Yes, You are an AUTHORity on Your Memoir’s Subject
Nothing makes my day more than to see a client’s work published.
So, yes, I shouted with glee when I recently received an email from my long-time mentoring client, Magin LaSov Gregg, announcing that her OpEd piece “Community college changed my mom’s life—and mine” had been accepted for publication by The Washington Post.
Magin’s piece is an excellent example of how memoirists can write about the subject of their memoir (or essays) outside of their creative work, and thus position themselves as an authority on their subject.
Notice the word author in authority.
Think about it. You are an authority on your own experience. And your subject is born of your experience. Not only does your experience inform your perspective on your subject, but you have also learned important truths from having lived it.
Your unique perspective, then, offers a significant contribution to the larger cultural conversation about your subject.
Magin’s subject, as you’ll see in her piece, is community college as a life-changing opportunity. But at the heart of this opinion piece is a mother-daughter story—a daughter witnessing her mother find her voice in a community college classroom. Magin’s perspective, i.e., her opinion on her subject, was shaped by her personal experience:
Sometimes, I went to school with her. I’d sit in the hallway outside her classroom and do my homework. I’d hear my mother ask questions and respond to those of her professor. I’d hear her peers praise her ideas. As her voice grew stronger, I heard the return of the confidence she’d lost in an abusive marriage. She no longer shied away from expressing her opinions.
One thing I hear again and again from women I mentor and coach is some version of, “No one wants to read a story about (insert subject here).”
This is not surprising given that women learn, either directly or indirectly, that the subjects of their stories are either not significant or not to be talked about. By default, we come to think of our stories as “small.” Worse, we begin to believe that we don’t have a story to tell.
Had Magin believed the cultural conditioning that a mother-daughter relationship is not significant to matters of national importance, she would not have written this piece, completed it, and taken the bold step of submitting it for publication.
And we would not have her perspective, driven by her voice and her story, championing education for all:
I tell this story today in part because community college has been in the news since President Obama announced his plan to make it free for all students. “No one with drive and ambition should be left out,” the president said, and I agree wholeheartedly. Too many students are denied opportunity because of financial need in a nation where college could be accessible to all hardworking people. They deserve to see their lives transformed by education and to transform the world in turn.
By claiming your subject and daring to speak and write as an authority on what you know, you begin to realize the significance of your story not only to you personally but also to others in the world.
You begin to see your personal experience in terms of universal truths. This deepens your writing and elevates the artistry of your work.
Universal truths, after all, engage your readers at a heart level where they can recognize themselves in your story.
Your truth is that significant. Claiming your subject strengthens your understanding of your truth. It also helps you to clarify for yourself the deeper message at the heart of your memoir. This, in turn, streamlines your writing.
Magin chose to speak on her subject in a national newspaper. There are many ways you can begin to position yourself as an authority on your subject and, ultimately, refine the core messaging—your insights and wisdom—of your book.
5 Ways to Position Yourself as an Authority on Your Subject
1. Write an editorial to your local paper on your subject
2. Blog on your subject, sharing your personal story within the context of your subject
3. Offer to guest blog for someone who is already writing about your subject
Join an online community on your subject and begin commenting on active threads. Notice (really notice!) how your perspective moves the conversation forward.
4. Join an online community on your subject and begin commenting on active threads. Notice (really notice!) how your perspective moves the conversation forward.
5. Offer to speak at local organizations that support, promote, or advocate for your subject. Public speaking offers an excellent opportunity to practice telling your personal story within the context of your subject while honing your message. (Magin’s piece, which you can read here, is an excellent written example that could double as a talk.) Public speaking also provides you with real-life opportunities to challenge the fear of being seen.
The more you speak and write about your subject, the more confidence you will gain to sustain you through the writing of your memoir.
Where might you write (or speak) about your subject, outside of your memoir, and position yourself as an authority?
Begin here. In the comments below, claim the subject of your memoir and be seen as the author you are becoming.*
*Caveat: Many women I work with are writing about subjects that invoke shame. Part of their writing process is to create safe writing relationships—a one-on-one coaching relationship or a small writing community—to begin writing their story. If you fall into this category, you may want to begin claiming your subject with one trusted person and, when you’re ready, another and then another. Take your time. It is perfectly fine, and sometimes advisable, to wait until your book is finished to publicly claim your subject. You’ll know when that is. In the meantime, if you choose, feel free to send me your subject in a private email at Marilyn@writingwomenslives.com.