Author Dorothy Allison says, “There’s no way to be a good writer and be safe.” She believes in visiting the edges; it’s where the energy is, and good writing often starts in exactly that same place.
Truth in memoir is expected, but it’s not always easy to tell. It may be what brought you to the writing desk, but it can also be what scares you away from it. It hurts! Why would you want to remember pain and write about it?!
There are a few good reasons:
1) Writing is proven to be healing for the body as well as good for the mind.
2) Writing the truth can help you accept your own version of your life and let go of other people’s versions of who you are, were, or should be.
3) Putting the truth in print can keep assumptions and mistruths from being passed around and possibly passed down in your family. If you don’t say it someone else may, and they won’t necessarily be telling your truth.
4) Truths change, like we do, over time. What was shameful to you in earlier years may not have to be shameful any longer, and it can be freeing to realize that. Ask yourself if you need to be ashamed of it at your age in the here and now.
I always tell my memoir students to remember this: when you’re writing the hard stuff — and hard stuff is part of all of our lives — it’s especially good to quiet the inner critic AND to remember no one is watching over your shoulder. You are as free as you are able to be.
How do you write through the hard stuff? First, write as much as you comfortably can, quieting that inner (and imagined outer) critic. Next, stretch just a little out of your comfort zone. Read your story over and notice if you got to the heart of it. Is there more to say? Write everything you need to say until your story is complete. You can even use a writing prompt and freewrite for 10 minutes on a separate sheet of paper to loosen up and say it all, then decide what of it you want to include in your story. Start with these words: What I really want to say is…. Or try this: I have never told anyone …
I’ve seen people mend holes in their hearts through writing, bridge gaps in their relationships, surprise themselves by not only surviving sharing the hard stuff through their stories but feeling better than they have in a really long time.
Be brave and see what happens.
The 6th National Story Circle Conference, Stories from the Heart 2012, starts April 13 in Austin, Texas! Come and enjoy all it has to offer, and be sure to come to my workshop Saturday April 14 and learn about Writing the Truth: Issues, Ethics & Poetic License. I’m also offering free coaching sessions for 2-day conference participants Friday April 13, on getting published, including query letter critique. For more on what I do when I’m not in Texas, see my website: www.suzannesherman.com.