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3 Decisions That Sustain Your Memoir Writing

I want to share with you three decisions you can make to help you to succeed more quickly and easily at memoir writing.

Over the last two decades, I have coached many, many writers—more writers than I can remember. In those years, I have seen some people soar with the experience—it’s as if they can do no wrong—while unfortunately, I have seen others coach with me for periods of time without making any apparent change or progress.

This experience has enabled me to come up with three decisions a person who wants to succeed at memoir writing must make. These decisions will help you to reach publication faster than you can without them.

1. You must resolve to commit to the discipline necessary to succeed.

It takes much discipline to write a memoir. You must sit down at your computer and write your memoir on a regular schedule. Without this decision, you are not likely to ever finish your manuscript. Without a sense of urgency to finish your memoir, you are not likely to persevere. What finishing a memoir does not require is trying to write—a memoir requires actual writing, not trying to write! I have a video on this channel that you need to listen to if you are still “trying to write!”

My advice: show up for your writing! And view my YouTube video Trying vs. Commitment. See the description below for a link.

2. You must be more courageous than you might be willing to be right now.

Writers oftentimes express that they cannot say certain things in their memoir because it is likely to upset someone or even hurt people. I ask them to identify the names of these “people.” What the writer will sometimes say is “It is my family. Everyone in my family.” Or, something equally amorphous and generalized.

I suspect that these people they are talking about are some sort of internalized aspect of their family that they are not willing to challenge vs actual people who are likely to react. And if they can name people, it may be someone in a distant part of the country whom they have not seen in 15 years and may never see again. Again, the objection seems to be internalized rather than actual.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Sometimes what others don’t want you to tell is a “family secret“—often everyone in town knows this family secret but some relatives may not want you to write about it. Take for instance alcoholism. Some people may say to you, “Why do you have to drag that out again!” But your childhood was scarred by alcoholism? Of course, you are going to speak about it. Alcoholism tainted everything about your childhood.

Another source of blocking stemming from a lack of courage is the sense that by writing what they really feel they are opposing a cultural trend and will be lambasted for it. An example is the woman who enjoys being a homemaker and has no interest in a career. “Hello” she is afraid of hearing, ‘this is the twenty-first century. You can’t be a homemaker anymore. You have to have a career even if you don’t want one.”

Alas, when people lack a fundamental courage to speak their own truth, their memoir will be weakened. It may be that, in time, they will access the necessary courage but for the moment, they cannot. As a result, all they can write is a chronology of dates and facts.

Having said this, I want to remind you that writing a memoir is not an opportunity to throw stones at people—that is, an opportunity to get your revenge in the guise of telling the truth. This will inevitably work against you.

3. You must come up with a vision about what your memoir can be.

Lack of vision complements to some extent lack of courage. People who have no vision write simply about day-to-day happenings; they create overviews of their lives. People who lack vision about what they have lived are not likely to tackle the memoir as the hero’s journey which it needs to be nor are they likely to plunge into the writing so that the effort itself becomes itself a hero’s journey.

Yes, writing a memoir is a hero’s journey. The experience can be long and challenging and qualifies as a hero’s journey. No one said it would be easy.

Instead, writers without a vision stay in the safe environment of easy writing. They tell funny stories and stories that have no depth to them. A writing coach, to some extent, can help these people but very frequently a person like this will not stick with coaching long enough to get through this lack of vision.

As a coach, I wish I could say that I am able to bring every person through to a successful publication of an insightful manuscript. But…

That requires a writer who is willing to bring discipline, courage, and vision to the task.

And remember: “inch by inch, it’s a cinch; yard by yard it’s hard.”

Good luck writing your stories!

For more information on coaching or to request a free consultation about your best next step, click here.

To connect with the YouTube video on the same topic, click here.

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