How Writing a Memoir Has Changed Me.
I love my creative writing class, and over the past few weeks we have been looking at writing a memoir. It’s turned out to be a hugely cathartic experience.
Without realising it at the time, my bestseller How I Changed My Life in a Year, fit perfectly into this genre. For me, it was just a documentation of a series of challenges and my attempt to establish a regular writing routine, I never thought of it as a memoir.
Autobiographies, or biographies are about interesting people and the incredible lives they lead, or historical documents about harrowing experiences and how the author overcome them – aren’t they?
Apparently not. Memoirs can cover a huge range of topics and it’s the authors spin – or voice – that makes it a story worth reading.
During our creative writing sessions we gave considerable thought to what we would write about. The objective was not to pen a bestseller – although our tutor is always pushing us to reach for this goal – it was to use our life experiences to good effect.
So, what could we write about?
I used my OCD list writing abilities to jot down a few possible scenarios that could inevitably be developed into a full length story:
- Coping as a single parent
- Dealing with depression and anxiety
- Surviving domestic abuse
- Running a holistic health business
- Coping with ill health
These were just a few of the topics that jumped out at me when I did my brainstorming session. Would they make a good memoir? I couldn’t be sure. Would I have enough material to warrant a full length book? With adequate plotting and research I probably would.
We were then instructed to choose one topic to develop over the course of five weeks. Out of my extensive list I was drawn to ‘domestic abuse’ and it was this particular theme that I began working with.
Our tutor directed us to create a timeline for our chosen theme. He allowed us to explore our feelings on the topic of choice and discover how it could be developed. Was it going to be a ‘start at the beginning’ kind of story, or did it require some back story and further analysis?
I was able to choose specific times in my life when the abuse was at its worst and centre my writing on this. It helped enormously to see the timeline take shape and I was able to visualise each point on the line as a chapter heading, giving me a starting point for each section.
Reading out my first piece of work was one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever had to do and yet it was also the most empowering. My group was hugely supportive. They offered valid advice on my sentence structure and helped me to shift from a place of nervousness to one of positivity.
Writing about life experiences is something I’ve done for many years in the form of my journal/diary. I’ve written letters to people who have harmed me and then burnt them in a cleansing ceremony (fabulous way to remove negativity, if you fancy giving it a go).
Revealing my inner demons and sharing them in public is something else entirely but I found it to be a catalyst for something quite powerful.
Using our personal experiences in writing projects helps to shape our voice. I’ve only ever used these events in a fictional way before, but switching the focus and concentrating on memoir has only added to my skill set as a writer.
Our creative writing classes have finished for a couple of months and the topic when we return will be something entirely new and exciting. In the meantime, I am continuing to work on my memoir as I feel it is healing my soul to write everything down.
The nerves have fallen away and I’ve shifted my perspective – I AM going to write this book, I AM going to share my story, and I’m not afraid anymore. The members of my creative writing group were both gracious and inspirational in pushing me to continue with this project. They believed it was a story worth telling, and they are right. Somewhere out there, a young woman is being beaten by her boyfriend or husband, or a mother is shielding her children from an abusive father. I want to let them know that there is hope. I want to be the light at the end of the tunnel. I want to show them how to be a survivor rather than a victim.
So, a simple class about memoirs has turned my life upside down and set me on a path that I feel honoured to tread.
Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? Or perhaps you enjoy reading this genre? I’d love to hear your thoughts.