Thursday, June 20, 2013

Get real

“Only when you break down your usual way of thinking—the convenient, comfortable, easy, polite response—will you touch the textured grain of your life,” writes Natalie Goldberg.

“Submerge yourself below the standard version of the way your mother, father, school want you to remember your childhood to the way it really was for you,” she says. “If you were miserable, say it. If you hated peas and those white cardboard containers of milk, put that down.…”

Goldberg calls you, the memoir writer, to authenticity, to give yourself permission for “the disintegration of the not-true world you tried to maintain.”

Doing so can refine of the truth, upgrade the truth, hone the truth—not just for your readers but for yourself.

Each of us wrestles with distorted views of reality, sometimes because we choose to do so and sometimes because we are mere humans. This side of heaven, “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror.”  “We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, Good News Translation, The Message)

Do your best, nevertheless, to strive for what’s true and right. 

“Maybe you’ll find,” continues Goldberg, “that you were wonderful after all but [for all those years you had] believed your brother’s image of you instead. You weren’t a dummy for loving Shakespeare and Keats. You were just different.”

Energetic, passionate, and considered by many to be a master, Goldberg is a mentor and a cheerleader to all who want to write a memoir. She says, “It’s odd how we’re are supposed to be cool, smooth as butter, act as though there is no place in which we weren’t accepted or hurt. How ridiculous. This is a tough world. This is your memoir. Get real about your life.” (from Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir; emphasis mine) 

Look over your vignettes. Question your assumptions. Search for places you wrote what you felt obligated to write—for whatever reason.

Straighten up distortions, first in your thinking and then in your writing. Revise and polish your story to make it more authentic.

Doing so will benefit you and your readers more than you might imagine. The truth has a way of setting us all free.


  1. Linda, I am in the revision phase of my memoir and can feel the layers peeling away with each new rewrite. It's like digging for treasures. It's so true that the nitty-gritty is often buried underneath all those layers of expectations and shoulds. You've highlighted so many important points from Natalie Goldberg in this post. Thank you, as always, for reminding me of what I need to pay attention to.

  2. Kathy, if you've found something helpful in Natalie Goldberg's wisdom, then I am so pleased, so happy. You're right--being authentic in writing memoir (or anything else) is like peeling layers. Expectations, shoulds, assumptions -- they complicate life and writing for all of us! Bless you as you revise your memoir. You are polishing a beautiful gem and I can hardly wait to read it, dear friend! :)


  3. Linda, your quotes and references to Natalie Goldberg lend a richness and palpability to this post. There is so much here I don't want to forget, so I'm clipping it into Evernote. Still drafting my memoir, it is good to be reminded that authenticity is what we are to be about and that takes digging for buried hurts and scars. Thanks for bringing such powerful words to us.

    Blessings, Sherrey

  4. Sherrey, thanks for your comments. Your post this week is excellent -- about the healing you've found through writing your memoir. Bless you as you do that digging for buried hurts and scars, and the jewels that also surface. You are doing an important work and I know God is going to use your memoir powerfully. Keep up the good work.