Currently Browsing: Blog

Celebrating International Women’s Day–The Women Who Shaped Me

Today as I got up and remembered that it’s International Women’s Day, I thought about the history of the women in my family–my great-grandmother Blanche who gifted me with her stories from the 19th century, and the idea that hard work is a valued part of life; my grandmother, Gram, who raised me, who started off as Lulu, a farm girl, who transformed into Frances, an international traveler; my mother, Josephine, who had been left behind as a little girl so Lulu could transform into Frances. Frances left Iowa to work in Chicago as a secretary and clerk in the early 1920s while her daughter lived back in Iowa with relatives. I thought about how I inherited their struggle to be women in the 19th and 20th centuries, and how much our history is the history of America.

In my new book Song of the Plains–a Memoir of Family, Secrets, and Silence, to be released in June, I investigate these histories–the personal and the cultural. The history of where we came from and what we lived through marks us all. I inherited broken links, missing stories, lost narratives, lies and pregnant silences. I felt each one of these gaps and psychic wounds in my body, each dark turn of the stories that you could feel but no one would talk about, the secrets and silences. Sometimes I felt like I was walking around with visible holes i my body, and always I  felt the shame of being related to my grandmother and mother, and judged by Gram’s brothers and sisters in the Iowa extended family as “bad blood.”

What do we do as women with these inheritances? I know that we all seek to find our identity, and since the sixties, women have had more permission to seek and find, rebel and re-define who they are. Part of my self-definition was to return to the origins of my family and sleuth out their pasts. For four decades, I talked to family members, who would clam up around certain subjects–so I noted the subjects where they were silent, and was even more determined to find out what was going on, what had happened that created the silence. I made my way to dusty courthouses where I lifted down huge tomes of records, each with hundreds of pages filled with names written in lovely cursive writing where I looked for clues to the lives of my family. The silences I had experienced were about the missing stories– when Lulu left Josephine behind, what happened to my mother as a little girl, and how it was that they fought and struggled with each other until the last day of Frances’s life. She died without any reconciliation with my mother. What was that about? Could I do any better with my mother, I wondered.

She was not an easy person to love, though I loved her with the desperation of a lost child who always hoped that she would at last treat me nicely, or claim me. When I was twenty years old, she told me not to call her “mother.” She was ashamed of being divorced, ashamed perhaps of being herself, and the sad story is that my mother never was able to be normal, or about to love me or my children. But I was with her at her deathbed, and in those few days, she could no longer prevent me from loving her. I experienced a freeing of the dark silences as I embraced her with compassion and tears.

The search for my mother and grandmother and their history continued for the next twenty years, and finally, thanks to Ancestry.com, I was able to piece together their story. My story. The paths I took in this exploration are in my new book. I hope it will give hope to others who want to know the stories that are lost. By writing their stories, I healed my own story, and offer a new legacy to my children and grandchildren.

Today I celebrate these women who had to live in a world that was biased, judgemental, and basically set up not to respond to their needs or their dreams. I hope we can continue to bring awareness to new generations that we must all hold ourselves accountable for the rights of women now and in the future.

Blanche and Lulu, 1895 Lulu’s father died 8 months before she was born

 

Lulu, about 25

 

Josephine, about 5, in rocking chair with her new aunt.

 


How to Write Your Truths—and Keep Writing

How to Write Your Truths—and Keep WritingIn the last post, we examined the inner critic—how it can sow seeds of doubt about the validity of your story, and how we can worry about how the family will react, claiming that their own version of the past is the only “true” one. My advice was to accept that you are not alone! That all writers have doubts about their story, their writing, and how others will interpret the story differently and see it through their own eyes.

When we write a memoir, we’re called to write OUR story, our version of the truth of our lives, the story we need to tell. To do that, we need to trust in the process, which is its own challenge, as there are so many layers—of time, identity, truth, and outcome—to explore, and more will show up as we write. “The process?” my students say. “How can I trust in that?”

It means that each stage of writing and each challenge has a possible solution that will evolve as we write.  We need to keep writing with the faith that it will all work out. It’s important to keep the passion and motivation to write our story no matter what. We build strength for each new stage of the process as we keep writing.

Let’s explore the very real problems memoir writers face crossing the boundary of what most people consider private—the family and its history. When we write memoir, the family stories will become public when your memoir is published.

