Money is a good reason to write a memoir

by Jerry Waxler

Money motivates us to achieve remarkable things. We go to work whether we feel like it or not, accepting the alarm clock, traffic, and other rigors of the working life in exchange for pay. When we come home at the end of the day, motivations shift dramatically. We do what we must for home and family, and when we’re ready to relax, we can follow our whims. We can watch television, play with the computer, or read a book. Occasionally, we desire to harness our creative force and achieve a more sophisticated goal, like writing a memoir. To write a memoir, you must hone writing and editing skills, peer into the hazy and sometimes uncomfortable past, organize your material and try to craft it into a story. You could do it as much or as little as you choose. It sounds so free and easy. And that’s the problem. Without boss or deadline, why write when you could watch television?

Freedom is one of the most difficult challenges an aspiring memoir writer can face. If you don’t have good reasons to stay focused on the work, there are many other pastimes that will seem more attractive. So to write your memoir, keep your passion burning. When you wonder if it’s worth it, review your list of payoffs: creative ones like the pleasure of crafting your story; psychological ones like hoping to put old demons to rest; and social ones like giving a gift to your kids or reaching out to strangers.

There is one more reason that might occur to you. “Perhaps I can publish it and make money.” Money could help pay for a vacation, or add to your retirement fund. Writing for money could launch a new career, or help you advance in your existing one. If you hit the publishing lottery, it could change your lifestyle. The desire for money leads to rewards beyond the purely pragmatic. Money is a symbol of approval. When people buy your work, you feel validated and accepted. As you imagine a broader audience, your writing expands, changing what had once been a personal memory into an interesting and accessible story.

And yet, as robust as this motivation at first seems, it can be undermined by doubts. “Will I really make money from a memoir? Is my story big enough? I’m not famous. I’ve never been published. Who would want to read this stuff?” The conversations you have with yourself on this subject, like any internal debate that pits motivations against doubts, will help determine how much energy you are willing to invest in your writing project.

Most successful writers agree that it takes time to develop the publishing credentials, the writing skills, and find the markets that will earn enough money to make a difference. So while you work towards a longterm goal, you probably won’t be living on the income.  In fact, there is no way to guarantee whether you will ever make money. If you’re looking at the odds, one thing is certain. If you don’t try you will fail, and conversely the harder you work, the higher the odds.

Fortunately, you don’t need to rely just on the prospect of future benefits. Once you do actually try, something magical begins to happen. You find the process of writing is in itself pleasurable and satisfying. When I write I always feel better after, than before. That turns into a good motivation to keep going. Writing engages your mind and makes you feel sharper. Your writing skills improve, contributing to better speed and quality that you can apply in other writing projects. The subtle rewards of doing the daily work becomes one of the most satisfying payoffs of all. Now in your sense of purpose, you feel a rhythm between the fantasy of future payoffs and the subtle pleasures of immediate ones.

To fortify your resolve through a variety of moods, pay attention as you gradually reconcile emotions from your past that you thought were hopeless, or as you deepen your relationship with siblings, or feel more whole and alive, or any of a thousand other side effects of memoir writing. Before you started writing, you may have heard about these benefits, but you only actually feel them for yourself once you get started. And if money gets you started and keeps you going then your desire for money is already paying dividends.

Ten reasons you’re not too old to write your memoir

by Jerry Waxler

Of all the reasons people give for not writing their memoirs, two I find most amusing are that “I’m too old” and “I’m too young.” If you find yourself squeezed between the wrong ages to write your memoirs, here are some reasons to help you refute the “I’m too old” one. In another blog, I’ll offer reasons why you’re not too young. Ultimately, the best time is right now.

1) If you fear it’s too late to learn how to write, flip this reason upside down. Learning how to write is an excellent reason for writing your memoir. If you start today, by tomorrow you’ll know more.

