All of us struggle to some extent to produce writing content. Writing is often difficult. It takes time and energy—both of which the laws of entropy suggest we ought to preserve. Here are a few writing processes to help you write today and every day. While the following are not exactly self-motivation, they have gotten […]
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Each poem clarifies something. But then you’ve got to do it again. You can’t get ‘clarified’ to stay so: let you not think that. In a way, it’s like nothing more than blowing smoke rings. Making little poems encourages a man to see that there is shapeliness in the world. A poem is an arrest of disorder.—Robert Frost, poet
Generating the arrest of disorder of life
When I read the quote above, I did not have to make much of a leap to sense that the words “An arrest of disorder” apply to the task you and I undertake when we write memoir. More than anything perhaps, we want an arrest of disorder. Disorder seems to be everywhere in life. And so, we take our raw material—the events of our lives and of the lives of the people who surround us—and endeavor to make meaning of it all. In short, we take up our mishmash of events, our disorder of memories, and attempt to make order—or, at the least, to create an arrest of disorder.
This rendering of order proves to be soothing. It is what we deeply wish to achieve in our lives—to have all the disparate and seemingly meaningless (or at least random) occurrences, wishes, pains somehow come together coherently, meaningfully. It all happened, we realize in an “A-ha!” moment, for some reason rather than by chance.
Passion in your memoir
Understanding the role of passion in your memoir will help you to access the emotional side of your writing more easily and enable you to stay longer and more deeply in the memoir conversation. Understanding will add balance between your will to write and the passion that prompted you to write in the first place.
For a long time, passion—or or even mere feeling—was not thought to be necessary for good writing. As an extreme example, recall the works of John Dryden and of Alexander Pope. Not only were these writers not passionate in their writing, but were proud to have expunge all feelings from their texts. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
“What to write about in a memoir?” is a basic question. The right answer will keep you writing and the wrong may lead you to believe that writing a memoir is too hard and not for you.
Write about something important to you
My answer to what to write about in a memoir is always to write about something important to you—not what you think is important to others.
Why are you writing? What is it that you hope to get from this effort of creating a memoir? You are about to devote a lot of time and energy to this task. Be sure it is for reasons that will keep you writing. [Free Membership required to read more. See below. ]
Why we tell stories
There are many reasons why we tell 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.
As adults, we speak in stories at work, at family get-togethers, at class reunions, at town meetings, at the post office when we meet our neighbors. In fact, stories are such an important medium for us that even the numerous stories we tell and hear daily are not enough to satisfy our enormous appetites–we consume additional stories by reading novels, seeing movies, and watching dramas on television. [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. ]
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.
Whether as a coach or as an editor, when I have engaged with writers, I have often found similar presenting problems— I don’t have time, I never had a good grammar education, I have so many stories to tell I don’t know which one to start with. Frequently, these “reasons” writers present for not writing […]
You can write a memoir! When you are facing a challenging undertaking, it is wise to seek help. If you were attempting to run a marathon, you would study up on the endeavor and be sure you are doing things right. Perhaps you would join a running club or a website that offers you a […]
It’s time to commit to creating an effective writing schedule.
You’ve already taken several steps in lifewriting. You have begun to write your stories and memories. Perhaps the summer got in the way of your perseverance or perhaps it was something else—an illness, a temporary job, travel. Now you need to recommit to memoir writing by creating an effective writing schedule for yourself.
Rather than think in the general terms of “I’ll write as much as I can” (who are we kidding here!), base your writing schedule on a specific time or a page quota.