In this video, Work With or Through Pain: Writing Through Painful Memories, I talk about writing through painful memories. Pain is often a barrier to memoir writing. Who wants to revisit difficult times? Although delving into the past is a generally pleasant experience and promotes healing and growth, it can also be painful.
As hard as it may seem now to accept that painful memories can heal if you face them, I hope you will trust me when I say that memoir writing—done well—will be therapeutic.
It is perhaps inevitable that, when you write your memoir, painful memories you had “forgotten” may resurface. These may stem from prolonged poverty, childhood humiliation, abuse, abandonment, addiction, etc.
Or, you may already be aware of your painful memories but are unwilling to evoke them, to live with them long enough to write about them. Perhaps they are still too difficult to be with, or perhaps you are afraid you will not be able to handle the pain if it were to come back.
Remember: painful memories can heal when you submit them to the process of writing.
If a memory is so difficult that you are still afraid of it, take this as an indication you haven’t gotten over it yet—and it will be such a relief when you do. If a memory is still sapping your emotional energy—whether you are consciously aware of it or not, memoir writing may be very healing for you.
Many of our coaching and editing clients have said to us, “Writing has proven to be therapeutic, it costs so much less than counseling, and in the end, you have a book of memoirs.”
In conjunction with this category, you will do well to read the articles about telling the truth in a memoir. It is a companion section.
The many articles below will help you to work with and through painful memories by writing through them—thoughtfully and sensitively.
It is not always easy to tell the painful truth in a memoir—in fact, it usually isn’t.
Anyone writing a memoir must face the challenge of how to tell the truth of his or her story at the same time as one does not want to cause harm or pain. I have written elsewhere about telling the truth in a memoir. Those posts have been more on the objective level—the theory of telling the truth.
A Sugary Frosting has brought me face to face – personally – with the challenge of telling the truth. I’m not a great fan of “silly me thinking I knew how to tell the truth before I had to face the challenge!” so this is not going there. No, this piece is simply an application of what I already knew and have written about.
A Sugary Frosting is a book that I co-authored with Martha Blowen, my deceased spouse. The title to the book came from Martha’s journals. There was an entry in which she referred to her childhood as being A Sugary Frosting with life “having to be sweet and sticky.” This definitely was part of the painful truth. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
You want to write your memoir, but you resist getting too personal, going in too deep. In short, writing a more personal memoir.
Your guarded secret that you wanted to have your own business one day or your hope that your father would apologize eventually for his denigration of you—this has happened and it has had a great impact on you. Your even deeper secrets—the sexual orientation that you dared not reveal or your negative self-concept—surely this can’t be the subject of a memoir. How would you live this down? Isn’t it better to stick with the facts and dates? And aren’t these inner realities too personal to impose on others?
1) The more personal your memoir the more universal it is.
At age 54, I wrote the first 56,500 words of my first memoir draft of my book, Showbiz Survival Memoir.
It was cathartic getting the first memoir draft up and out of me. Honestly, it was a bit grueling though, — emotionally and even physically — to relive some of the most painful times in my life. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Even before I found out my son had been murdered, I began writing about what I was experiencing as we waited for word of what had happened.
Why are we afraid of revealing ourselves in a memoir? As we reveal too much about ourselves, are we revealing too much about someone else as well?