2) There’s no upper limit. If you can think, you can write. If your fingers don’t work or you can’t see, you can use voice technology. Author Harry Bernstein wrote his memoir, The Invisible Wall when he was 93.

3) Writing about yourself breaks down the walls between people. Readers feel they know you, and open up more quickly, increasing the energy of your social network.

4) No matter what your age, you can gain peace and deeper insights about your life by understanding how events in earlier years affected you later.

5) You might assume younger people are not particularly interested in you because you’re out of step with the times. Flip this reason upside down. The long reach of your memory is potentially the most interesting thing about you. You’ve seen more, and seen it in different contexts. Offering your memories helps younger people gain a better understanding of their own world.

6) You might think no one will read your work because you’re not young and glamorous. But the value we seek from books works on other dimensions than the smoothness of the author’s skin. In fact, your wrinkles might even become a credential, proving you have the years of experience to speak with authority.

7) Writing is good for your brain and will help you stay mentally supple and vigorous.

8) Once you start looking into your memories, you’ll find your accomplishments tucked away in forgotten corners. Remembering them will help you appreciate what you’ve done and who you are.

9) Telling the story gives you a sense that life is a story. This helps you craft a more interesting story of the future.

10) By writing a memoir, you improve your ability to write all sorts of material, notes, letters, essays, articles in newsletters, blogs. You can use your enhanced writing skills to share yourself with others expanding your interaction with the world, and continuing the social graces, pleasures, and gifts of being a human being.

It’s a wonderful life for every memoir writer

Jerry Waxler

Author of Memoir Revolution: Write Your Story, Change the World and How to Become a Heroic Writer

Every year millions of people watch the movie “It’s a wonderful life” in which Jimmy Stewart’s guardian angel stops him from killing himself by showing him how his life has made a difference in people’s lives. Once he sees the bigger picture, he regains confidence and charges back into the fray. Why has this movie become an annual ritual for so many people? Of course, we love to see the hero overcome obstacles and save the town from the greedy landlord. But I think we are attracted to this movie for a much deeper reason. The fear that crept into Stewart’s mind, that his life was not worthwhile, could overtake any of us.

If we lose our sense of making a difference, we too start to lose our way, not necessarily contemplating suicide, but questions creep up. “If no one cares what I do, what’s the point?” So while for most of us, our situation is not as dramatic as Stewart’s, we can still empathize with his plight, as well as empathize with his need for deeper meaning. We would all benefit from finding that sense of engagement.

Fortunately, the movie is not about changing the past. The actions that restored Stewart’s faith took place years ago. The angel simply gave Stewart the gift of sight so he could see how these actions helped. I think this is what keeps us coming back to the movie year after year – the hope to see that we made a difference.

So while we’re waiting for our own angel, what can we do to find meaning in our lives? Try writing a memoir. Writing is the way we remind ourselves of all sorts of things. Take for example a shopping list. When I realize I need something at the store, the thought seems so real, so obvious, so compelling. But if I don’t write it on a list, that idea turns out to have been fleeting. I’ll stand at the store surrounded by thousands of items, but the one I wanted a few days before now simply blends in.

It’s the same thing with memories. As they occur, they seem so vivid. By writing them, I gradually compile a list of times I was able to help people. The efforts I made at work kept not only my own paycheck coming but also contributed to the business that supports many other people as well. My presence at a funeral or during a divorce offered support exactly when it was needed. I list moments of generosity and victories over my own limitations.

Am I going to find only times I saved people from despair and ruin? Of course not. I’m not a character in a movie. I see plenty of times when taking care of myself obscured my concern for others. In fact, when I was younger, I rarely thought about my impact on other people.

Seeing less than perfect actions in the past seems like it should upset me, but instead it has turned out to be exhilarating. By looking squarely at the way my life played out, I understand more about who I am, and how my story interacts with the world. Instead of feeling worse about my life, I see those events as part of a dynamic force. I grew, I tried things, made mistakes, learned from them, and kept going. The story with all its ups and downs had a continuity that carried me through the years.

