By the Wind Grieved

By the Wind Grieved
“O lost, And by the wind grieved, Ghost, Come back again.” Thomas Wolfe

Friday, May 17, 2013

Memoir Ghostwriter as Therapist

As I mark my six month point in writing an autobiography with my client, I realize that what I am doing has certain elements of the psychiatrist's profession. Because I want the story to be compelling not only for my client and his family, but for the general reading public as well, I need to get at underlying feelings and motivations. I have to do this while respecting the client's dignity and privacy and honoring the way he himself sees his story. In short, I have to ask a lot of prying questions with a certain delicacy. It is not unlike taking on the role of a family therapist.

My client is a paragon of virtue. A truckload of glowing articles have been written about him, and after working with him closely for half a year, it is clear to me that his reputation is built on solid ground. Moreover, his story of moving from poor refugee to world-renown neurosurgeon is a fascinating one, and now that we are moving into his career phase, details on the medical profession, the brain, hospital dynamics, work-life balance, and other topics that you might be familiar with from watching Grey's Anatomy or Scrubs are emerging that, I think, should make for very good reading.

But a memoir or an autobiography cannot be simply a litany of virtuous acts or an account of professional development and success. Such a narrative does not make for a compelling story. There must be a necessary dark in contrast to which the light shines brighter. There must be a mature reflection on events that happened in the past and on key relationships.

As memoirist, poet and creative writing teacher Judith Barrington points out in Writing the Memoir, what is required is nothing short of the laying bare of the soul.