If you are writing a memoir, or even a novel, and wonder how you can break through the inner critic that silences you, this is a perfect moment to move forward and get unstuck.
As a memoir writer, I know how tough it is to confront the forbidden stories and write them down. Once voice says, “Go ahead, it’s the truth,” while another says “You can’t say that, it’s rude.” Or “What will people think if they know these things about me?” Or the real stinger, “They might get mad at me. They might accuse me of lying.”
You have your own list of what your inner critic says.
Typical Inner Critic messages:
- I don’t know how to write.
- Who cares about my story anyway?
- I’m too self-involved.
- What difference does it make if I write my
- Maybe I’m making it all up.
- My family will never speak to me again if I write that.
- This is boring
Family and friends are the “Outer Critics.” These are some of their voices:
- You’re writing a memoir?
- For heaven’s sake, must you air the family laundry?
- Don’t you dare write that while we’re alive!
- You think you have a right to these stories?
- Don’t darken our door if your write about
- .It didn’t happen that way!
- All you can do is think about the past!
TIP: The best thing to do with your list is to write it down and get it out of your head. Then argue back with it. Answer each doubt that is raised, work on affirmations like, “This is my story. I have a right to tell it.”
TIP: In your first draft you can spill out the whole story. No one knows what you are writing until you share it. Sharing should be done carefully! You want to keep up your story energy all the way through your first draft.
TIP: Write out as many affirmations as you can think of and put them on your wall. They might be phrases like this:
- The words that flow are good, just right for that day.
- I will protect my writing from naysayers, including myself.
- Each paragraph I write gives me strength and forward
- Every scene I write helps me to find a new perspective
- and joy in my life.
- When I learn new skills, I am energized and excited
- about my writing.
- I look forward to my writing time.
- I honor and preserve my time to write
These practices about the critic voices may need to be repeated as you write your book. I used to have a vile, abusive inner critic that kept me silent for months at a time, but I kept returning to these exercises, I kept working on my story bit by bit as I tried to free myself. That’s why I’m so passionate about helping you learn to break through and write your stories.
One of the challenges in memoir writing is capturing how we change through time. Who you, as your narrator, were 30 years ago is not who you are today. Even your cells have changed. We have to wonder who the “I” is who’s telling our story. Each person is a kaleidoscope of “I”, and we need to keep track as we write of which “I” is telling the story, and which “I” we’re writing about in the past–the kid who was seven, the teenaged self, or the young adult persona.
As a memoir writer and teacher for many years, I see my students searching not only for the voice of the narrator who tells the story, but who they were at different ages. In a memoir, we inevitably end up reflecting on identity, on who we think we are, or were, and how that person, or that shifting sense of who you were, experienced the various moments you choose to show in your memoir. I love the term that Sue William Silverman uses for the varying voices in memoir–“The Voice of Innocence and the Voice of Experience.” The Voice of Experience is you now, which I call the “now” narrator. You are the writer in the now, you understand how the puzzle pieces of the past and the various identities of self you have had throughout your life fit together. By the way, Sue will be our guest at the May 9 Memoir Telesummit this year!
The voice of Innocence is your younger self, whether it’s you as a child, or you as a teen or young adult. Often you are dropping into scenes from that past as you present the POV of yourself from that earlier age. Your tone, voice, language and vocabulary will be different as that younger version of yourself. Mark Matousek, memoir writer and teacher, says, “None of us has only one voice; we all house many characters who evolve, appear, and disappear over time. Just as there is no solid self, there is no solid, monolithic story.”
Free Roundtable Discussion on the Self in Memoir At the National Association of Memoir Writers today, February 6.
Topic: Who Am I Now? The Changing Self in Memoir
Expert: Mark Matousek
This week’s free Roundtable Discussion at the National Association of Memoir Writers features Mark Matousek and me in a discussion about the shifting psyche in memoir and how to think about and manage the lens through which you present yourself at different parts of your story. Of course, as we sort through our past and choose what to write, we are vulnerable with who we are/were, what we remember. We have to choose the themes and how much to reveal. We can’t hide behind the fictional wall, as I call it. We’ll examine the paradox of self, memory, and imagination in this conversation, as imagination is also important to memoirists–not in the sense of making up things, but in bringing forward into our consciousness the memories and moments that help to define us, that shaped us into who we are now.
Please join us
Date: February 6, 2014
Time: 4 PM PST 5 PM MST 6 PM CST 7 PM EST
Sign up here
I’m so happy to have Theo Pauline Nestor join us on Friday, November 22 to talk about Five Secrets to Writing an Enduring Memoir
Theo’s new book Writing Is My Drink is an inspiring book about how she claimed herself as a writer—and a whole person who had a right to have a story—and to share it. You must read it! You will find a lot of terrific writing prompts and discover a renewed energy to write from reading her personal story of her life and her search for self. It’s a great book that will address the times you ever doubted yourself and looked for external validation—who hasn’t done that? And show you how she drew upon teachers, moments of silence, and the gifts of unexpected ahas to become a published writer and a great teacher.
