I’ve read several of Malcom Gladwell’s books (Outliers is my favorite) and respect his thinking and writing ability. However, a former writing student took his online Masterclass recently and wrote me in shock over what he’s teaching about writing about our own lives.
Here’s what she wrote to me after watching his teaching –
I’ve been ramping up to begin my memoir…then decided to watch Malcom Gladwell’s MasterClass on writing. He just did a segment on why one should never write about their own life or experience…unless there is something to say that is of importance to the world…written by an important person. His claim is that readers of autobiography who are invested in literary significance would perhaps want nothing to do with a person like me writing about my life. In fact, he hasn’t written about his own. Just wanted to know what your thoughts were on that if you don’t mind?
Some of her handwritten notes from the class that she took a pic of and sent to me include…
- You are engaging in a self-indulgent act…
- People become suspicious of you…
- Self absorption cannot transfer without diminishing a person’s merit…
NO, NO, NO.
I admire Malcolm Gladwell’s writing and have read several of books. He is obviously a great thinker and looks at subjects with such an interesting perspective. However, I do not agree with what you report he is teaching in his MasterClass. To begin with, autobiography and memoir are really two different things entirely (something I address in my online memoir course). It seems like he is saying that the only way to write about your experience is to consider it an autobiography (someone important doing something exceptional) when it’s obviously not. Memoir is a human telling what happened to the writer, usually not a whole life story, but an aspect or event that shaped their life and by reading can shape our lives. While Michelle Obama can write an autobiography, Cheryl Strayed wrote a memoir. When I think of my favorite memoirs, none of them are important people and I personally think literary significance is in the eye of the beholder. It is not self-indulgent to write about yourself if you are being as honest as possible. I’m almost angry he is teaching this. My guess is that the reason he hasn’t written about his own life is that he has nothing to say about it that he thinks is interesting enough or he doesn’t want to be honest. I would also guess that he doesn’t read many memoirs. Boo Malcolm Gladwell.
Friends, please don’t let him (or anyone) keep you from writing what you feel led to. Don’t let any ‘expert’ interfere with expressing a creative impulse. A best-selling author has an opinion, that’s fine, but it’s just one person’s thought. If a teacher says something that doesn’t ring true, including anything I say, let it go. Trust your intuition and cultivate bravery. Your truth awaits.
2 Comments Add yours
“Boo Malcolm Gladwell.” You make me smile. ❤
yay for smiling! 🙂