In the process of writing my memoir, “Woman Sleeping on the Couch,” I started out gazing at others who hurt me, but now as I complete the revision process, my gaze has turned to my own reflection. I learned that the grueling process of writing a memoir includes stripping the author bare.
Reflecting on literary agent-author Paula Balzer’s sentiment that appears in her book, Writing and Selling Your Memoir, at some point the author has to balance griping about others in their memoir with recognizing his or her own shortcomings. I dove into the process knowing that no one would ever read my first drafts of my memoir because for me, the process resembled writing an angry letter to a parent or former partner that I destroy instead of send.
For me the first drafts also resembled journal therapy that allowed me to regurgitate my painful experiences while shaming and blaming others (without their knowledge). Then I turned the fingers on myself because when you point at another person, four fingers point back at you. And I’m not saying that I didn’t squirm in my writer’s chair or step away from my computer often in a complete huff. I also waded through self-recrimination and self-loathing which eventually led to self-acceptance.
Balzer had pointed out in her book on crafting marketable memoirs that this genres is about self-discovery and letting others off the hook. In my spiritual practice, my teachers taught me that nothing happens outside of me and everything found in the outer world is just a reflection of my inner turmoil or inner peace. If I don’t like what I’m seeing out there, then sitting on my butt and meditating holds the key.
Why write a memoir at all if self-reflection and self-acceptance aren’t part of the mission? I’ve learned that memoirs are not letters to editors or opinion pieces for print publications such as newspapers. Memoirs are not testaments to our hardships though I guess that plays a role in the process of publishing a memoir. We always have the choice to write from our ego and land a gig on Ted Talks so we can rehash our life stories or we can write from our hearts and create a truly cathartic experience for our readers. (Not to bash Ted Talks which I watch religiously).
So here are some lessons I learned from reaching the other side of my memoir writing process:
- Show up on the page (find your authentic voice which is the vulnerable one)
- Don’t run from the hard stuff when it comes up
- Face yourself in the mirror with love and compassion
- Don’t include material that doesn’t move the story forward
- Don’t use a memoir as a way to get even with others
- Don’t use a memoir as a soapbox for rants
- Do weave related stories from other times in your life
- Do reveal your vulnerable side
- Express Universal themes
- Share spiritual insights
- Show don’t tell
- Refrain from giving play-by-plays of life events (you’re not a sports announcer)
- Strive to tell the bigger story & don’t worry about the details
I still have five chapters left to revise while I search for four brave beta readers to give me notes on voice and narrative flow. However, as I approach the finish line, I value the time I spent crafting my memoir.
I’m an intuitive coach for artists and entrepreneurs who uses astrology, oracle card readings and other intuitive tools to unblock and foster clients’ unique gifts. Sign up for a session at Metaphysics for Everyday Living. I am also the author of several novels, short fiction (now narrated on YouTube under Patricia Herlevi) and I’m completing my second non-fiction book.
Dada Movement poster found on Wikipedia