Theo says, “Writing a memoir is a complex task that asks us to weave truth, story, craft, and our own vulnerability as writers.” I’m sure all of you who are working on your memoir will relate to this statement, and are familiar with juggling these aspects of writing. We are going to talk about the process of writing and how important it is to find your voice, to be vulnerable. To find ways to encourage that shy part of yourself who might prefer to stay silent—and yet you want to write! Writing is about finding voice, and getting support to be courageous in exploring and excavating your stories and yourself.
Everything that Theo writes about in her book I find parts of myself, from a sense of shame and shyness because of growing up in an unconventional family to feeling inadequate around everyone else who surely knew who they were and where they were going—those who exuded knowledge and coolness. But writers need to dig deep into their own secret stories to come up with the gold nuggets that reveal the truth. There are many truths and sure, we wish that the nuggets weren’t connected to deep emotions, shame, or fear, but they are. When we mine these dark places that we have tried to hide from ourselves and others, the brilliance of our truths, our authentic voices, and the real story comes shining through. Read more about how Theo sorts all this out.
If you are not a member yet, you can learn more at the National Association of Memoir Writers Member Benefits page and sign up. Join us!
Theo has created a great conference for January—a great way to start the year! With Anne Lamott as keynote speaker. If you have not listened to Anne Lamott, you owe it to yourself to have this special experience. Her book Bird by Bird has been the go-to book for writing process for writers for many years. The National Association of Memoir Writers is sponsoring this event! Come by and see me in person. We’d both love to meet you!
Here is Theo’s offer for a discounted ticket to the event with Anne Lamott
Get a $40 dollar discount off early bird tickets for Nestor’s event Bird by Bird & Beyond with Anne Lamott until midnight tomorrow (11/16) night when you enter the promotional code word mentor. Info and registration here.
Bird by Bird & Beyond is a day devoted to the craft of personal narrative with classes and a rare opportunity to hear Lamott talk on the topic of writing with her keynote “Almost Every Single Thing I Know About Writing.” 1/18/14, Petaluma, CA.
I spoke with Victoria Costello, author of A Lethal Inheritance at the National Association of Memoir Writers member teleseminar. about the legacy of mental illness.
Those of us who come from families with hidden or diagnosed mental illness feel “Other,” the ghosts of our legacies chasing us in our dreams, making us shrink down in our waking life.
In my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother, I talk about beautiful women who have a pattern of leaving their children behind, beautiful women who scream and rage irrationally, but who are just thought of as eccentric or different. As a child, of course this is “just the way it is.” After my mother’s terminal diagnosis of cancer, she tormented the nurses so much that her doctor ordered a psychiatric evaluation. That’s when she was diagnosed as Bi-Polar, that’s when behavior that was cruel, irrational, and off-the-wall finally got a name.
In her informative and teeth-clenching memoir, Victoria does a brave thing: she combines her considerable scientific research about the causes and treatments of mental illness—the history of and the current state of treatment—with her own family’s case study—the story of herself and her children. She makes an excellent point with this book—that no matter how much we know or how smart we are, there are mysterious forces in life that blindside us, that bring us to our knees. Mental illness does that to families, and worse—it’s often a hidden illness shrouded in ignorance, guilt, and shame, and often a secret even from the sufferers themselves.
As ubiquitous as mental illness is in our society, too often diagnoses are incorrect or non-existent when, if properly understood, lives could be saved and immense suffering prevented. Since funding has consistently been cut for programs that include treatment for the mentally ill, too often treatment even for adolescents is non-existent, leaving people to fall upon impossible conditions—living on the street and/or families trying to help someone who is beyond their help or expertise. And for families like Victoria’s, once the child is of age, the parents no longer have any power to insist on medication or treatment, even if it were available. Since the teen years are when children are more vulnerable to the onset of mental illness, it stands to reason that the child might not be out of danger when they become of age and have to make their own decisions. One of the frustrating aspects of trying to deal with the mentally ill is that they believe that they are either fine or all-powerful, when in fact their thinking and perceiving are distorted. What a nightmare for any family member.
A Lethal Inheritance also points us toward the need to understand and research the genetic and genealogical backgrounds in our own families. In her family as in mine, mental illness, mostly undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, has planted seeds in later generations, the societal, biological, genetic, and psychological factors all aligned for a perfect storm. Victoria’s book is easy to read, despite the intensity of the material. Perhaps it’s because she weaves the cool-headed research in with her often painful story. It’s a success story too—told by someone who knows the journey and can help you on yours.
Is this subject part of your story in some way?
Have you ever looked into your family legacy and found secrets that explain things? What was that like for you?
Celebrate National Lifewriting Month with our free Webinar Writing on the Edge
Memoir writing is dangerous! Yes, many writers feel that they are falling off some kind of edge, taking chances, risking–what? –perhaps as memoirists, we’re risking a sense of safety by hiding our voices. But if you are writing a memoir, you ARE inviting yourself to step out and speak your truths, to write on that edge of who you are, what you think, and what you need to share with the world. What do you have to say that only you can say? What is your wisdom? Read more…
Writing Without a Net
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Writing compelling memoir calls upon all the craft and intelligence of any strong writing—the ability to render characters believable, scenes whole and vivid, settings your reader can not only see but smell, hear, almost taste. But memoir requires the writer to take one more step—to know that her story will resonate only if it is deeply true. Read more.
