My passion is memoir writing. Writing a memoir is a challenge and an opportunity. Writing a memoir is a personal journey through memory and insight. A personal story shared with the world has the power to transform—the writer and the reader of the story.
There are different goals in memoir writing, and one is the process of writing a true personal story. Being the author of our own story can help us to heal and put the past in perspective. Research about expressive writing supports this, and shows that writing the truth is a powerful way to move into a more positive present and future.
When I began writing my memoir, a story of three generations of mothers who had abandoned their daughters—Don’t Call Me Mother—I had no idea where to begin. Whose story was it—mine, my mother’s, my grandmother’s? What voice, timeline, point-of-view should I use? I knew that my story would upset some family members, but it was a story I had to tell—somehow.
You might be asking yourself:
* Is it selfish to write my story?
* How protective should I be of the family?
* What I should I do if someone doesn’t like what I’m writing?
* Do I have the skills to write my story?
These were some of the questions that plagued me in the early stages of writing.
Writing a memoir when I did, there were few memoir-focused courses, and I received a lot of urging to write my story as fiction. But an inner voice told me to write “the truth,” to keep tracking the stories that were burning inside me. Finishing the memoir helped me to let go of many years, perhaps even a generational legacy, of pain.
It was a spiritual and emotional journey for me to complete the early drafts, but if I wanted to be published, I knew I had to create a story that worked on the page and would interest others. I had to learn how to write, to use fictional techniques and learn to edit and receive feedback. I needed to create the kind of writing life that would allow me to finish it.
Do you struggle with these questions?
* How do I write the truth and not upset my family?
* Is it valid for my memoir to be part of my healing path?
* How do I create a healing yet publishable memoir?
In the early stages of my memoir, I discovered that “the truth” did not matter when I cast my story as fiction, but I had the strong sense that the power of my story was that it was true. In those days, memoir was not a popular genre, but I decided that other people needed to know about my healing path, a path toward compassion and forgiveness for these three generations, so I stuck with my choice. As a therapist, I felt the world was hungry to know about the lives of others, and in learning about them, would feel empowered and encouraged in their own struggle toward healing and a positive sense of self.
What inspires you?
As a young girl, I’d curl up beside my great-grandmother in a featherbed where she’d whisper the stories of her life. Her stories and the images they created in my mind became my inspiration to write our family story later. She’d talk about families in covered wagons saying goodbye on their way to the wilderness of Kansas, listening for the first time to a radio, talking on the first telephone. She told me too about my grandmother and mother when they were young, and opened my eyes to a larger view of history and the power of the past to influence the present.
* Who is the inspiration for your story?
* What memories drive you to write your story?
* How will it create a bridge to other people?
* What snapshots can you write about to help you get started?
Writing a memoir as a healing path
As I was writing my memoir, I continued to live through the psychological legacy left to me by my mother and grandmother. Finding my voice and telling the story from my point of view helped me to feel witnessed and present to myself, freeing me to feel more compassion for my mother and grandmother about the difficulties and pain they had experienced.
Completing my memoir released me from my past and allowed me to have a more positive attitude toward the future. Throughout the writing I re-experienced the memories and situations, as every memoirist must do, that shaped me. There were difficult times as I wrote the “darker” stories, and wonderful, happy moments as I relived the “lighter” moments of grace and blessing in my life—the ways that I survived and thrived in spite of challenges.
One of the important techniques for a memoir writer is to balance the lighter, and darker stories, to find a writing path that works and allows the writing to progress. Without that balance the writer can sink into depression and encounter writer’s block. There are ways to prevent this and to break that pattern when it has begun.
* What is your psychological legacy?
* How do you write the dark and light parts of your life?
* How do you take care of yourself as a writer?
* Why are you writing your story?
To answer these questions and get the support you need to write your memoir, I invite you to join NAMW today!