I received these questions recently in my inbox from one of my online writing students.
Molly, do you believe writing your memoir freed you from your past ? Did you solve your past before you wrote and use the writing to simply excise the residual pain or did writing take your pain and make sense if it, causing the pain to lose its power?
I struggle with writing because it feels so self indulgent, l hear my internal voice saying “you poor pathetic being, your life was what it was, it really is a waste of time. You could be doing something that would really help other people. It’s not that big of a deal.”
I thought a lot about my response and thought I would share.
Your questions are so good and important. First of all, I would call that internal voice you described as your inner critic that I talk about during one of the video lessons. We all have part of us that tries to talk us out of doing anything creative, much less writing about the deep, personal stuff. You might try telling yourself something like, “Maybe it is a waste of time to write but I’m going to do it anyway. It doesn’t cost money and it’s better than watching TV. I’m going to finish this one thing (whatever it is) to record what my life was. It’s my story to write and the person I’m going to help first by writing it is me.” Those words may not resonate but try to start a conversation with that critic and you may be surprised that it gives you some room to work.
I would argue that going deep with the truth about ourselves is not self-indulgent, it actually costs us something emotionally to bring it out to the light. Self-indulgent writing to me is superficial. Your duty in memoir writing is not to help others, it is to tell the truth. Telling the truth isn’t easy, sometimes it can be easier to scurry about and try to meet the needs of everyone around us. When we can tap in to those universal truths, sometimes others can relate and feel less alone. But I think it only happens when we are willing to risk some of ourselves by bringing our stories to the light.
I don’t feel freed from or like I’ve solved my past because of my writing. What I do have is an appreciation of what I’ve lived through. I feel like I can now really put my arms around my past and claim it as my own, instead of trying to ignore it. Writing does help me process the events of my life and gives me to power to describe them. I find writing memoir incredibly empowering, but it’s a constant work in progress. A family member is currently struggling and it presses every button I have about the past. I keep living and writing and working with the pain instead of stuffing it away. The struggle is real and wresting with it is what artists do.
Can you relate? How do you put your arms around what you’ve lived through?
PS – If you are interested in learning more about my online memoir classes, including a free video masterclass, click here