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