But remember this: when you are just starting to write, the story is not published yet. It’s still in your head, clamoring to get out. So worrying about publication early on is a cart-before-the-horse problem. As I mentioned in the previous article, we need to feel free to write without censoring ourselves as we explore what our story needs to be. We need to feel free to dig deep into the moments that shaped us into who we are now, and reveal what we’ve learned once we understand it—which is part of the process for the writer. When we understand that, then we offer the reader a chance to learn from our experiences—we offer universal truths.  We explore these insights privately though at first as we write scene by scene.

There’s so much wisdom to be found in discovering the stories you need to tell and getting them on the page. When you first start writing, most likely you’re not fully aware of how deep your wisdom may be.

So at this stage, keep in mind these points about exposure and family:

  1. Write for yourself first, imagining your family far away from your writing space.
  2. Dig into your own truths, the experiences that shaped you. Go beyond what you’ve already written or said. Freewrite—write without stopping for 10 minutes to blow by the inner critic.
  3. Imagine that you’re writing in a sacred, safe space where only your voice matters. Some people create a ritual to help them remember they’re writing in this space by lighting candles or putting on soothing background music. Sometimes it helps if the music is from the era you’re writing about.
  4. Put photos around you that inspire you to write. Write from a photo—telling the story of that moment as you remember it. Who is in the photo; when, where, and why was it taken? What is your favorite memory about the photo you chose. What happened after the photo was snapped?
  5. Much later in your writing process, after your first, or even third or sixth draft, you’ll have a sense of how much of the family story needs to be in public form, how much you need to tell, and what you feel better about editing out. You’ll be able to draw upon your inner editor, not your inner critic, to make those decisions.
  6. Write your story! See what it can teach you. It’s an exploration.

How Do I Begin—The Most Asked Question in Memoirland

When you begin to write a memoir, you soon discover several layers to the process: there’s the emotional angst most people feel about writing about themselves, the worry about exposing yourself and your family to public scrutiny when the book is published. And there are questions about the craft of writing a story. After all, your story is so much more than what happened when, though time frames and timelines are important when writing a memoir. When confronted with these complicated questions, there can be a temptation to give up and walk away. Or you can contact a writing coach or join a class to keep going with support and discussion that help you find your way.   From having written two published memoirs—my new one, Song of the Plains, will be released in June, and with four non-published versions filed away, I know the struggle well!  I’m going to address questions about the process of memoir writing in a series of articles, each one focusing on one of the problems. The first one is about the emotional angst.  The angst people feel when they begin to write may lead to these questions:  1.	Will my story be interesting to other people? 2.	I’m afraid to start because then I’ll feel too exposed. There’s a lot in my story that no one else knows. 3.	What about my family? They won’t want me to write this story. 4.	The whole world will find out about things that will expose other people. 5.	The family will say that I’m making these things up.  First, let me tell you that I’ve been a family therapist for 38 years, and I bring to this discussion my years of work with people and knowledge of family dynamics and the challenge of revealing secrets or silence. I know how hard it is. I used to feel I’d dissolve in shame when I first wrote the truths of my life—it was a secret shame then because I didn’t know that other writers went through the same thing. I also never thought others could relate to my story—another issue that I found out most writers have. But I kept writing, alone. I kept trying to find the voice for my story and write it because it wouldn’t leave me alone!  You want to know if your story will be interesting to others, but you can’t answer that—it’s really the inner critic talking, the voice of doubt. As I said, it’s a question that every writer asks. We all wonder if we’re blabbing stuff that’s going to be boring, or too shocking, or too something, and we pull back. The inner critic is like that—it creates doubt, and it silences us.  The solution: jump in and freewrite your story. A freewrite means to start writing and go for 15 minutes without stopping—this bypasses the inner critic. Get out as much as you can. Announce to your inner critic that everyone asks those questions and right now you’re going to give yourself permission to explore your story.  Then there is the problem with family and exposure. While it’s natural for family members to be concerned about how they’re portrayed, when you begin, you are not showing your work to them. It’s important to feel free to write what’s on your mind, to write your truth without censoring. I strongly advocate not sharing your early writing with anyone except your exclusive, safe writing group and your writing coach. And don’t show your work to your family yet. If you write in private for a while, they won’t know about it, and won’t judge it or you.  Some writers have told me their family has explicitly told them not to write certain truths about the family, not to reveal certain secrets or embarrassing information. Each writer has to decide whether to step across that “permission” line or not. You need to consider the family “rules”—and whether you’re going to break them. What would the outcome be if you did? What if the revealing of certain stories presented an opportunity for healing? Sometimes there’s positive outcome when you’re ready to share your story with family. There can be fresh perspectives, and a chance for a new kind of conversation about things that have never been talked about before.   But I can’t emphasize enough that in the early stages keep your story private so you can explore your memories and your point of view freely without worrying about the feelings of other people or possible outcomes. As a family therapist, I can’t tell you how many times I’d sit in a session with a group of six or eight people and hear how each of them had a different point of view about a single event—the same event, and each believed they were right. It’s common for people to see things differently, but when you’re writing your point of view, it can feel invalidating to hear these different opinions. So it’s best to hold off until later.   As you begin writing your story, you’re trying to discover your own truths, you’re writing to explore yourself, your story, and how your past has affected you. Write your story to get it down on the page where you can read it as a witness to your former self. This is freeing and is often a healing experience.  In the next article, we’ll look at the issues around publicly writing about other people and how to handle that.When you begin to write a memoir, you soon discover several layers to the process: there’s the emotional angst most people feel about writing about themselves, the worry about exposing yourself and your family to public scrutiny when the book is published. And there are questions about the craft of writing a story. After all, your story is so much more than what happened when, though time frames and timelines are important when writing a memoir. When confronted with these complicated questions, there can be a temptation to give up and walk away. Or you can contact a writing coach or join a class to keep going with support and discussion that help you find your way.

