Breaking Silence—An Important Topic for Memoirists

This last weekend I spoke at the Story Circle Network Women’s Writing Conference—a group of bright, energetic, and eager writers of all genres. What moved me most was the look in some of the women’s eyes as they told me how much they needed to hear more permission to write and tell their truths from me and other teachers at the conference. Most of us struggle with how to feel internal permission to write what most needs to be written—the deep truths that have shaped and governed our lives. It helps to get encouragement, to hear how important this is, over and over again.

We know that there are things that get in the way—shame; the fear of judgment from family and friends, and our own reluctance/fear to put into words painful things. These reasons not to write or explore our truths fight with the need to be authentic and real, and to be who we really are.

How can we break through these barriers? It’s not easy—just “deciding” may not be enough. Our intellect, our thinking mind, understands that we can and should write our truths, that it might be beneficial. Freeing. It says yes, and it knows that may other people have done this. That it’s possible. But…the real problem is our emotional self. It’s cautious and protective of us. Sometimes we call the voice that silences us “the inner critic.” But perhaps it’s not only critical—it’s protecting you from being hurt.

How do you connect these different parts of ourselves? How do we work toward breaking open and telling the truth?

One technique for protection is to make lists—lists help to contain the emotions that can feel like they are too much when we’re exploring truth and secrets.

Another technique is to keep your writing private. Share carefully when you decide to share, and remember that family and friends may have a different perspective from you. If you get negative feedback, it can stop you from writing honestly. Protect your creative self!



  • List the 5 things that you are most afraid to write about.
  • Take each one on your list and freewrite for 3 minutes why you are afraid what you think might happen.
  • List the secrets that you aren’t ready to write about.
  • List what you imagine people will say if you write your truths.
  • Keep writing! Find a writing buddy you can send your work to.
  • Take classes, and engage with other writers regularly–it’s like watering your garden. Your veggies grow better with more water.



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4 thoughts on “Breaking Silence—An Important Topic for Memoirists

  1. I haven’t experienced terrible things like physical and sexual abuse. My truths are more emotionally based…my personal feelings not being honored…and more ’shoulds’ than ‘can dos’… due to being the youngest by 8, 12 & 15 years and the only female. I never experienced lack, in fact, was spoiled beyond belief…until at age 16, when I answered the phone and the nurse at the other end of the line gave me the news that my beloved Dad…my knight in shining armor…had died suddenly of a stroke at the young age of 52, while undergoing some tests at the hospital… and everything changed. And truth be told, I’ve shared this story to anyone who would listen…over and over and over again. Is this real a story worth telling?

    1. It sounds to me like this story is very important to you. The first reason to write our story is to get it down on the page, where then we can witness it, we can honor it. You are the reason that you need to write your story. You need to claim it for yourself. Good luck.

  2. I’m glad you mentioned, “just deciding is not enough.” Sometimes, my mind says okay, “I’m doing this or I can do that.” The truth is taking action and sticking through the process are the hardest steps. My emotional self is going through so much trying to protect me. I’m doing it and I’m proud that I’m at 40k words of my memoir already but it’s an emotional rollercoaster that fiction doesn’t have.

    1. Thank you for your note. Yes, taking action is hard because then we face the parts of our emotional story that perhaps are still waiting to be resolved further. Writing does help that process, even if you end up not using all that material. Best of luck with your memoir! Keep writing!

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