Memoir is a very popular genre right now, one that draws people from all ages and all levels of experience. It’s truly a grass roots movement about the passion to tell and share our stories.
When we write a memoir, we embark upon a journey—to the land of memory, to the heart of who we are and were, to the past, and to discovery–of aspects of ourselves, of new insights into our family and the times. We honor those we loved, and we name things that were never named. The memoir becomes an archeological dig as we keep digging into the treasures of the past. We discover memories, insights, and knowledge—or they seem to discover us!
Writing a memoir is so much more about an explorative adventure toward self-knowledge than most people imagine it will be. At first, we start off excited about writing our book, but somewhere along the way—in the middle is where it happens for most people—we find ourselves doubting our memories and our writing, and we may find ourselves sinking into a morass of questions and doubts.
- Should I be writing this—what will the family say?
- I didn’t realize that I would write about abuse—I didn’t plan that, but now that’s what keeps coming out.
- I find so many layers of the story, I’m overwhelmed. I want to stop writing—why did I start this anyway, it’s harder than I expected.
- I find myself crying, I want to put aside the feelings that are coming up. After all, didn’t I talk about this enough in therapy?
- I just want to write the happy stuff. Can’t I just do that?
- I decided to leave out the things that the family doesn’t want me to write. But if I do, there won’t be much left.
While writing is not therapy, nor is your writing group a therapy group, the truth is that writing a memoir is healing and can be therapeutic—the root of therapeutic means “healing.” Another word for it is transformation. Another word: change.
Writing a memoir will change you—for the better, but you have to go through the process, you have to write and keep writing deeper and deeper into the layers of your life to find the other side, to discover the gifts that writing a memoir will give you. Your story will teach you, it’s a path of knowledge, according to Dr. James Pennebaker, the psychologist who researched the power of writing to heal.
You need to take care of yourself, your soul, your heart, and your body as you continue to write, dig, learn, and return for more.
Keep these things in mind:
- Accept that writing your memoir will take longer to complete than you want it to.
- You need to stock up supplies for this project: Kleenex, writing pals, support, quiet time, and lots of permission. Oh, and tea. Lots of tea. It has chemicals that calm you down. The English have something there!
- Allow the writing process to guide you toward the unwanted stories, images, and memories. They will be your teacher. Tune in and listen to them.
- Be open to the stories that want to come through you. Listen to your body.
- Alternate “dark” and “light” stories—take care of your emotional balance.
- Invite your unconscious to help you write and remember. Write before bed, as soon as you wake up. Journal questions you want to dream about.
- Treat your writing with respect. File it so you can find it. Back up your files. Print out your work and put it in a notebook. Act like a “real” writer!
- Find a mentor who has been on the journey. After all, Cinderella had the fairy godmother and Frodo had Gandalf.