Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How to Write Your Memoir and Still Go Home for the Holidays

Yesterday, I gave you a book review of a wonderful new release entitled The Power of Memoir, by Linda Joy Myers. The author Linda Joy offered to me our guest blogger today. If you've ever been excited about writing a memoir, this book is a must read. Linda Joy is president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and a practicing psychotherapist. She makes writing memoirs feel safe. ~HOPE

How to Write Your Memoir and Still Go Home for the Holidays

Linda Joy Myers
Author of The Power of Memoir

In every memoir workshop I’ve presented, I encounter questions about family, friends and loved ones who are “characters” in the memoir. Of course, since a memoir is about the inner circle of our lives, we are going to be writing about people who might be “reluctant characters”—in that they wish you were not writing a memoir at all.

It’s understandable for people to feel exposed through writing our personal stories. It’s important for memoirists to take into account the fact that we are offering up other people’s lives in our work. Some writers, even in fiction where the characters can easily be identified by those who know the author, feel that whatever has happened is fair game, and that no one should silence or stop them from writing whatever they feel like expressing.

Others feel an obligation to take into account the people who are in a memoir, even those whom they feel have created pain or trouble in their lives. But where do we draw these lines? If we worry about all this too much and listen to the voices of family in our heads all the time, we won’t write anything. We can get tripped up on what “truth” is, asking, “Do I have to include the family’s truth or can I just write my own?”

The challenging thing is that the inner critic can take on these opposing voices. We can become stuck and unable to write with a confusing chorus chattering in our head.

I have some suggestions:

1. write the first draft of your memoir without thinking of anyone but yourself and your memories. Don’t tell the family you are writing. If you’ve already confessed, now tell them that you’re taking a break, that you’re writing fiction or whatever it takes to stop the questions. Some families are more intrusive and nosy than others.

2. when the inner critic voices arise, write down what they’re saying and get them out of your head for a while. Then go back to your writing.

3. Keep your work private from friends or those who might share your work with others. If you are in a writing group, ask for confidentiality in your group. If you live in a small town, enroll in an online class.

4. Focus on your own truths. Think about the freedom and the healing that arises from writing without censoring, from putting everything on the page that you have to say. Research shows that writing the true stories of our lives changes our brain and frees us from our old perspectives. You can experience a new present and future by writing!

It takes courage to write a memoir, and perseverance. Begin today! Write for ten minutes per day about the most meaningful moments of your life. Soon you will have many stories and a whole new view of your life and yourself.


Christine Macdonald said...

What perfect timing. I just located a person who plays a pivotal role in my story. I have her phone number but am hesitant to call. How do you begin to open with "I'm writing a memoir about the times we took drugs and stripped twenty years ago"?

I will take your advice.

Thanks again. I love your posts.


Susan said...

Thanks so much for the very helpful memoir writing tips. Very good! Sincerely, Susan

Linda Joy Myers said...

Hi Christine,
This is a very good question, in that we might consider whether we contact people before we have written our stories, or after, but before publishing. If you contact them before you have written your work, then it might appear that you are asking permission to write about the past. So be clear about what you want from the person before you call, and where you stand on what you want to include. Re: pre-publication contacts--you can inform those who are in the book that you wrote stories that included them and you are going to publish it. You should get their permission if you use real names. Most memoirists change the names anyway to protect all innocent and guilty parties.
Sometimes it can feel kind of intrusive to start off with "I'm writing a memoir about our exploits in the past;" on the other hand, it's why you are calling, presumably. So you have to decide how delicately or boldly you will proceed, depending on the nature of your relationship.
I hope this helps you to sort it all out! Best of luck!
--Linda Joy

Renee Howard Cassese said...

Although I've read this advice in both of your books it helps so much to hear it again. Although my mother is aware of my issues with our relationship I doubt she'd be thrilled if I put them in a book for her to find in the Library or at Borders. But I go for it anyway. My second memoir--in first draft right now--deals with some adult stuff that of course involves other "characters" who might not want these stories to be made public, but it also includes things about me I am ashamed of and fear sharing. One way I began to get passed it was to share it with members of my writing group. I decided that I needed feedback on the writing and the only way to get it was to share the work with the women I've been meeting with for seven years. It was hard to disclose the information, but I found that they didn't hate me or ridicule me for what I did. Rather they encouraged me to get the story out, one woman stated I would not find my fiction voice until I wrote this memoir. I read something similar in Silverman's book "Fearless Confessions."
Thank you so much Linda Joy for making it safe to write our lives.

Ashly said...

Might I add, "Don't ever, ever, EVER let your family read your first draft. It never works out the way you hope it will." :)

Linda Joy Myers said...

Yes, families are really very challenging around these issues. And we can understand this--it's very exposing to be written about publicly, yet the writer needs to have a voice and her own truth. It's so important to work out the emotional and literary kinks in a private first draft, sharing with only a trusted few--and it helps if they are memoir writers too. Most of all, it takes a lot of patience to write, to heal, and to move forward into the literary artful version of the story, complete with a well rounded perspective, modulated tone, and metaphors, having moved from basic truths to art.
Blessings and best of luck to you all. Please stay in touch through my newsletters and blog! And thank you Hope for a wonderful welcoming stop on the tour and generous review.
--Linda Joy