From having written two published memoirs—my new one, Song of the Plains, will be released in June, and with four non-published versions filed away, I know the struggle well!

I’m going to address questions about the process of memoir writing in a series of articles, each one focusing on one of the problems. The first one is about the emotional angst.

The angst people feel when they begin to write may lead to these questions:

  1. Will my story be interesting to other people?
  2. I’m afraid to start because then I’ll feel too exposed. There’s a lot in my story that no one else knows.
  3. What about my family? They won’t want me to write this story.
  4. The whole world will find out about things that will expose other people.
  5. The family will say that I’m making these things up.

First, let me tell you that I’ve been a family therapist for 38 years, and I bring to this discussion my years of work with people and knowledge of family dynamics and the challenge of revealing secrets or silence. I know how hard it is. I used to feel I’d dissolve in shame when I first wrote the truths of my life—it was a secret shame then because I didn’t know that other writers went through the same thing. I also never thought others could relate to my story—another issue that I found out most writers have. But I kept writing, alone. I kept trying to find the voice for my story and write it because it wouldn’t leave me alone!

You want to know if your story will be interesting to others, but you can’t answer that—it’s really the inner critic talking, the voice of doubt. As I said, it’s a question that every writer asks. We all wonder if we’re blabbing stuff that’s going to be boring, or too shocking, or too something, and we pull back. The inner critic is like that—it creates doubt, and it silences us.

The solution: jump in and freewrite your story. A freewrite means to start writing and go for 15 minutes without stopping—this bypasses the inner critic. Get out as much as you can. Announce to your inner critic that everyone asks those questions and right now you’re going to give yourself permission to explore your story.

Then there is the problem with family and exposure. While it’s natural for family members to be concerned about how they’re portrayed, when you begin, you are not showing your work to them. It’s important to feel free to write what’s on your mind, to write your truth without censoring. I strongly advocate not sharing your early writing with anyone except your exclusive, safe writing group and your writing coach. And don’t show your work to your family yet. If you write in private for a while, they won’t know about it, and won’t judge it or you.

Some writers have told me their family has explicitly told them not to write certain truths about the family, not to reveal certain secrets or embarrassing information. Each writer has to decide whether to step across that “permission” line or not. You need to consider the family “rules”—and whether you’re going to break them. What would the outcome be if you did? What if the revealing of certain stories presented an opportunity for healing? Sometimes there’s positive outcome when you’re ready to share your story with family. There can be fresh perspectives, and a chance for a new kind of conversation about things that have never been talked about before.

But I can’t emphasize enough that in the early stages keep your story private so you can explore your memories and your point of view freely without worrying about the feelings of other people or possible outcomes. As a family therapist, I can’t tell you how many times I’d sit in a session with a group of six or eight people and hear how each of them had a different point of view about a single event—the same event, and each believed they were right. It’s common for people to see things differently, but when you’re writing your point of view, it can feel invalidating to hear these different opinions. So it’s best to hold off until later.

