It may not be as easy as you had expected.

You may imagine you have all the right stuff. You do not have to make anything up: no surprise endings, no unexpected twists in the plot, no raising of the stakes. You have the chronology, the melodrama, perhaps even a true crime.

Of course, you realize you will have to wrestle with old sorrows, humiliations, and heart-ache, but you have probably done that before. Your ghosts have been hovering for a while.

You may discover, in the writing, that the pieces have to be rearranged. The story might have to be restructured as it is in fiction. Chronology is not much help, on the contrary. There is just too much of it: too many years, days, moments. There are so many moments you remember vividly, so many lovely places, glimpses of hands, smooth legs, heart-shaped faces, the sounds of voices, and, with the dark wing of hindsight, so many meaningful words.

You have to steel yourself to start when the ball begins to roll down the hill, and then make sure that everything propels it forwards ineluctably, inexorably, rolling onwards into the sea. You have to find the limits of the story, cut out everything extraneous, bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. You have to write and rewrite and rewrite.

As for melodrama and surprises, there are often too many. It may all seem over the top. The events have to somehow be made believable in non-fiction as well as fiction. Just because it has happened does not make it real on the page. You have to find the right tone, take sufficient distance; understate, cut out all sentimentality, anything that is just not credible on the page, even if it has happened.And once the thing is published you may have to tell your family not to read it and though some may follow your suggestion. others may read it and be shocked and tell your family about the reading. Be prepared for people to write and either corroborate your story, commend,  or disapprove.

Even the press may have an opinion and not always the one you want. Others will write with similar stories. People may feel they know you and can tell your their own stories. Many will ask if with the publication of a memoir, you have achieved some kind of closure, can now close the door, put it all behind you, move on. Of course, there is a certain satisfaction at having completed a project, finished a book, produced a complete work where one has put in so much emotion, effort , and time. But closure? Well, no! no! The many real silenced voices of both women and men will still come to you. You will hear them clamoring, coming in the silence of the night.

Sheila Kohler is the author of 14 books, most recently the memoir, "Once We Were sisters." (Penguin)

You are reading

Dreaming for Freud

How to Know If Someone Is Right for You

What makes two people compatible?

One Essential Thing We Can Do to Slow the Aging Process

How much of aging lies in our minds?

What Makes Someone Loveable?

What makes someone interesting to others.