A memoir is a subjective story, written from the point of view of you, the narrator and main character of the story, the protagonist. This means that you are translating your experiences—the moments in your life that are significant and make up the spine of your story. This translating is part of the challenging work of writing a memoir; it means that we do our best to present the inner world—our thoughts and feelings as well as our actions—to the audience, the reader, the outer world.
Stand in the shoes of the reader for a moment. The reader is outside your world, and it’s only your words, the descriptions and scenes that bring the reader inside your experience. We need to write our memoir from the inside out, and then stand outside ourselves to get a perspective on what the reader sees. This can make a memoir writer feel a little crazy—this juggling of inner and outer swivels our heads as we try on these different points of view.
In the early drafts, it’s best to write from a deeply subjective place, a place of memory and buried feelings, and it’s important to allow this kind of process to take place. This is part of being a translator as you bring upward the memories and experiences that took place long ago, bringing them into the light of the present. In the now, we view these moments differently than we did then. When we are young, quite often we don’t have words for our experiences yet. When we write now, we have the benefit of perspective and time. Still, it’s our responsibility to honor the person we were in the past, to try to portray that time and the challenges of our lives with the most accuracy we can muster.
Allow yourself several drafts and some time to sort through your memories. Make a list of the important moments that will be part of your story, and freewrite them—set a timer and write as fast as you can for about 20 minutes. This way you don’t spend time hemming and hawing about what to write. Freewriting speeds you past the inner critic. It’s likely that you will spill out the truth of your situation in the story, that you will write without censoring—the idea of the exercise. You are capturing your inner world, how you felt and thought in a rough draft. No, it’s not going to be how you will eventually present your story, but it will likely be authentic, it will be the inside story of your life.
Later, much later when you have done 10 to 20 of these exercises, you can begin to be more objective about your story. By writing it, you’ll be claiming your story, getting acquainted with it, and learning what it is about. You will end up working your way toward more objectivity, as you begin to observe yourself as a character. You start to be able to stand outside the story. Throughout the drafts of over 300-400 pages, you’ll be doing a weaving of this inside-out perspective. I believe that being able to take both perspectives allows us the freedom to write what’s in our hearts while at the same time we learn to view our story as a witness. Learning to become a narrator and a witness draws upon different parts of our brains, and is a healing act. I wish you the best in writing your memoir this month!