Telling about the past at first seems like a simple act of remembering. But then out of the story emerge lessons that help me make the most of my actions today, so I can move in a worthwhile direction, and do things that make a difference tomorrow. In the movie, the angel didn’t say much. He just showed Stewart how the story works. Based on those observations Stewart drew his own conclusions. As I write, I go through the same process he did, and I’m drawing the same conclusion, too. It turns out it really is a wonderful life.

For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my book Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To order my self-help workbook for developing habits, overcoming self-doubts, and reaching readers, read my book How to Become a Heroic Writer.

Write your memoir when you get a Round Tuit

By Jerry Waxler

The first time I heard about a Round Tuit was in the early seventies. I was working at my first real job after college, at United Engineers in Philadelphia. As I tried to understand how to cope with the working life, the old timers generously dispensed their wisdom in the form of witty expressions, like “Nolo Bastardo Carborundum.” (Don’t let the bastards wear you down). The first time I saw the word “TUIT” on a round pin, and someone explained what it was, I thought it was the funniest thing I ever heard.

It turns out, like so much of the humor of an office environment, there is pain behind the joke. Many things we want to do must wait until we get around to it. And those are quite often valuable activities that can contribute to the quality of our lives. One such project is writing my memoir. Writing the stories of my life would let me gather my memories, organize them, and share them with others. But who has time?

Perhaps if someone handed me one of those “round tuits” I’d be ready. But if no one hands me one, how can I create my own? Recognizing the life altering power of “round tuits,” I made it a personal challenge to find strategies that would help me convert desire into action. Some of my favorite ideas came from Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” a book so insightful I give it credit for changing my life. And Tony Robbins’ “Awaken the Giant Within” is so full of useful information it’s like going to graduate school for self improvement. In fact, I did go to graduate school, for a Master’s degree in counseling, and while I was learning to help others, I continued to learn strategies which I summarize in my website Mental Health Survival Guide.

From all this material, I applied my thinking to aspiring writers who try to get themselves through all those nasty obstacles like, “I don’t have time” or “No one is going to like this” or “I’m not a writer.” I offered workshops to help writers write, and then condensing it all I wrote a book, Four Elements for Writers. So let’s just say I have a few thoughts on this issue.

After all my years of searching, it boils down to the most basic of human equations. If it’s what you want, work for it. Push through as many obstacles as possible. And when you reach obstacles you can’t get through, find help. Look for advice about how to move boulders, go around them, break them down to accessible size, or gain the strength and skill to leap over them.

This simple equation is demonstrated for us over and over in the classic story structure we’ve been hearing since childhood. In stories, someone wants something. They set out to achieve it. It’s a long journey. They encounter obstacles. They find allies. They overcome previous assumptions. They get smacked around. And they keep going. By the end of the story they have gotten around to it. It wasn’t necessarily easy. In fact, in the stories we enjoy most, the obstacles were formidable. But that’s okay. The wounds our heroes receive on this journey are kind of romantic. They often even gain wisdom along the way.

To achieve your goals, apply this story structure to your own life. You want to write. You overcome obstacles. Gather allies. The journey is not necessarily easy, but that’s okay. You have a story to live. Like every other thing you have accomplished in your life, grab a Round Tuit from the pile, or make your own, solve the problems, and write.

Refute these 14 reasons not to write your memoir

by Jerry Waxler

Reasons not to write memoirs sprout like weeds, choking off creative energy. At first the excuses look formidable. Through effort, your aspirations will grow taller and stronger, while your objections will wither. Until that time, consciously explore each excuse and stamp it out with the power of reason. Here is a list of the most common objections, and suggestions for refuting each

I want to live in the present, not the past.
Memoir writing sounds like it points us to the past, but in fact, the creative effort takes place in the present. And as you develop deeper understanding of past burdens, you can let them go and become more conscious in the present.

