You can approach writing a memoir as soul work or you can approach writing as a depressing, meaningless struggle.
Like many readers of this blog, I myself struggle with the concept of what it means to me to be a writer.
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Notice I have written “what it means to me.” I am not much concerned with how other people regard me as a writer. Don’t get me wrong: I want to be read and I want to sell my books. But, I am not concerned particularly with how other people view me personally. What I am concerned with is how I view myself.
Writing as soul work involves an evolving sense of self.
For many years, I was occupied with the requirements of a family: keeping a relationship loving and nurturing, raising kids, paying a mortgage, taking care of all the expenses that go with maintaining a household and a life, running a memoir business. Meeting these obligations required a “nose to the grindstone” focus.
Too often, I asked myself if what I was writing was likely to produce income. Over the long run, this approach led to being sensitive to the marketability of my writing. As a result, writing fiction took its place on the back burner of my creative life and I went many years without writing fiction—which seemed an indulgence that I could not afford. Writing fiction had been what I considered writing as soul work.
Of course, I continued to write memoir, but it was in snippets and often unfocused. Even so, over the years, in this way, I produced a number of books; some were published, and others have languished in my computer. Then came a time in the first decade of the century when my partner in life and in business, Martha, was stricken with cancer. Overnight, the doctor visits, the trips to the pharmacy, being awakened at night for hot-water bottles and all that goes with being a helpmate to a sick person overtook my life. Writing occupied a backseat—but to be honest, it did not seem important to me at the time. I was in a life-and-death situation.
Then afterwards, after Martha died, there was a long time of grief. The first year, the first fall, I spent long hours sitting on the deck of my house just staring out at the back field, I lost any sense of the past and of the future. All I had was the present. And the present was intolerable.
Gradually, very slowly, I came out of this time. Then, one day, knowing that I no longer had responsibilities of raising a family, no longer had to take care of a sick person, I thought, “Now what do I want to do with my life?” During this whole time, I had continued to maintain my memoir business as it was my livelihood, but I had not been very active with what I consider my own writing.
It was then that I realized, after years of procrastination—explicable procrastination, important procrastination—I now could pick up “my own writing” again.
The first book I wrote was my mother’s memoir. We Were Not Spoiled came out in November 2013. In 2015, I wrote The Nice-Nice Club Holds Its Last Meeting which I give away on Amazon. Then came A Sugary Frosting, a memoir of the first 20 years of Martha’s life. It was published in March 2016. After that I published My Eye Fell Into The Soup / A Cancer Journal in November 2018.
I take up fiction.
In 1991 and in 1996, I won Maine Writing Fellowships. The two stories that won those fellowships have remained in my computer. In the last year, it occurred to me that I have the basis of a book of short fiction. I have been working on this book intermittently as I also work on my childhood memoir.
I have called the new fiction book French Boys. As of now, it contains three stories. The first is titled A Good Boy. The second is Maman’s Boy and a third is the title story French Boys. The first two have historical settings. The third is set somewhat contemporary—in the 1960s.
Inch by inch, writing as soul work re-emerges.
It has been very satisfying for me to be doing “my own writing” again on a regular basis. I set a goal for myself to write 30 minutes a day. 30 minutes may not seem like a long time, but as you have been reading in the last paragraphs, it does produce a book.
Over time, a half-hour a day multiplied seven days a week is three and a half hours a week. Over a year’s time, three and a half hours a week adds up to a hundred and eighty hours or four and a half solid weeks of writing! Of course, there are many weekends when I write two or three hours at a stretch. There are times in the morning when I write for more than a half-hour. This morning, on the day that I am writing this blog post, I put in almost 2 hours on A Good Boy.
More on writing as soul work
Writing regularly on “my own work” as I have been doing for the last years has been enormously satisfying.I am sure that many writers reading this will recognize what I am saying: writing as soul work is very real. Writing regularly on my own work, I feel more satisfaction peace, integration, centering than I have felt in a long time.
My memoir work with other writers has always been satisfying, and I can honestly say it is the best gig that I could ever have found for myself. There remained, however, a little bit of myself that wanted more soul than I could get devoting myself to others. Now I have found the complement in the practice of writing a half-hour every day—a half-hour on “my own writing.”
I hope you will share with me your own experience of producing your own writing, of writing as soul work.
If I can help you get over your own writing hurdles, please be in touch.
Please share with your writing friends on social media.