Why is writing so hard? Why does what you want to write become so difficult the moment you sit down to write? Where are the words you need to convey the excitement or the dread or the anticipation. You are shocked to realize that what appears on the computer screen has no pizzazz! This is […]
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Organize Your Memoir with Life Phases
Life phases are one way in which you can organize your memoir. Life phases are the emotional and psychological cycles or phases that have marked your life.
Every life proceeds in irregular and unpredictable phases. We can go along with our lives for a long time without much change, thinking that we have arrived at a resolution of the great “who am I?” question, and then unpredictably and perhaps quickly find ourselves dealing with totally different emotional and psychological challenges. Often, it is only in looking back on our lives that we are aware of these life phases.
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Let’s start with a basic question: is writing a memoir important?
Okay, why do we tell so many stories? Stories fascinate us all our lives. As children, we loved to be told fairy tales and to hear, time after time, the tales our parents told us about what we did and said when we were babies, as well as the stories about their own childhoods. As soon as we were old enough, we told stories about ourselves for our parents and for our friends. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Action in a memoir is essential—even if internalized!
Action in a memoir usually happens in the usual place—outside the memoir narrator. That is easy to grasp: “The boy ran by.”
When you use flashback scenes in which you remember someone and what they did way back then—these are not interiorized actions, these are memories of actual actions.
What can be less easy to grasp is that action in a memoir can be internal to the character, happening in the character’s mind. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Writing about difficult times in a memoir requires some fortitude.
Recently, in a store, I looked up to see a woman enter, a woman I had not seen in a few years. She was someone I knew from 40 years ago and, as we live in the same area, I continue to meet regularly . We spoke briefly, superficially as one does on meeting someone one has not seen in a while, and soon she asked me, “Do you know what happened to Ronnie (not her son’s real name)?” Well, I hadn’t, but her tone made me fearful. I sensed I was about to learn something bad.
“He died this summer. Of an aortic embolism.”
Ronnie was 44 and in apparent good health and one day he died!
Mary and John (not their real names) had two children. This son who had just died and a daughter in frail health who lives in Arizona for its dry climate. They have no grandchildren.
What I remember vividly about Mary and John is that [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Q. One reason to write a memoir, I know, is that a memoir can touch a life. I’m writing my memoirs to help my children and grandchildren to live better lives. My memoir can make the difference between success or failure in their lives. Isn’t that a good reason to write a memoir?
A. Your intent is laudatory, but I think it might be misplaced. Since most memoirs will not earn back the expense that went into them let alone your time, a better reason to write a memoir focuses on the most important audience you can find—you!
This is what all your life experience comes down to: it is/was transformative primarily for you—not for others. Remember how someone sat you down as a young person and shared his/her life experience and concluded with “And my experience tells me you ought to do this or that!”
Were you likely to have changed your mind? Perhaps, yes; perhaps not. It depended on how that person’s experience corresponded with yours?
A Reason to write a memoir is that the writing brings us closer to being fully alive!
Joseph Campbell wrote, more than to access meaning, we seek to be fully alive. My own experience of writing my (many!) memoirs has been what it has brought to my understanding of my own life. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
A writing prompt seems like a good idea—but is it really?
You are given a writing based on a writing prompt—let’s say, “Write about something physical you were afraid of as a child?”—and you instantly start to write about the water slide at Camp Algonquin you were sent to as an eight-year old. You are not sure why you are so moved to write this story but you do not hesitate. You write about standing at the top of the slide and about Martha Cocciardi in back of you on the ladder, shouting “Get going, Patty. I want to slide, too” and, at that moment, you realized there was nothing to be done but to throw yourself at the mercy of fate and hope you survive to enter the fourth grade. You write with some humor and emotional distance suggesting “Oh, silly me! Oh, what little problems we have as children!” [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Excuses for not writing
Most of us use a certain number of excuses for not writing when we want to avoid our memoir projects. In this post, I debunk a few that seem to be everyone’s favorites.
1. I don’t feel like writing my memoir today.
Does the plumber always feel like laying out a new bathroom? Or, is the parent always feeling like getting up in the middle of the night to see what the child needs?
There are many things we do in our lives because they are the natural consequences of a decision we have previously taken. Why should writing an autobiography be different? Why should you write your story only when you feel like it? A better solution would be to write according to a schedule. At eight, the plumber goes to work at plumbing. At your scheduled time, you get to work at your life story writing. Why should that be so hard to accept?
You don’t feel like writing today? Write. You feel like writing? Write. Fidelity today to your commitment is the best response to get your memoir written.
2. I am not well today.
Unless you are sick enough to stay in bed or are suffering from an acute pain such as a tooth ache, you would do well to apply the same thinking as in #1 rather than give in to this second of the excuses for not writing One can do much memoir writing even when one is “under the weather.”
Your child is crying and you don’t feel well? You get up and take care of your child. If your writing is important to you, you get on with the writing. You don’t feel well today? Write. You feel well? Write.
3. I don’t have anything to say.
This third of the excuses for not writing is like “I don’t know what to say” but worse! You are not writing essays, not philosophy. You are creating portraits of a world that is no more. You are celebrating the past. Don’t worry about having something to say. That’s “telling” and not “showing.” Just create portraits and scenes that show where you have been. That is already enough. Life story writing is not about thinking. Don’t worry about having something to say. Just show your past! You don’t feel you have anything to say today? Write. You feel you have something to say? Write.
See through the excuses for not writing that will jeopardize your success at writing your memoir. We are all too prone to making excuses. Writing autobiography ought to be a pleasure. Rather than indulge in discomfort-producing excuse talk, wouldn’t you really be better off to either write or retire all the feel-good-but-do-nothing talk about writing? Get the support of a writing buddy to help you through these excuses or try coaching.
Our right thinking about memoir writing projects or our right talking about them can lead to success or failure. We can be very clever about our evasive tactics and disguise them as right thinking. Here are three examples that can pass for thoughtfulness rather than evasion.
You can avoid cliches and stereotypes.
If you do not avoid cliches and stereotypes, you will undermine the unique and personal feel of your memoir. Cliches and stereotypes place people in often erroneous and certainly indefensible categories. As short-hand ways of writing and speaking, they reflect ready-made thoughts and adversely affect the ways we relate to our families and friends as unique individuals and how we write about them.
“She was a mother-hen–you know how mothers are!”
“My father had a heart of gold.”