by Jerry Waxler
Writing a memoir leads you inward, but to reach towards readers, you must turn in the other direction, exposing private material to strangers. What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like you? Many memoir writers pull back at this threshold. Without forward momentum, even a small bump can become insurmountable.
Reasons for avoiding the public come in many voices, each one asserting a sense of urgency or even danger. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by these concerns, seek solutions. Remember that writing a memoir is a journey. You don’t need to solve every obstacle before you start. Just solve the ones that stop you.
Here is a list of ten suggestions to help you press past the obstacles. Once you have gained confidence, you will come to see your readers as supporters, and the only pressure you will feel is the desire to fulfill their curiosity and respond to their support.
For ten more tips, see part two of this article.
Screw your courage to the sticking place
Before you reach for readers, you might pull back and ask “Why bother?” If unanswered, this question will bog you down and make even small obstacles seem insurmountable. Counter it by writing a list of all the reasons you want to move forward. By focusing on your reasons, you will gain courage to climb the ramparts and charge into the public.
For example, many memoir writers enjoy the pleasure of self-expression. Finding readers takes that pleasure to the next level. Many want to share a lesson about life, offering inspiring and cautionary tales that can help others. And even from the first workshop or critique group, memoir writes discover that their story connects them with other people.
For more reasons, see this article “Ten Reasons Anyone Should Write a Memoir.”
I am nobody
Many aspiring memoir writers ask, “Why would anyone read about my life?” But they typically ask the question rhetorically, assuming that the correct answer is “nobody.” When you look for real answers, you will find many reasons why someone might want to read about your unique journey. By turning your life into a good story, you will give readers the gift of your presence. Like the other obstacles to writing, this is a good one to set aside in the beginning. Start writing and as your story develops you will gradually improve your understanding of your relationship to your future audience.
Accept stinky first drafts
You may be afraid your writing is “not good enough.” One way to overcome this negative impression of yourself is give yourself permission to write bad first drafts. Ernest Hemingway famously claimed his first drafts were crap. Eventually through editing and learning the craft, your writing will improve. Look at your first drafts as a humiliating step along a noble path.
Collaborate with other aspiring writers
Participate in a supportive writing group. Working with other writers helps overcome shyness by giving incremental exposure to helpful people who are traveling the same path you are.
Censor memories you’re not ready to reveal
If there are things about your life that you’re not sure you ever want to write about, keep your secrets. No one is forcing you to reveal everything. As the project proceeds, you can reevaluate your reticence later.
Call it fiction
If you fear you could never tell your secrets, write them as fiction. Hide something you did in Las Vegas by telling about it as if it happened to someone else in Los Angeles.
Write stories that are roadmaps to your future
If you are unable to imagine your future success as a writer, try writing a story about it. Imagine your first letter of acceptance, or jump even further and write about sitting on the deck of your yacht, typing your next bestseller.
Toastmasters International is an inexpensive non-profit organization with local chapters all over the world, where people come together to help each other overcome their reluctance to speak in public. Even if you don’t intend to become a public speaker, this program will help you break through overwrought feelings of privacy and expand your mind to include more people. And if you ever fantasize about publishing a book, you will no longer be terrified by the interviews and book signings.
Persist along a gentle slope
To publish your first pieces, look for gentle places with easy thresholds. Your very first sharing might be in a memoir group. Later you may decide to publish a blog anonymously. As you become accustomed to these initial entry points, aim slightly higher, such as posting a signed article on an ezine. You will gradually reach higher elevations, without having to climb cliffs or leap across chasms.
Draw inspiration from the persistence of other authors
Every memoir you read has been written by someone who had to go through the same process. They started, learn, revealed themselves, and reached towards gatekeepers and readers. Now that you’ve enjoyed the fruits of their labor, consider emulating them, and passing your life story forward, adding another drop to the sea of culture.
For ten more tips, see part two of this article.
See also: “Afraid to write your memoir? Read this book!”
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.
This is a good list, Jerry. One of our students recently took the plunge and created a monthly Open Mic night at a local coffee house near Philadelphia. She didn’t have to face the audience alone; she got several of her writer friends to join her. She posted her readings on YouTube and even allowed us to post her videos on Women’s Memoirs. (http://womensmemoirs.com/category/memoir-writing-news/ )
As for your point two (I am nobody), I’ve found that many “nobodies” have a lot of inspiration, lessons and encouragement to share.
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