It hurts when I remember.
When you remember hard times of loss or humiliation, you awaken the pain. At first you might prefer avoiding such memories, but as you write about them, you tune in to complex and nuanced emotions. Amidst the shards of pain you discover hope. You notice that some of the supporting cast members tried to help you. And as you reach back towards your earlier self, you notice you are injecting compassion and wisdom. Your retelling brings peace to the memories.

If I tell the past incorrectly I’ll be a liar.

Absolute truth sounds important in theory, but it doesn’t exist. Every one of us sees the world through our own eyes. Memoirs allow us to discover our own messy reality. And that’s one reason why memoirs have become so important. They are breaking us out of the prison that says the only truth is scientifically provable. Actually we each live in a world of our own human truth, and our story lets us tell that truth and share it with each other. Memoirs are allowing us to be ourselves.

I can’t remember those times, so how can I write about them?
Writing will help you remember.

I’m not a writer.
Many of us define “writer” as a club we are not entitled to enter, and until we are granted official membership, we must avoid writing. It’s a Gordian Knot that can’t be untied because there is no end to the circular argument that you can’t write because you don’t write. You can cut the knot by drawing your pen and beginning to write.

I’m too old.
This is a self-imposed rule. You are the only one who can declare yourself out of the age limit. If you have taken upon yourself the authority to declare yourself unfit, then it is also within your power to reverse this ruling. What does “too old” even mean? If you start writing now, you would proceed from wherever you are, and in the process improve your writing skills, organize your memories, and share your story.

I’m too young.
It’s true that next year you will be a year older. But why wait? As soon as you start to write, you’ll be learning skills of observation and description. Each attempt to write your memoir, at any age, fosters wisdom about the life you have lived so far, and develops skills that prepare you for the life to come.

Nothing worthwhile has ever happened to me.
By delving into the story, you will discover unique and interesting things about yourself. And as you create the story, you will discover an amazing truth. The events themselves are neither interesting nor boring. The passion of the story emerges when you convert events into language.

What if family members are offended?
If you let your fears stop you from writing, there is also a chance you are already letting them stop you from living. By telling the story, you can develop a healthier response. It’s also possible your fears originated decades ago and are now sustained mainly by your own imagination. Those people may end up having an entirely different reaction than the one you predict.

What if I expose my flaws and weaknesses?
You don’t need to expose anything you don’t want to. So give yourself permission to put them on the page, if you want. Then once you see them taking shape, you might realize they aren’t so bad. They might show other people a more believable and accessible version of yourself. Your revelations might end up making you more likable, not less.

It’s narcissistic.
When people are so wrapped up in themselves that they can’t understand the needs of other people, they are diagnosed as “narcissistic.” Since they don’t care what other people think, they have no need to explain themselves. Memoir writers behave completely differently. A memoir writer spends thousands of hours translating life into a story, a complete portrait that includes flaws. Then the author struggles to communicate this flawed portrait to readers. By writing your life story for a stranger, you are demonstrating an extraordinary interest in the needs of readers and an extraordinary willingness to understand your own process. In fact, if a person with narcissistic tendencies were willing to spend this much energy developing communication and introspective skills, it could improve their compassionate connection with the rest of the world.

If I con myself into believing an inaccurate story, I’ll become a less authentic person.
You might already be conning yourself. Writing about your life is a form of self-reflection that may help you understand yourself in a more realistic framework. Writing your story could turn you into a more authentic person.

People might not like my writing.
Some people won’t like it. Some people will. You won’t know until you try. Then stick with the ones who do.

I don’t have time.

How you manage the 24 hours in your day is a bigger issue than whether or not you write a memoir. To live life to the fullest, you must evaluate your priorities and choose to do things that will give you and the people you love the most satisfaction. If, after careful consideration, writing a memoir fits in with your goals, then you are the only one who can arrange your time and priorities to make it happen. This is so big I wrote a blog entry about it. In fact, I wrote a whole book. If time is your enemy, overcome it with strategy, tools, insights, desire. This is your life. Fit into it what you want.


