Write It–Memoir: Revenge versus Telling a Higher Truth

Queen Anne tub, 1995
Photo from 1995: Taken by Liz Herlevi

I never thought I would write a memoir. For the most part, I find reading memoirs tedious as writers tend to include too many details and tell their story in a linear way. Many memoirists also seem to have barbs attached to their pens.

The reason why Eat, Pray, Love enjoyed success wasn’t because Liz Gilbert struck out to get revenge on her former husband or the lifestyle she was supposed to embrace. The memoir received worldwide attention because the author stripped herself bare while allowing raw, yet universal emotions to splatter on to the pages of her book. Gilbert also chose a non-linear structure for her memoir, even though her travelogue traveled from Italy, then India, and finally, Bali. Gilbert also tells her story in a self-effacing, humorous, and relatable voice–at least familiar to middle-class American women of a certain age.

But when I was wading through manuscripts on the defunct Authonomy website years ago, most of the memorists made several mistakes in my opinion. They used too many passive verbs, they regurgitated their lifestory instead of focusing on a slice of life, and they chose macabre topics without providing some brighter moments or comic relief. Some authors would have been better off hiring a ghost writer since their writing skills were rudimentary or told in a second language. And yet, an author learns a lot by critiquing other people’s work while also reading the top memoirs on the charts.

The main question for me revolves around baring one’s soul. How many sensitive topics or secrets do I reveal in my work? And am I revealing these secrets to tell a universal story or am I seeking revenge on a subconscious level? It helps to spend time in therapy while writing material with suffering rooted in childhood situations, as is the case with my memoir, Woman Sleeping on a Couch. And the good news is that the writing process proved cathartic and I did bring up these deeper issues during therapy sessions. But I still ask myself if my story is universal or just too painful to share with others?

Determine whether or not you’re shooting from the hip or if sharing your story has the power to heal others.

  • Will telling your story divide a family or cause a rift with relatives?
  • Will your story withstand the scrutiny of critics (both professional and personal)?
  • Can you write your story in an entertaining manner where you laugh at yourself and reveal your vulnerabilities (shadows and projections)?
  • Do you take responsibility for your end of the story or act like a victim?
  • Do you discern the difference between events that serve the story and events that serve the ego?
  • Will telling your story land you in legal hot water or liberate you?
  • Does your story share an arc with fiction? Do you have a strong beginning, middle and resolution or is your story open-ended?

Writing memoirs rubs the conscious raw. Writing memoirs strips the soul bare. And not everyone wants to read about people’s personal history unless it strikes a common thread. And the most popular memoirs revolve around travel, food, love/romance, and animals. If you take a more universal approach by anchoring your story in one of those themes, you have a greater chance of hitting the literary jackpot.

My sister and I used to have a conversation where she believed that everyone has an interesting story to tell. But face it, not everyone is a storyteller. And while it’s enjoyable to sit with friends, colleauges, and family members as they spin nostalgic and revealing yarns, a memoir stretches those yarns to 300 pages, which causes some yarns to snap and break.

However, if a story has a strong beginning, middle, and end with an overarching universal theme, then it is worth telling. Just be willing to rewite the “truth” through several drafts. And then depending on the material in the story, muster the courage to weather any storms that come from secrets and situations contained in the memoir. Once we let the worms out of the can, it’s too late to put a lid on it.

I’m an author and astrologer who provides coaching for creative professionals. Go to Whole Astrology to sign up for a session.

 

Write it–Remedies for Overwriting

Vancouver 2002I hope that you’re not a writer such as me who juggles several blogs, writes for publications, squeezes in short fiction, and rewrites several novels because if I don’t have something to write, I get twisted out of shape. Even writers of this ilk require rest for an exhausted brain. So, I’m going to share some practices with you to relax your mind and body, even when you feel an urgency to keep writing.

I often wonder if a fear of death causes me to keep writing, even when the words appear blurry on my laptop screen. It’s not that I wish to immortalize myself, but I feel like I cheat death if I have a project that requires completion. Or maybe there’s something else lurking beneath the surface. And perhaps, all artists struggle with this urgency to create at all cost to the mind-body-soul.

And yet, we can’t create from a dry well. And we fill the well through rest, relaxation, and recreation. I like the word, “re-creation” because it suggests that when we enjoy ourselves we become more creative. And it doesn’t matter if recreation revolves around canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, walking, or engaging in a group sport. Photography also provides a form of recreation, if you don’t make a living as a professional photographer. And writing poetry also counts if you’re not writing poems for publication. Even, journaling provides an outlet for recreation, especially if it is combined with camping, hiking, or other outdoor activities.

Healthy Escapes from the Overwork:

  1. Stroll around a neighborhood block or take a long walk across town or a city. Go some place you haven’t been before.
  2. Travel short-distance by train or a commuter bus. Allow your mind to drift as you gaze out the window. You could bring a journal, but it’s better not to write down the thoughts. Instead, get lost in tangents.
  3. Listen to music.
  4. Play music, such as drums, guitar, flute, or jam with other musicians. Music is a good way to get back in touch with your physical body. It also entertains the creative muse.
  5. Put on music and dance.
  6. Practice yoga.
  7. Meditate.
  8. Go to lunch with friends or take yourself out to lunch at a cafe.
  9. Sit in a city park and observe others.
  10. Take the dog for a walk.
  11. Go the beach and build sand castles. It’s good sometimes to make things that have a short lifespan.
  12. Bake cookies or bread.
  13. Cook a meal for a friend.
  14. Clean house.
  15. Work with singing bowls or tuning forks to clear your aura.

Try not to:

1. Spend too much time on social media

2. Rant

3. Gossip

4. Get drunk

5. Shop for things you don’t actually need

I like the idea of recreation. And I also like the idea of delving into the subconscious mind and healing toxic beliefs and patterns that turn us into workaholics. We have nothing to prove to the world. No one really cares how many words we type each day unless we work for an editor or we are way past our publication deadline for a book.

And one last piece of advice. If you tend to overwork yourself there is no danger that anyone will ever call you lazy. You have nothing to prove to the world. And you don’t require anyone’s approval. But when you’re relaxing, you’ll discover the part of you that requires healing, which is probably a punitive parental voice in the back of your mind.

Sign up for a creative coaching session with me. I use astrology, cards, and channeling as tools to help you to show up as the best version of yourself. And also check out my metaphysical articles.