I’ve seen this happen too often and saw it again when my friend began writing his memoir—by writing about the most traumatic year of his life. Yikes!
When memoirists start by writing the super-painful stuff, too often they become overwhelmed all over again with the devastation they endured—and soon they give up writing altogether. Don’t let that happen to you.
Please hear this: Begin your memoir by writing your easy stories—the happy stories, the funny incidents, the fascinating experiences. That way you can ease your way into both writing and doing the reflecting that memoir is.
You don’t have to write your chapters/vignettes in the same order they’ll appear in your completed memoir. Write them in any order that’s easiest for you. Later you can organize them in the best way.
My heart wants you to fall in love with:
- and pondering,
- and discovering the good stuff you overlooked in the past,
- and making sense of what used to mystify you,
- and with writing,
- and with choosing just the right words,
- and with fashioning your story as a gift for others.
For now, give yourself permission to begin with easy stories. Tackle your hard stories later.
Even if you’re not physically putting your aching, tender, throbbing accounts into words (with pen and ink or on a computer screen), you are working on the story. I can’t explain how that works but, behind the scenes, your heart and brain are working on how to write the troubling stuff.
Let your heartache marinate for a few weeks or months—or however long it takes. Pour out your heart to God. Wait patiently before Him, putting your hope in Him (Psalm 62:5-6).
He bends down and listens to you, He hears and answers (Psalm 116:1-2).
Stay alert. One day you’ll be vacuuming the car, or playing catch with your grandson, or folding laundry, and you’ll have one of those A-HA! moments.
Or maybe you’ll hear a song, or someone else’s story, or a Bible verse, or a poem and, out of the blue, God speaks, or maybe nudges, offering you insight and clarity about your hurtful experiences.
When that happens, listen. Jot down notes to yourself. You’ll be mining treasures. Later you can use your notes to compose your rough draft.
Speaking of your rough draft: It is for your eyes only.
Because of that, you can write it all—the seared, charred, blistered parts, the questions you never had the courage to ask aloud, the doubts you kept secret, the anger you kept bottled up. You will revise your memoir numerous times before you publish it so keep this in mind: You can always delete, or revise, the bleeding and raw portions of your first draft. For now, just wrestle them into writing, for your own sake.
Invite God to sit close beside you as you write. He wants to help you remember, maybe to see things differently, to notice the ways He helped in the past and continues to help you day by day, year by year. He wants you to see there’s a good place for you on this side of your pain.
Memoirist Kathleen Pooler said this of writing her two memoirs: “When I first started writing out my stories, facing painful memories was difficult. As I kept writing, new insights revealed themselves to me . . . just through the process of facing them and writing about them. I experienced healing through reading my own words and began to feel I was on the other side of pain.” (Kathleen Pooler, Ever Faithful to His Lead and Just the Way He Walked)