For more about shyness, fear of the public, and other issues related to social anxiety, consider these 20 suggestions:

Ten Tips to Overcome Shyness when Writing your Memoir.

Here are ten more tips.

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To learn about my 200 page workbook about overcoming psychological blocks to writing, click here.

Check out the programs and resources at the National Association of Memoir Writers

Memoir as an expression of Free Will

By Jerry Waxler

Terri Gross interviewed Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse last night. Dr. Volkow, an expert on drug addiction, said, “When someone becomes addicted, they are no longer in control of their actions. Even though they want to stop, they can’t.” She continued, “I’ve always been fascinated by the conflict between what a person wants to do and what they actually do. It raises the question of Free Will.” I loved the interview. Volkow is an animated speaker, and she has a fascinating past. She grew up in Mexico in the house where her great grandfather Leon Trotsky was assassinated. (She could write a book about that.) Here’s the link to the interview if you’re interested in drug addiction, or simply want to listen to a great interview.

But what really caught my attention was her comment about Free Will. That’s interesting to me too, from the opposite direction than is faced by addicts. Many aspiring writers have the problem of wanting to write, but are not able to do so. It seems peculiar that a person would want to do something, and then not. I wonder, “who is in charge.” To write your memoir, you’ll need to find the solution to this age old challenge of Free Will.

How do you exercise your Free Will when you say “I want to write?” Leave a comment if you have thoughts on this issue. If you want to read a book of my suggestions about how to tackle this challenge, check out, “Four Elements for Writers, How to Get Beyond “Yes-But,” Conquer Self-Doubt and Inertia, and Achieve Your Writing Goals” by Jerry Waxler

Should I write a memoir after I’m retired?

 by Jerry Waxler

Many people intend to write more after they retire, because they will have more time. I agree that you will have more time when you are no longer working a day job, but I’m not so sure that it’s free time you need more of. In my experience, more free time does not necessarily lead to more writing. It’s what you do with your free time that matters.

If you look at your free time as time to relax, then more free time will just mean more relaxing. Writing requires a shift in your attitude towards free time, and you can start making that shift right now. The trick is to realize that once you start writing, even if you only last for ten minutes, you will have energy than when you started. Once you develop the habit of creating during your free time, it will stick with you, and carry you towards your goals whether you are working, or after you retire.

When you go to work, you’re on a schedule. Your actions are well-defined, driven by the needs of the business. The people who work together expect each other to do their share. Writing lacks these pressures, and on the surface, this lack of pressure seems glamorous. Be your own boss. Work when you want. But when you actually try to produce readable, or even publishable material, independence loses its glamor.

Now instead of having someone tell you what to do next, you have to tell yourself. There’s no one to sort priorities, give you direction, or warn you of the consequences of slacking off. There are many other things calling for attention: television, the grandkids, or the tennis court. And in the back of your mind, or perhaps right there in plain view, is your belief that free time is down time. “Why should I work in my free time?”

My answer to that question is “Because creativity makes me feel better than anything else I could be doing with my time.” Through experimenting, I’ve found that by writing, I invest energy, but then get back more than I put in. This experimentation has opened a new chapter in my life. I found that by persistently writing, I have nurtured the sort of enthusiasm typically expected only in entrepreneurs or pioneers.

Once you see writing as a contribution to your life, you’ll cherish your free time as a time to create. You’ll find ways to get yourself to the desk. You’ll start habits to help you organize your material. You’ll set goals, even modest ones, that turn your free time into the luxurious glamorous opportunity to create something you can enjoy and share. It’s an awakening, not a retreat.

Start as soon as possible, like after you finish reading this. Take ten minutes and write about the last time you saw your childhood home, or describe your best friend in high school, or list five things you did that pleased your parents, and five things that displeased them. If you feel better, invigorated, satisfied in some sublime way, you have used your free time wisely.