by Janet Grace Riehl
I’m just back from the Iowa City Writing Festival where I participated in a week long workshop “Finding the Story in Your Life: Using Narrative in Memoir Writing.” Seven out of the eight writers in the group were women. So, sort of like a women’s memoir gathering.
Every woman in the group voiced a variation of what I call the “So what?” Factor. Our male mascot seemed immune to this bug-a-boo of a writing life. We’ll skip over the sociology of this particular gender gap. What is the “So what?” Factor?
You ask yourself:
1) “Why should I write this? Does it matter to anyone else but me? Does it matter to even me? No one (including me) will care if I write it or not.”
2) “Why should I write this? I will never be able to get it published.
3) “Why should i write this? It hurts too much to dig down to excavate these memories? It’s too much work. What good is it, anyway.”
4)”Why should I write this? I can’t write anyway. Everyone will know it once the words are down on the page. I can’t learn all these fancy skills every one says I need to tell a good story. What’s wrong with straight-ahead prose?”
These, and variations of these–boil down to “So what?” And behind the “So what?” lurks: “I am scared. I am not equal to the task. I’ll get hurt. Is is worth the risk? I’m nothing special. What chutzpah to think my story matters.” Not to worry. These agonies don’t make you a scaredy cat. As long as you don’t let them stop you, okay? Courage is in the doing. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Is writing our stories futile? Dangerous? Stupid? Dangerous, maybe. Futile and stupid, no. The antidote to the “So what?” Factor is to make our own meaning. Claim it. Then work from the confidence and faith of that meaning.
1) Declare meaning–as if you were planting a flag at the top of a mountain you’ve just climbed. (Oh, heck. As if you were planting a flag at the bottom of a mountain you were about to climb. Why be fussy here?) Eric Maisel suggests this meaning mantra: “I matter. My work matters.”
2) Search for meaning inside yourself rather than outside. You can aim to master yourself and your responses. The world’s response is completely outside your control. Think of it as none of your business. On a personal level, it isn’t. Let it go, especially when you’re still producing the stuff.
3) What motivates you? While our culture says that fame and fortune are the main prizes in life, most Story Circle Network Members write our stories as a labor of love. That labor itself is the gift–to ourselves first of all. Then, as our work finds its way in the world the gift touches others.
4) Invite a friend to be your Meaning Buddy. When you run up against that “So What?” blood sucker, pick up the telephone (or text!) before that thirsty leech can attach itself to your psyche and your pen.
Become a Riehlife Villager www.riehlife.com.