How to Write Your Truths—and Keep Writing
In the last post, we examined the inner critic—how it can sow seeds of doubt about the validity of your story, and how we can worry about how the family will react, claiming that their own version of the past is the only “true” one. My advice was to accept that you are not alone! That all writers have doubts about their story, their writing, and how others will interpret the story differently and see it through their own eyes.
When we write a memoir, we’re called to write OUR story, our version of the truth of our lives, the story we need to tell. To do that, we need to trust in the process, which is its own challenge, as there are so many layers—of time, identity, truth, and outcome—to explore, and more will show up as we write. “The process?” my students say. “How can I trust in that?”
It means that each stage of writing and each challenge has a possible solution that will evolve as we write. We need to keep writing with the faith that it will all work out. It’s important to keep the passion and motivation to write our story no matter what. We build strength for each new stage of the process as we keep writing.
Let’s explore the very real problems memoir writers face crossing the boundary of what most people consider private—the family and its history. When we write memoir, the family stories will become public when your memoir is published.
But remember this: when you are just starting to write, the story is not published yet. It’s still in your head, clamoring to get out. So worrying about publication early on is a cart-before-the-horse problem. As I mentioned in the previous article, we need to feel free to write without censoring ourselves as we explore what our story needs to be. We need to feel free to dig deep into the moments that shaped us into who we are now, and reveal what we’ve learned once we understand it—which is part of the process for the writer. When we understand that, then we offer the reader a chance to learn from our experiences—we offer universal truths. We explore these insights privately though at first as we write scene by scene.
There’s so much wisdom to be found in discovering the stories you need to tell and getting them on the page. When you first start writing, most likely you’re not fully aware of how deep your wisdom may be.
So at this stage, keep in mind these points about exposure and family:
- Write for yourself first, imagining your family far away from your writing space.
- Dig into your own truths, the experiences that shaped you. Go beyond what you’ve already written or said. Freewrite—write without stopping for 10 minutes to blow by the inner critic.
- Imagine that you’re writing in a sacred, safe space where only your voice matters. Some people create a ritual to help them remember they’re writing in this space by lighting candles or putting on soothing background music. Sometimes it helps if the music is from the era you’re writing about.
- Put photos around you that inspire you to write. Write from a photo—telling the story of that moment as you remember it. Who is in the photo; when, where, and why was it taken? What is your favorite memory about the photo you chose. What happened after the photo was snapped?
- Much later in your writing process, after your first, or even third or sixth draft, you’ll have a sense of how much of the family story needs to be in public form, how much you need to tell, and what you feel better about editing out. You’ll be able to draw upon your inner editor, not your inner critic, to make those decisions.
- Write your story! See what it can teach you. It’s an exploration.