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Creativity and Memoir Writing

Brenda Ueland in her classic book If You Want To Write talks about the spark of creativity and the process of writing and creating, with inspirational flashes to show us how other writers and creators, painters, playwrights and poets come to hear their muse.
Inspiration comes very slowly and quietly.
And how do these creative thoughts come? Very slowly and quietly. It is the little bomb of revelation bursting inside you.
–the way you are to feel when you are writing is happy, truthful, and free. With complete self-trust…it will be good. Salable? I don’t know, not for a long time anyway.
When you get down to the true self and speak from that, there is always a metamorphosis in your writing, a transfiguration.

When I notice writers getting tangled up in their inner critic, in not wanting to write, feeling stuck and shy after previously writing freely, I know that something needs to be addressed. I suspect that despite their strong pleas to have me as their coach help them with the techniques of editing, of teaching the about skills that will help them be published—an often passionate desire—that the creative process has become lost in the “goal” of getting published, that the editor they were learning how to be has turned into the inner critic.

It’s time to go back to the basics. While I don’t want to discourage people from being published someday, the idea of “someday” needs to be stressed. It seems easier for people to realize that playing a violin sonata or concerto, or being on stage giving a solo piano concert will take many years of practice. Because everyone has to do some kind of writing all their lives, it seems that the expectation that a person who decides to “write” seriously and with goals for professional notice is that after a few stories, journal entries, or a year or two, they will be able to go “out there” with their work. Of course, this does happen, and no teacher wants to discourage magical and unexpected treasures that may arrive at the writer’s doorstep. On the other hand, I’ve learned too that if I give into the student’s desire to be published, to learn how to edit in a time frame that I sense is premature, that they may plunge into self-doubt, depression, and as if a mule is guiding their creative cart, find themselves backing up instead of moving forward.

All creative learning involves this back and forth process, but at the same time, it’s my desire as a coach, as a person who keeps an eye on the pulse of the creative process, to help people to feel encouraged. Premature “professionalism” can throw ice water on that process and even contribute to people not writing at all.
When in Doubt…
The cure for this malady is to return to “freewriting,” without much editing input. To return to the raw, free voice and creative spirit that made them want to write in the first place. The cure is to return to the inner self, mess and all, incorrect grammar, and misplaced modifiers, and not worry about them.
The creative self needs freedom, it needs applause and smiles and unconditional acceptance. When in doubt, I suggest that you find the joy in self-expression once again, and sink into your free floating stream of consciousness. Allow it to guide you down the stream to the heart of yourself. Listen inwardly not outwardly. Forget the editor. Invite your readers to give you what you need to continue to create. Let the “goal” go and return to the Source.

The Power of Memoir –How to Write Your Healing Story, Excerpt

Chapter–Your Outer and Inner Critics

 The way to guard yourself against the assaults of the ‘‘outer critics’’—whether they are friends, family, or even overzealous writing teachers, is to create a sacred, safe space where you protect your writing from negative or critical feedback. If you don’t tell everyone you’re writing a memoir, they won’t know! If they ask what you are writing about you can give a vague answer. In some cases you may want to tell them you’re writing fiction. When people are ‘‘too inquisitive,’’ they usually have their own agenda, so be careful how much you reveal.

The combination of the outer critics and the inner critic can be challenging to combat, but if you use boundaries and tools to create safety and separation from those who would interfere, you will find your writing life easier. The inner critic, however, requires some special techniques.


If you have been shamed, threatened, or shunned by your family for telling the truth, or strongly criticized by teachers or professors about your writing, chances are these experiences have fed into creating a strong inner critic that gets in the way of writing freely.

The inner critic strives to enforce the old rules—stopping us from writing down what we really think or having us pull back from the ‘‘real’’ truth. Over time, we become all too familiar with this negative inner voice.

