by Jerry Waxler
To learn more about the cultural passion for memoirs, and reasons you should write your own, read my book Memoir Revolution: A Social Shift that Uses Your Story to Heal, Connect, and Inspire, available on Amazon. Click here for the eBook or paperback.
When you face a daunting task, the only way to start is to take the first step. But what if even the first step seems daunting? Like the Gumption Trap in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you can’t start your journey until you make peace with that first step. Memoir classes are one excellent way to coach you onto the road. And in fact there may be even gentler ways to start. Use techniques for self-reporting that you can find within ordinary life. If you’re already doing some of these, use them as the starting point from which to extend your writing and turn it into a more complete story of your life.
Letters and newsletters
For at least two thousand years, letters were an important way for people to keep in touch at a distance. The telephone made it so much easier to connect that it looked like personal letter writing was fading into oblivion. Now, with the development of blogs, email, and online family newsletters, writing is making a comeback. By writing letters to your relatives and friends, or articles for your family or group newsletter you can keep in touch while you develop parts of your memoir.
Job and school applications
A more structured method of organizing your past comes when you apply for a job or school. On the application you list previous employment, education, and related achievements. While it doesn’t include much narrative, it’s an ordered sequence of major events in your life, and as such demonstrates a fundamental technique of memoir writing. Expand the list by adding more events, including births and deaths, relationships, moves, and other critical changes in your life. Your list will help you frame out your memoir.
LinkedIn and Facebook want me to explain to strangers who I am. Online dating services want even more information. These profiles convey a glimpse of who we are through tiny fragments like favorite books, pets, and sports. At first I hated trying to tell about myself this way. When I approached it more playfully, I realized it’s not a bad exercise for creating the persona of the protagonist of my memoir.
Twelve Steps Moral Inventory
The fourth step of the Twelve Steps program is designed to help people climb out of the traps of the past by conducting a “fearless moral inventory.” If you have ever been through this process, you have already engaged in a courageous detailed self-examination. If you have never been through this process, look around for books about facing difficult memories, such as, John Bradshaw’s books, “Homecoming” and “Healing the shame that binds you.” While originally intended for addicts, these resources offer advice for anyone who wants to face regrets, embarrassment, and shame. By unraveling the knots of the past, you can set yourself free from backward pulls. And as you develop your story, you’ll find the strength, hope, and other emotions to help you move forward.
Keep a journal or diary
Journaling is a fantastic habit that can help you deal with emotions, get you in touch with your writing voice, and gather your memories. Journaling means writing just for you with no concern about a potential audience. By setting aside readers, you soothe the inner critic, allowing you to put words on paper, without worrying about what anyone thinks. (Stephen King in On Writing says to write your first draft with the door closed.) The goal is simply to find a safe place to transfer words from mind to paper. As you write in your journal, you sort out emotions of the day, as well as sorting out events that took place decades ago. Experiment. Brainstorm. Sketch. For example, snoop around your high school homeroom for a few journal sessions. Who sat next to you? What did you have for lunch? What set the class tittering? Get creative about asking yourself questions. You’ll be amazed at what turns up on paper, and with practice, you’ll develop an easier relationship with converting mental images into a written narrative.
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