One of the most important subjects that writers confront is to keep a balance when writing the darker stories that may arise while writing a memoir. In The Power of Memoir I discuss balancing the light and the dark stories and why this helps the writer and the reader. During my writer’s workshop at the National Association of Memoir Writers, we discuss how to keep writing when some of the true stories that need to be written bring us down, tempting us to lose perspective about our stories and ourselves.
Research has shown that writing positive stories about ourselves is as healing as writing about bad memories, but I’ve observed big changes when writers dig in the darkness for deeper levels of truth. We all want to avoid unnecessary pain, yet healing comes from balancing our system and not staying trapped in memories and negative feelings about the past. Our fears, anger, jealousy, insecurity, and hurt are real, but they can interfere with living with a sense of peace, forgiveness of self and others, and juicy creative energy.
Writer’s I’ve worked with find it helpful to weave back and forth between the dark and the lighter stories to create balance, and recover from the heaviness of writing painful stories. The path of emotional healing is like cleaning out an old wound: it hurts while we are cleaning it out but we feel better afterward.
Make a list of the dark topics that you suspect are important, but aren’t yet ready to write. List them by title or theme. Write down the age you were when these difficult times happened. Write down what you did to cope with the event at the time. How do you feel now about the incident? What would you have liked to happen differently? Place these stories on a timeline so you can get a perspective on the clustering of events.
Make a list of the light stories, stories that bring you a feeling of well being, happiness, contentment, and safety. They may include memories about love, spiritual experiences, and miracles. Stand fully in the light of the positive stories and feel them in your body. Hold the images of the positive stories while you consider the dark stories list. This technique helps to integrate the polarities of our psyche.
The reader needs relief too, as most readers will put a book down if there are uninterrupted dark stories. I alternated dark and light chapters in my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother so the reader could enjoy moments of lightness and joy while also learning about the story of abandonment that weaves through the book, and I brought the reader to an ending with forgiveness and healing.
The power of writing a memoir is that the truth really does make you free. You don’t have to share your story with anyone. Having the freedom to express yourself freely and fully can release you from the story you have lived, and allows you to move forward with grace and forgiveness. Keep writing!