Fear–everyone experiences an uncomfortable tension, a flutter in the stomach, when they think about writing about their lives and revealing themselves. But most of us come to the page with a need–to explore our lives and memories. To understand something. To muse and wonder about life, relationships. What are the stories that haunt you? What do you need to say and what stops you? What memories won’t leave you alone? Write them down. For now, just write a list.
What gets in the way of writing your truth: shame, fear of judgment from family and friends? Sometimes it’s hard to express the truth of what we’ve lived through, what we’ve done to ourselves and others. And what others have done to us. In writing memoir, we have the opportunity to explore the deeper layers of memory and self. We try to make sense of what happened. Writing allow us to explore our minds and dreams, it gives us permission to discover who we are.
How can we break through the voices of doubt? It’s not easy—just “deciding” to push through may not be enough. Our intellect, our thinking mind, understands that we need to write our stories. But the real problem is our vulnerable emotional self–it wants to protect us from hurt or criticism. (Often we are our own worst critic.) The silencing voice, “the inner critic” is a part of everyone. Every famous author will tell you in their presentations how hard it was to write, how their inner critic started shouting or whispering. But they write anyway!
Journaling, morning pages, a poem a day–you don’t have to write a great deal to feel the joy of seeing your words flow onto the page. Then celebrate and reward yourself for your efforts. Bit by bit you will be able to write more. Someone once told me “Writing leads to more writing!” It’s true. Every time you write, you’re breaking your silence and freeing your voice.
Make lists of the significant moments you remember, moments that won’t leave you alone. Lists help to contain overwhelming emotions and allow you to slowly immerse yourself in a few memories at a time. Be sure to balance the light and dark memories.
Another technique: Keep your writing private through the first draft. Share carefully and protect your vulnerable early thoughts and remembrances from outside comments until you have written a lot without worrying about what your family might say. Remember that family and friends might have a different perspective of events. Negative feedback or the fear of it stops us from writing freely and honestly. Protect your creative self! Get your stories down and live with them for awhile before sharing them.
- 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 would happen if you wrote your truths?
- List the secrets you aren’t ready to write about.
- List what you imagine people will say if you write what you really think and feel.
- Make a list of the 5 best memories in your life.
- Each week, choose a story from your lists and write at least 500 words.
- Keep writing! Find a writing buddy you can send your work to and who can support you. Mutual support and witnessing helps with the process.
- Take classes and engage with other writers regularly–it’s like watering your garden. Your veggies will grow better with more nurturing.
In July, I spoke at the Story Circle 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 permission, again, to write and tell their stories–from me and from 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, fear of judgment from family and friends, and our own reluctance/fear to put into words painful things that we have experienced. These reasons not to write or explore the depths and layers of our stories 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 we work toward breaking open and telling the truth? How can we feel more permission? 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.
The more you write, the more you will write! It’s amazing, as if you become your own cheerleader. And community offers help–writing conferences, writing sites online, and bookstore readings. All these connections feed your writing soul. Each new piece leads to another. Enjoy!
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.