Three Stages of Writing a Memoir: Own Your Truth; Find Your Voice; Tell Your Story
In December 2011, I decided to take a trip to my home country, Azerbaijan. I had a property to sell and family to visit there. More importantly, I was on a mission to find my father’s grave. My parents were divorced when I was a mere two-week-old baby. I had never met him. Despite trying to heal this open wound for years, nothing helped. Perhaps finding his grave could bring some closure.
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All I knew about my dad’s side of the family was that I had an auntie called Tahira who lived near the city centre of my hometown Ganja. On an impulse, I went knocking at people’s gates. Eventually, I found the right door. I was in for a surprise. Not only did my auntie receive me with open arms, I turned up at her 58th birthday celebration. Her four children, grandchildren, brothers and a legion of other relatives showered me with so much love, I returned to England transformed and healed. For days, I walked in the cloud of memories, and I soon decided I had to write it all up while it was still fresh in my memory. Once I started writing, there was no stopping me.
I’ve recently completed a draft manuscript about my experience of growing up in Azerbaijan. I am currently working on my next book.
For me, there are three distinct stages of writing a memoir, though not linear, stages in writing a memoir.
1. Owning my truth
Owning my truth has been the most healing stage in writing my memoir. To take full ownership of my life without making excuses for myself or others, or getting defensive, was truly liberating. To accept what had gone on for what it was set me free from carrying the burden of the past. By placing my memories on paper, I was able to view the events of my childhood more objectively and compassionately. It didn’t undo traumatic events, but I could now appreciate the adults’ side of the story too.
2. Finding my voice
It took me a while to learn to distinguish my authentic soul voice from the one which comes from my head or ego. They both sound like me but there is a big difference. My ego voice worries terribly about what readers might think, what details they may like or dislike, how my family may react, etc. My authentic voice could not care less. I know when that voice is in action. It starts in my belly and suddenly the material comes in one big whoosh and all I need to do is to type fast enough to keep up with it. I’ve noticed the difference in the level of engagement of my blog readers with my soul voice. The life stories I share on my blog are timely, relevant, and touch people more deeply.
3. Telling my story
Writing down memories is an important part of a memoir writing process. And there comes a point where crafting them into a story becomes essential. For a while, I struggled with the structure of my memoir, because it oscillated between a collection of short stories and a coherent book. It’s only when I became clear about the theme of my memoir, I was able to shape it into a story.
Writing a memoir has been a most empowering process in my life. The events of my childhood are now three-dimensional. I can empathise with my family members and see them more clearly for who they are. I have been able to access my authentic voice not only in writing, but also in my day-to-day life. Last, but not, least, I have been able to connect with my life purpose, which is to tell my story and hopefully to inspire change and give voice to women who may never be heard otherwise.