But if you are to be free to write your truths and your stories, you need to trade in this destructive inner voice for a positive one, and find an antidote to the old negative programs. This may mean more autonomy from the family, or from the old version of family you carry in your mind as you forge a new relationship with yourself. When my coaching clients tell me about their inner critics, it seems to have an intensity and power on a continuum from extremely negative to seductively soothing. The soothing voice whispers things like, ‘‘This is so hard on you. Why don’t you just stop; life will be easier. Don’t rock the boat.’’

 The inner critic is tenacious. I’ve never  met anyone who didn’t have an inner critic, and everyone wants to know how to get rid of it, but the surprising good and bad news is that the critical voice is a part of you. It reflects the natural aspects of being a vulnerable human being with doubts, fears, and worries.

 During my classes, I ask my students to speak the inner critic’s voice into the circle, but the same thing can be achieved by writing down the phrases and answering them. Silence feeds shame. The antidote to this is to state your truth out loud if you are in a group and in your journal as an ongoing exercise in conquering the inner critic.

Ways to Work with the Inner Critic

Write a dialogue with the inner critic. If it says, ‘‘You’re stupid, you can’t write,’’ ask, ‘‘Who taught me this? Where did this belief come from?’’

If it says, ‘‘You’re stupid. What makes you think you can write such a long work?’’ you answer back, ‘‘It’s true that I didn’t know everything, and I was bad in [fill in the blank with school skills], but I have written some good things before, and even [fill in the name of a friend, editor, teacher, family member] liked it.’’

If you suffered humiliation when you expressed yourself in school or in front of family, write down those phrases. For example,

‘‘You always got the worst grade in spelling, and you always failed your essays.’’

Answer back with new phrases that contradict the old voices.

‘‘This is not about getting good grades, and I am no longer fourteen years old. I have learned to write well enough, and besides, I can hire an editor if I need to. Just shut up and let me write.’’

For a few weeks, keep a list of the negative phrases in your head and decide how to counter each with positive, assertive statements. Some of the negative phrases will simply melt away after being acknowledged. See if you can label the origin of the phrase or voice.

If the voice says, ‘‘Don’t you dare tell,’’ respond with, ‘‘I’m not telling to embarrass you or to be mean. I just need to tell this story.’’

If the voice says, ‘‘You’re going to kill me . . . ’’ you can answer, ‘‘You’ve used guilt to control me for years, but this is my private project, and I must do it. I’m exercising my autonomy now!’’

Keep an ongoing list of the critic’s attempts to stop you, and keep answering it back. Then get on with your writing for that day.

Working actively with the inner critic, and sorting through the critical voices in your head is an important part of writing a memoir.

Join Me for a Memoir Writing Workshop at Book Passage on May 15, 2010

I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to lead a workshop at one of my favorite independent bookstores in Corte Madera.  You can join me at the Book Passage store from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM as we discuss and learn about The Power of Memoir:  How to Write Your Healing Story.

Pre-registation is required.  You can pre-register through and find all of the details on the National Association of Memoir Writers Website.

I hope to see you there!

Bay Books–San Ramon

April 23, 2010 Linda will be talking about her new book The Power of Memoir in San Ramon, CA at 7 PM.
At most book events, the audience poses questions about writing memoir. Many who attend these book events are beginning their own memoir, and are eager to learn some tips from Linda Joy.

The topics that are foremost in people’s minds include:
1. How do I handle writing a memoir with my family?
2. When I write, I feel that my life is so boring. Should I just stop?
3. How do I stand behind my truths when family and friends keep telling me that I’m wrong?
4. I have had some traumatic things happen to me and I’m scared to write about them. Do you have any advice for me?
5. I am just a beginning writer. Is there any hope for me to write a memoir?

Linda talks about these questions in her presentations at bookstores, and answers such concerns in her book The Power of Memoir. Even if you do not want to write specifically for healing purposes, writing a memoir is a profound process of self-development and self-exploration. The challenges for most memoir writers are the same: learning how to write while also confronting memories and versions of truth.

If you are struggling with your memoir and want some supportive advice, come to hear Linda Joy speak at the various events located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Articles and blog posts appear about these subjects at her sites and

Book signing photos

From Book Signing Event, posted by Linda Joy Myers on 3/10/2010 (4 items)

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