As you begin writing your story, you’re trying to discover your own truths, you’re writing to explore yourself, your story, and how your past has affected you. Write your story to get it down on the page where you can read it as a witness to your former self. This is freeing and is often a healing experience.

In the next article, we’ll look at the issues around publicly writing about other people and how to handle that.


How to Write a Memoir that Bares Your Soul (And Spares No One)–Free Webinar

What Made Love Warrior a Best-Selling Memoir?

A Free Webinar Monday, April 17, 4 PM PDT/7 PM EDT

With Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Myers of WriteYourMemoirInSixMonths.com

To sign up, Click here: http://writeyourbookinsixmonths.com/love-warrior-free-webinar

In Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton has written about emotional pain in a way that most memoirists struggle with. She grapples with addiction, painful insecurities, her husband’s infidelity, maternal overwhelm, and questions about her own lack of sex drive. Tackling a single one of these issues is tough; to expose all of them and handle them with care requires bravery and skill.

In this free webinar, memoir experts Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner will address the fears that invariably come up for writers who want to write their deepest truths and expose their most intimate—and often shameful—secrets. The webinar will address the fallouts of such naked writing—and talk about how sharing your truth has a way of both leveling everything and setting you free.

During this Free Webinar You Will Learn:

  1. The hard truths—how to share them, why to share them, and what the consequences are for you, the writer, and the story if you don’t.
  2. Intentional omission. What did Glennon leave out? How did this impact the story and her readers?
  3. How to tackle hard themes, and the balance a memoir must strike when you’re sharing the intimate details of your sometimes-messy life.
  4. Whether the fallout is worth it. A look at the repercussions of writing a memoir, how to determine your tolerance for other people’s reactions, and ways to know whether the timing is right, and if you can weather the possible consequences.

To sign up, Click here: http://writeyourbookinsixmonths.com/love-warrior-free-webinar


A New Year in Writing—Finding your Courage

Happy New Year—it’s 2017! I like to begin the year, not exactly with a list of resolutions, but with ways to feel inspired. For many, it was a tempestuous fall season with the election and a lot of emotions that were stirred up by national and international events. Many of my writing friends told me that they comforted themselves with their creative passions, that they threw themselves into their writing as a way to create something positive that made them feel good. Writing is a way to cope with the past and the present, a way to meditate on what has meaning to us, and it can help us find a perspective about where we stand, what we think and feel. Writing invites us to express ourselves with freedom and safety, especially if we are writing first for ourselves. When we decide to make our work public, we then move into another realm of exposure and intent—which can also be rewarding, even when it’s challenging emotionally to do so. I hope you feel satisfaction in your writing, whether it’s in your journal, a blog, or chapters of your book. Or perhaps you are submitting to online literary magazines, or to contests. There are so many ways to get your work in the world, and it’s always a brave decision to hit “send.”

If you are working on a memoir, you know that it’s an act of courage to get your story on the page. There is so much that we have to confront to find our way to a book. Sometimes we just need to start with a single moment, a single story and see how far we can get, to test how it feels to find the words to bring that moment to life. To write a book, we will be finding scene after scene that shows moments that are deeply meaningful to us, moments that shaped and changed our lives.

To write, and publish, a memoir, we need to wrestle with a bunch of demons too—worry about family and friends’ reaction to our story, whether or not we can find the words to adequately express what is in our hearts. I know from writing two memoirs—the new one Song of the Plains will be released in June of this year—how tough it is to dig through the past and to find the images that resonate—as a memoir is not a collection of facts but a work that explores meaning and helps us make sense of our experiences. When we do that well, the reader’s experience will parallel our own—they will take their own journey with us and reflect on challenges they’ve had and problems they’ve tried to understand and solve. When you can write a book that puts you in synch with your reader, you’re offering a profound gift to them. But of course, you have to be willing and able to take that journey yourself.

We’re kicking off the year in our first Roundtable discussion at NAMW with Dorit Sasson whose work is all about courage—the willingness to dig into her painful past and unearth her story. Join us to learn about the journey that inspired her memoir and what she’s learned from deciding to become a writer and author. The great thing about having authors that are not famous or well known-yet—is that their story can inspire you to fulfill your own dreams of authorship. You learn that it’s possible to start at the very beginning with hope and courage and create a writing life.


« Previous Entries

Powered by Wordpress | Designed by Elegant Themes