Look Sharp! 7 WEBSITE AND COVER DESIGN TIPS TO HELP SELL YOUR BOOK
Brian Felsen, president of Book Baby
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We all know the value of good design and yet if we are self-published authors, there is so much to learn that we don’t know—and much of the time, we don’t know that we don’t know it! Brian Felsen, president of the basics on website and cover design which will help you sell your book.
How to Use the Hallmark of Great Fiction Writing—the Scene—in Memoir
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We all know that to write a memoir, we must draw upon the skills of fiction writing—while still keeping true to the requirement that we write “the Truth.” to the best of our ability we must discern and capture our experiences. How does keeping true to memory affect our ability to write well, to bring the reader deeply into the world of our story?
Howard Van Es
Cashing in with Kindle
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The publishing landscape has dramatically changed—fewer large publishers, and more opportunities for independent publishing. And Amazon’s Kindle program is leading the way, helping thousands of authors get in front of readers and sell books Amazon offers a variety of powerful marketing tools that independent authors can tap into. Howard Van Es, president of Let’s Write Books, Inc. is going to show you how to get your book to the top of the Amazon rankings. Read more…
Many writers are already busily writing at NaNoWriMo .The idea is to write as much as 50,000 words in 30 days. 6.5 pages a day. Memoir writers are welcome too!
Can you do it? Can you dedicate a couple of hours a day to get the first draft of your memoir done?
Tips for what I call MemoirWriMo:
1. Write quickly, let your fingers go and the words spill out.
2. When you’re not writing, feed your imagination with photos and research.
3. Get the basics on the page. Outline your ideas, list scenes and be focused on what you need to write.
4. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or details.
5. Blow on by your inner critic. There is simply no time to listen to it.
Write Nonfiction in November
My friend Nina Amir runs a fabulous 30 day blog extravaganza at Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN), also known as National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo), is one nonfiction writer’s response to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a contest that has fiction writers writing 50,000 words in 30 days during November. It’s also a challenge to nonfiction writers to spend the month of November writing and completing a work of nonfiction. Be sure to check in with the great experts writing about nonfiction and start your own write nonfiction challenge. Read more here.
‘Tis the season of taking stock, setting new goals, and making plans—for the holidays, and for the New Year. Many memoir writers are getting serious about finalizing the first draft of their memoir, and moving forward with new edits, focusing on themes and figuring out the arc of the story they are telling. The next stages of the memoir are about creating a way to bring in the reader. Other memoirists are figuring out how to begin and what stories to write.
In my journey in the memoir writing world, as I get to know people, I notice how much they love to reminisce and think about their loved ones and times gone by: “Remember when we…” and “I so want to share my grandmother with everyone—she was such a sweet person.” Or “You won’t believe this story, but it’s true…” And I hear this a lot, “I think my story can help others, so I have to write it.”
Every month at the National Association of Memoir Writers, I am privileged to talk with our guests and audiences at the free Roundtable discussions—a great way to meet new writers!—and I love reconnecting with members during our monthly teleseminars. This year, teaching with Brooke Warner for our short courses Kick Start Your Memoir and the Muddy Middle introduced me to more people and their books in progress. And we are looking forward to our full group at Write Your Memoir in Six Months starting in January. All this is so inspiring for me—supporting the idea that creating the National Association of Memoir Writers is helping people write their stories, and creating new connections with others who are passionate too.
I love what Brooke says to aspiring memoir writers:
“Many people have a story they’re yearning to tell, but few have the stamina and discipline to commit to the journey of writing a memoir. You need many things on this journey: support, community, self-compassion. As they say, every journey begins with a first step. When will you take yours?”
I find that most memoir writers need inspiration, and they’re inspired by having their memories fired up through movies, videos, photographs, and writing prompts. Last year, I created a lovely way to help you get inspired, keep track of your stories, and save them in a book-like format—a binder with tabs to keep track of your themes, each section with writing prompts about various topics:
Roots and legacies—where you came from, your ancestors, and the legacies that you are passing on in your memoir;
Fathers and mothers—prompts that invite you to create character sketches of the important members of your family; Childhood memories—discover the important moments that formed you—and more–Love and Marriage, Houses, Secrets and Hidden Truths. You will find over 90 writing prompts, a timeline, a list of dozens of memoir topics, and writing tips to get you started and keep you going to “The End” of your memoir.
On Cyber Monday, if you renew or join as a member of the National Association of Memoir Writers, you’ll get our lowest price of $99 for a whole year of teleseminars, books, eBooks, and audio downloads, and you’ll get the binder for free—mailed to you before Christmas. There’s nothing like seeing your book develop in your binder as the pages accumulate! And think of the binder as a gift for a loved one, or inspiration for someone who know who’s always been wanting to write their memoir.
The binder and the special low membership price are good only on Cyber Monday! I hope I get to talk with you about your memoir on one of our upcoming calls in the new year!
Have a wonderful holiday season, and remember our motto at NAMW—Be Brave, Write Your Story!