for themselves—don’t we all want easier, larger lives?

When I say my parents made wrong decisions, I do not mean to imply that they were foolish and intemperate and not paying attention. No, in many ways, they made some of the best decisions they could, given their context. But their context was limited, and I want to shout to them across the years that they ought not to be making some of their decisions. They ought to “take the road less traveled”—and all of that, forge a new path, but my parents are not about to do that.

Their own parents, friends and relatives are supporting their decisions—either explicitly or implicitly—so their choices do not seem like bad—or unfortunate—decisions to them at all. They are young and they still believe the world will be welcoming to them—or, at least, not rejecting.

“They did the best they could.”

If I omitted the psychological and cultural factors that led them to decide as they did, I would have a story that emphasizes “they did the best they could.” If I do so however, I am omitting working on the fundamental aspect of the memoir—that is, to shed some light on the human experience. (Don’t we all, after all, stand in a darkness which we seek to dispel?) We read memoirs, after all, to learn something about what it is to be a person and how we might make better choices in our own life’s journeys.

“They did the best they could” does not feel like enough. After all, “they did the best they could” sometimes proves to be not very good. It is also sometimes a cop out a writer can indulge in rather than explore an issue.


Remember to come back here to read the second half of Denis Ledoux’s essay about writing a new memoir next Monday, February 11.


Denis’ Bio
An acknowledged leader in the memoir-writing field, Denis has been helping people write since 1988. Readers of this blog can avail themselves of his free five-part e-course Start to Write Your Memoir. Denis is also the author of the classic Turning Memories Into Memoirs / A Handbook for Writing Lifestories and many other memoir-writing books. Join his My Memoir Education Membership. It’s complementary, and you’ll receive tons of free materials.


  1. […] his experience writing about his childhood. To refresh your memories about Part One, here is the link. I think all memoir writers will find the second part of his post just as fascinating and […]

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