The art of writing memoir is like making any other kind of art. Every artist needs to create, just as every storyteller needs to tell their story. They feel a pull, a desire, sometimes a need so strong that it becomes an obsession. They absolutely must lay paint down on a canvass. It is paramount that they photograph what they see. They simply must shape the clay. The muse drives them to commit words to the page.
Yet, sometimes we hold back despite the drive. We silence our voices. We avert our eyes. We ball our hands into fists lest our fingers pick up a pen or take to a keyboard.
Why We Resist Writing Memoir
As Marianne Williamson asked, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”
We worry about how we will be received. We are afraid that others will judge us and find us wanting. We question ourselves. Is this memoir just an ego trip? Am I too full of myself?
We wonder if, once we start writing memoir, we will discover that the story isn’t that interesting after all. Did we somehow become legends in our own minds? Will telling my story leave me empty?
How will others judge us? Will they think we’re too narrow-minded, too aggressive, too this but not enough that? Will they complain about our openness and say we should have kept our secrets? Will they challenge our truth?
Or worse, will they say nothing at all?
A Voice Says "Speak Up"
But there is that damn voice in our heads whispering, “Speak up… speak up.”
So, we might pick up a pencil. Not a pen. And with our very light 9H pencils, we whisper back to that voice and quickly jot down a memory. Then, we tuck the story away in a notebook, the notebook in a box, the box in a dark room. We protect that precious thing like our lives depend on it. We tuck it away and keep it safe. We curl our hearts around the story and feel the satisfaction of it.
We did it! We wrote our story! Okay, maybe not our whole story, or all our stories, but we spoke to the page. We participated, a little, in the art of writing memoir.
Writing our Deepest Truths
When we write from our deepest truth and shine our honest light onto those pages, we become more solid, more real. We become visible.
Then, we find ourselves thinking about that story while we’re pushing a shopping cart down the frozen food aisle. Another meaningful memory pops into our head and we start to think about the words we might put to it, as we’re stopped at a red light. Thoughts about it, about our memoir, begin to fill the in-between places of our time. We roll the word “memoir” around our tongues.
Mmmm. Memm. Memm-waaahhr. Marbles in our mouths, cool and round.
Words and Wisdom for the Wind
Somehow, it’s not enough to keep it to ourselves anymore. We think about our precious words, hiding in a room/box/notebook/heart, and we want to free them.
We want to write the words and fly them like prayer flags: words and wisdom for the wind to pick up and carry along to just the right ear at just the right time. We want to share ourselves. We want to tell everyone about what we learned along the way. We want to tell people what happened to us and what we did and what we learned. Am I strong enough to be vulnerable?
Our reason for writing memoir isn't to exact revenge or to shame others, or to venerate our own shame. Nor are our memoirs like parking tickets that we hand over for validation. We don’t give them in trade: here’s my story, give me your approval. Doing that would be tantamount to stuffing our power into a small box, wrapping it up with a red ribbon, and handing it over to… well… everyone. No, that’s not why we feel so deeply compelled. In fact, here’s the thing: the art of writing memoir comes down to love.
Hokey? Maybe, but hear me out.
Our Stories as a Gift
We offer our stories as a gift. We are saying, “Here, take this. Take my story, my honest story that is me and mine and everything that is important and that matters to me—take it. I’m giving it to you so that you might hear something that matters to you right now in your life. I hope you find a laugh, or a lesson, or see yourself in these pages too. I hope you feel like you get me in some small way, because that means that I get you too. In this I-write-you-read way, we will connect and be less alone and more together.” How is that not an act of love?
But what if I give it and no one wants it?
We are not in control of how our gifts are received. This is the part that takes courage. Some will look at our words and see only letters, or possibly a threat to their own way of thinking. Others will look at our words and see meaning, how another sees things, and feel joy in the connection.
Writing Memoir as Connection
We need connection, maybe more than ever before. If the will is there, but the word craft isn’t, let me or someone else sculpt your story. We need to connect ideas, to work together, to find our commonalities, and to thrive in our diversity. We need brave people to speak their truths from honest, open, vulnerable places. We need brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous men and women to step up and share themselves on the page, because after all, who are we not to? “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
So, if you are a story teller, if you have a small voice in the corner of your mind that whispers, “Speak up,” then please, for all our sakes, embrace the magnetic pull to the art of writing memoir, take up your pen and write yourself down.
Trina is co-author of the memoir, Sidetracks: 40 True Stories of Hunting and Fishing on Paths Less Traveled.