Last year, right around Thanksgiving, I decided I wanted to write a memoir. Going to family gatherings year after year was a constant reminder of all my memories, which, sadly, were mostly made of not love and laughter, but sadness, lies, hypocrisy, parents’ divorce, fights, and abuse.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to necessarily publish this potential memoir; I just knew I wanted to write one for therapeutic reasons. I needed to get everything out and put it on paper. Maybe then I would be able to put it all behind me, heal in some way, and move forward with my life.
However, I was soon motivated to publish because when I shared with a few family members I was going to write a memoir, they started discouraging me, even after I promised to use a pen name and change all their names. The more they warned me against it, the more determined I was to publish. Their reaction reminded me of Anne Lamott’s words:
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
The idea of writing a memoir had initially come from a book I had read, Opening Up by Writing It Down, written by James W. Pennebaker, PhD, and Joshua M. Smyth, PhD.
I was advised to join the writing community on Twitter to get tips on writing, so I created an account in December 2019 and started connecting with writers, strictly to get advice on writing my memoir.
Along the way, I got useful suggestions from helpful writers I met online, recommending podcasts, books, articles, blogposts, and other tools for writing a memoir.
Writing down the first draft, or rather opening up, wasn’t easy. The difficult moments were challenging to remember and even more so to describe. Many of them stayed as short notes on the page, stories I wasn’t able to develop because digging deep to recall details was emotionally exhausting.
My first draft was done only a couple months later, but then began my editing process, which is still ongoing and sometimes seems never ending. I still have many sections to develop, and writing those drains me, so the pace is slow.
Also, the more I read, the more critical I become of my own work. I’ve read many memoirs over the last twelve months, and I’ve taken lots of notes. During the editing phase, I’ve changed the organization of the information, the way it’s presented, the style, the length of my sentences, my word choices, and more.
One thing I have learned from all the writing and editing I have done so far is that writing every event I have experienced in detail, along with how it made me feel at the time, has truly been therapeutic. There’s some kind of magic associated with getting this stuff off my chest: It’s liberating!
I still have a long way to go, but the me writing these words now is very different from the me who made the decision to write a memoir last year.