When you first decide to write, you’re excited—eager to explore the memories and stories that are part of you. Memories shape who you are and where you hailed from. In a memoir, you weave the legacy about your life and times. You know your story—but perhaps the whispers of the ever present inner critic voice interfere with your story flow—what will people think; you should be ashamed; you will embarrass the family. Don’t air the dirty laundry; you know only part of the truth, so be quiet. Your mother will roll over in her grave if she found out you wrote that.
The inner critic can be part of the “outer critics” the family voices that stop you from writing. Perhaps you feel you need to be loyal, to not make anyone uncomfortable. Some memoir writers are told openly by family members not to write a memoir.
These voices are too familiar to memoir writers, making you want to throw down the pen or close the computer, and turn on the TV. You don’t want to lose your family, and you don’t want make them angry or cause a war between cousins. Writing a memoir is an act of courage, even defiance against powerful family dynamics that urge you to keep silent, and to keep the secrets.
When you write a memoir, you reclaim your own voice, your stake a claim to your version of the story. Every family has multiple story lines. There’s the “official” version, controlled by the most powerful people in the family, usually the parents or those who have the most to lose. The “lesser” points of view are most often held by the children or those not in power.
Who decides what version of a story to believe? Who is not listened to? The answers to these questions will be decided by who’s in power. But you have a point of view, you have a story that needs to be told. You have to write past the old voices and the inner critic.
Many families have a “scapegoat,” or a clown—often the most sensitive person who has a unique, even unpopular view of the family stories. Those with the most power may try to suppress these alternative points of view. If you are in that role, it’s your job to tell your story as you see it.
You need to create a safe, sacred space to keep writing. Write your story in a protected bubble to help you listen to your own voice. Write frequently, write often. The force of your voice and your writing energy burns through the blocks from the past
- If the critic voice stops you, take dictation of what it’s saying. Get the voices out of your head and onto the page where you can be more objective. Keep asking, “What else to I want to say that’s important?”
- Think about where you learned the critic voices. Write down this information. Freewrite—meaning writing quickly without stopping– your memories of power and powerlessness in your life.
- Visualize scenarios where you feel powerful and in charge of your voice. Use strong verbs. Don’t write in the conditional “would” or “might.” Describe your world and your memories vigorously with bright descriptions, sensual details.
- Begin with an image. Choose a photograph and write about it. Describe the person in the photo, and what was happening in the photo. Write why you chose the photo. What is it telling you?
- If the critic voice says: “I don’t know how to write; my family will hate me; how do I know I am writing the truth?” keep freewriting past this voice. If you were silenced when you were growing up, you will need to work through it now.
- DO NOT hit the delete button when you feel critical of your writing. DO protect your writing. Treat your work like a young seedling that needs protection.
- Write in cafés, where the sound of life may drown out the critic voices.
- Remember: if you’ve been abused, neglected, forgotten, or silenced, you likely learned not to value your own point of view. Writing your story can change that. Keep “telling it like it is.”
- Write for five minutes. Stretch your ability to keep writing—work up to fifteen minutes at a time—doing a freewrite. When you feel like stopping, write for five minutes more. You might be tempted to stop as you get close to core emotions.
- Make a list of the 10 reasons it’s important for you to write your memoir.
- List 12 things you will do during the Year of the Memoir to get it done.