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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.


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The Heart and Soul of Memoir Writing—Inspiration and Empowerment to Finish Your Book Linda Joy Myers

Heart and Soul of Memoir WritingI just returned from a retreat sponsored by She Writes Press, an event offer by my publisher in gorgeous Boulders Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Brooke Warner, my co-teacher for the Write Your Memoir in Six Months course for the last five years, is also the publisher for SWP. The amazing stark landscape of Arizona with its cacti, road runners, and cottontail bunnies on the trails, nurtured us with its beauty as we worked on being authors, becoming authors. Trusting that we are good enough and powerful enough to be authors—sound familiar?

At the retreat, Brooke gave a workshop that challenged us about our relationship to empowerment and trust in ourselves, how we can believe in ourselves and connect with our own energy and power to be creators and artists. This is what we all have to do as we wrestle with the various elements of writing our books! We need to feel connected to the energy of creativity, and be able to draw from our passion and inspiration for a year or more as we write our books. Then we need to continue that process as we move into publishing and designing the look of our books. Being empowered and inspired is one topic at the NAMW Fall Telesummit November 11. The Heart and Soul of Memoir Writing.  

We need to connect to our power and belief and at the same time continue to educate ourselves about how to write a book—from idea and conception all the way to having a beautifully designed book in our hands! Even though I have published four books, I have to say that learned a ton about writing, designing, and publishing books during the weekend. Our philosophy at NAMW is to continue to offer topics and opportunities to learn more about writing and creating a book that will be successful and that you’ll be proud of.

The Telesummit this week is set up so you can have that experience—to gather knowledge and inspiration as you connect with each presenter. We offer this Telesummit at a super low rate so you can benefit, less than $10 per session. You can keep the audio recording as your resource in ongoing education. I know that many people are now using podcasts and audios as part of their learning regimen, putting it on their iPod and talking a walk. May listen to the event after the Telesummit is over so they can focus on certain parts they need the most. We love giving the audience the opportunity to learn in so many ways!

During the last session of the Telesummit, Brooke and I will be talking about inspiration and empowerment. We’re proud of our new anthology Magic of Memoir—Inspiration for the Writing Journey to be released next week. It’s made up of stories from writers like you about how memoir is magic for them, and several NAMW members are featured. The writers talk about how they find their way to the page, how they sustain their writing and believe in their book. What inspires them and what gets in the way—and how they keep on no matter what.

I think you’ll be inspired to rush to your computer as you read their stories! We’re jazzed that the book also features interviews by well-known memoirists like Dani Shapiro, Sue William Silverman and Mark Matousek, our frequent guests here at NAMW; Mary Karr tells us what make memoir magic for her, as does Azar Nafisi, Hope Edelman, and Jessica Valenti. You will see how these writers struggle with what you struggle with day to day. We hope you come away with fire in your heart for your writing project as you join us for all the sessions and ask your own questions of the presenters.

When you sign up you receive the call-in phone number, but you do not have to be present to join us, though we would love to hear from you in person during the question and answer period. You will receive the audio for your own use to drawn from for years to come.

I love Robin Brooks’ designs and her artistry as she works with authors, and how Lisa Cron always nails it in both her books Wired for Story and Story Genius about the engines that drive a great story. And I know you all need to hear from Helen Sedwick as she reveals the mysteries of the Legal and Ethical questions that all memoir writers struggle with.


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