As you articulate your memoir theme, ask yourself if this memoir theme is really yours—does it reflect your present understanding of your story and of life itself? Or is it is a residue of the accepted “wisdom” of someone else: a parent, another adult figure, society at large?
1) A theme that is authentically yours makes for better writing.
It comes from your center of experience. Writers who recognize, acknowledge, and explore their authentic memoir themes in their writing are more apt to present us with clear, to-the-point stories than those who repeat inherited memoir themes or who think they can ignore the issue of theme.
Early in our lives, you and I were naturally and rightfully the recipients of someone else’s—a parent’s or grandparent’s—understanding and interpretation of life. As long as these interpretations correspond to our own adult views, we can write easily within their context. What often happens, however, is that we continue to espouse a point of view inherited from another without realizing that it has ceased to correspond to our own. When challenged, we will say “Well, I guess I really don’t believe that anymore. Isn’t it something how I wrote (or said) that!”
2) Inauthenticity in your memoir theme will show up as a muddled point of view and mixed messages.
When you write—consciously or unconsciously—from someone else’s perspective, and there is conflict between your view and theirs, your writing will show it. Your readers will sense that you’re voicing someone else’s themes, not your own. They will be uncomfortable with your story and may tend to dismiss it.
If you want to be taken seriously as a lifewriter by others, as well as by yourself, accept that you are in charge. This is your story. You don’t have to let someone else’s perception dictate what you write—although it is often useful and honest to tell the reader how another person understood an experience or relationship differently. You can do so by using phrases like “this is Irving’s version of what happened…” Doing this will make it clear that you are not writing from anyone’s point of view but your own.
3) Championing someone else’s themes is a major source of writer’s block.
The natural way to see things is through your own point of view. The unconscious quickly refuses to provide “inspiration” to writers who subvert this natural relationship to life when they uphold someone else’s point of view rather than their own. The result of this boycott by the unconscious is the dreaded writer’s block.
Writer’s block is sometimes a way the unconscious has of telling us that we are not paying enough attention to our own insights. Next time you are stumped in your writing, ask yourself if you are being entirely authentic and personal in your choice of memoir themes.
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