May 27, 2020

Manifesting Your Idea into a Memoir

single-book-magicI had the privilege of seeing Elizabeth Gilbert’s keynote address at the Wake-Up Festival this August 2014. Although Liz is most famous for her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, she told the audience that her true and original love was fiction. Dani Shapiro wrote this month in the New Yorker that she is an accidental memoirist, and although Liz didn’t frame it exactly this way, it’s clear that she is too. It’s not uncommon for writers to be visited, or haunted, by a story that will not let them go. Sometimes this means you set out to write novels, but you discover you have a memoir in you that you have to write. Or you didn’t see yourself as a writer at all, but you have to face the persistent voice that’s nagging at you: a book is begging to be written.


If you’re in that space of wanting to write a memoir but not knowing where to start, or feeling burdened by the heavy lifting you know writing a book is going to entail, read on. Liz shared a story that’s too long to recount here, but it was full of inspiration and coincidences and the power of tuning in. She talked a lot about magic, which resonated deeply for me. When Linda Joy and I conceived of our six-month memoir course, we’d both had deep and authentic experiences around how magical memoir writing can be. You may experience magic in the form of inspiration or flow. And there is magic in the journey of memoir writing itself, for how else but through some sort of magical series of circumstances would anyone ever have the stamina to stick with the process through multiple variations to a complete draft?


I’ve long maintained that your memoir knows what it wants to be. I have always believed that a memoir has its own life force, which some writers wrestle with, while others choose to dance or play. Liz drilled down a bit further on this concept of a memoir having its own life force in her discussion about ideas. “Ideas are made of will,” she said. “Nothing but will. Ideas seek a person who’s available and ready to do the work. They’re looking for someone to manifest them.”


Liz spoke of ideas as being active, as having a desire of their own. I love this. After all, before a memoir can become a memoir, it’s a seed of an idea—planted into the writer who is available and ready. For Liz, ideas are like little life forces floating around, waiting to be met by the person who’s ready to do the work, who’s so excited and passionate about the idea, who perhaps is visited and revisited by an idea that they cannot not write.


Since memoir is true, and it’s a story from your life, it’s not the case that just anyone will be visited by the idea for the book you want to write. But many people have similar life stories and experiences, and you may be one of those people who’s stumbled upon a book on Amazon that you were going to write. I’ve had students over the years who are devastated or panic-stricken when they discover another book out on the market that’s just like theirs.


But Liz sees these moments as clarifying moments, as opportunities to consider what space needs to open up in order for you to receive the book you are supposed to write. As I see it, it may also be a simple opportunity for you to finally buckle down and do it. There’s ample room out there for more than one memoir on the same topic, and rather than feel like you should throw it all away, you might use an experience such as this to get reinvigorated.


Maybe you’ve been sitting with your idea for years and years, waiting for the right moment, resisting the writing of your memoir for whatever reason: dread; lack of time and space; fear of the consequences; etc. What I took away from Liz’s talk is that the time is now. If you’ve felt that teeming energy that accompanies something that is begging to be written, then you’ve been visited by an idea that has a will of its own. It may have been lying in wait for a while already, waiting for you to respark its flame. Liz suggests that sometimes ideas simply leave us. Maybe they die; maybe we’re not ready; maybe we’ll never be ready. Perhaps you need to let go of an idea in order to move on with your life. But if letting go creates more sadness than relief, it’s probably an indication that you need to find ways to become ready and available to engage your idea—whose flame will intensify in equal measure to your tending of it.


Mark Nepo, who was also a presenter at the Wake-Up Festival, shared the following lines from the Talmud, written by Hillel:


If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?


I can’t think of a more apropos question for someone who has an idea, a desire, who’s wondering what it will take to make themselves available and ready.


If not now, when?


  1. Brooke – as usual, I love your posts, and this one is spot on with the magic of passion. I mention you in the blog today by the way.
    It seems to be an ongoing ritual.
    Dorit Sasson
    Giving a Voice to Your Story


  1. […] example, Brooke Warner of Warner Coaching. If you read her latest post on Elizabeth Gilbert’s inspiring story about the magic of giving voice to an idea, then you’ll know exactly what I […]

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