keeping-a-journalWriting our stories can put us into a caldron of insight, feelings, and situations from the past that we may want to avoid. The writers in my groups talk about this dilemma as they move back and forth between putting the pen on the page, and trying not to–because if they did, what would happen? What forbidden words might come out? What flood of feelings might erupt? How do we write under these conditions?

The critic is always there, commenting, muttering, and well, criticizing: Who do you think you are? How dare you betray your mother (father, aunt, grandmother, sister, brother) by writing those things? It’s just not good enough; the person on the other side of the room writes so much better than I do; is this a waste of time; I should be doing other worthwhile things; this is just a narcisstic, self-centered activity.

Voice from family and society enter into the critic voice. One of my favorites, which I react to with a grumble: “When will you stop being stuck in the past?”
I know that other memoirists and personal essay writers run into that adminishment too.

However, we do need to balance the past and the future in our work. If you feel you are drowning in the past, use a focused writing exercise to bring you into the present.

1. Describe exactly where you are, the landscape, setting, and sensual details of where you are.
2. Write about the people around you–describe clothes, expressions, body type, attitude. What movie or novel character do they remind you of?
3. Write about the best day you can imagine. Bring yourself into that place through the details in your writing.
4. Happiness imagined affects the brain positively. Write about what makes you happy.

Writing the truth frees us from the trap of secrets, frees us from the voices of guilt and shame. Writing is a risk, a challenge, so pick up your pen. Imagine only the voices of praise around you as you watch the words flow.