“I don’t know where the idea originated that memoir writing is cathartic. For me, it’s always felt like playing my own neurosurgeon, sans anesthesia. As a memoirist, you have to crack your head open and examine every uncomfortable thing in there.”
Having already wrestled through the arduous process of writing a memoir, I can’t say I’m particularly looking forward to working on my next one.
There is a massive amount of research that goes into it, as anyone who has written a book – much less a nonfictional book – can confirm: checking dates, reading reports, studying newspaper clippings, thumbing through old journals, watching muffled, fuzzy videos. The messy, ugly first drafts. The tears. The struggle to write. The bafflement. The doubt – am I equipped to do this? Who is going to want to read this anyway? What am I trying to say with this? Was I the right one for the job?
It’s going to be a challenge, and like any challenge, a fair amount of preparation is needed. Here’s what I did last time around and what I’ll be doing this time, too.
Get familiar with remembering
Reacquainting myself with the memories is painful. Reacquainting myself with these particular memories feels kind of like slogging through quicksand, terrified that I’m going to be sucked under. There is quite a bit of fear involved, too: can I really face the memory of so-and-so? What if I forget something? How do I write about this in a way that accurately depicts what happened?
Remembering may be painful, but we can’t heal from what we don’t feel. There is healing to be had once we make peace with those terrible memories.
Dig out the memorabilia
Remember all those reports, newspaper clippings, and journals I spoke about? I’ve got them all carefully arranged in a bin that I put together years ago.
Going through that bin is going to be a challenge – and challenges are meant to be overcome.
If you struggle similarly:
- Be patient with yourself
- Cry if you need to
- Take notes
- Remember why you’re doing this
It’ll be worth it in the end.
Talk about it
This may be easier for some, but not for me. Writing about certain painful times in my life is one thing: I can mete out the exact amount of time that I spend dwelling on it, and then I can shut off the computer and get back to real life. The memories are relegated to a computer screen and I control how much of it I deal with and for how long.
Talking about those difficult days with others takes the ball out of my court. I can only handle discussing these topics only for so long before I want to walk away or talk about something else.
It’s an imperative part of the process. There are things that my family remember that I don’t. There are details that I would have otherwise left out. They each have a unique perspective that lends color and depth to those memories that might have faded or gone dull in my mind.
If you struggle with talking about certain painful memories with other people, here are some tips to make the process easier:
- Before getting into it, let them know that talking about things is difficult for you
- Limit your conversation to 10-15 minute slots of time where you take notes, ask questions, and reminisce
- Afterwards, go for a walk. Say a prayer. Write in a journal. Read a book. Take your mind off of it and do something uplifting.
This is why I have so much of the second book written already. I write whatever memories come my way, regardless if its in chronological order or not. Organizing your thoughts comes later. In the preliminary stages of tackling the writing of a book, free-write as often as possible. This will keep up a steady stream of usable content, as well as prevent you from encountering writer’s block.
Remember, you can’t edit a blank page.
“I will say, with memoir, you must be honest. You must be truthful.”
Q: So how about you? Have you ever tried writing your own story? How did you go about it?