Get started on your memoir
Writing your life story can be a fun, creative and healing activity. Perhaps you’ve thought about writing but felt afraid, or preposterous. These are common barriers and I’d like to help you get around them.
With fear based barriers, some belief or experience in your past is intruding, and it’s usually singing a variation of ‘I’m not good enough’. Perhaps you had a teacher who was needlessly harsh in their critique, or a sibling who shamed you. Either way, when you see paper you get scared. One way to get around this is to just to tell yourself that you’re taking notes. Set a timer for ten minutes and write NON STOP on a chosen prompt, say clothing, or pets. You don’t have to write in whole sentences.
The idea is just to get memories down on paper. You are generating material to be reworked. Here is the second part of getting over this barrier. You need to accept that all writing means rewriting. The critique based side of your brain will get its outing in due course, but it does not have a place at the beginning.
The other barrier is a different beast. This is where you think ‘Oh but I’m a nobody. I’m not interesting enough’. The presence of the word ‘enough’ tells you that you have a standard in your head that you are judging yourself by. First, we need to get clear about this standard.
Who are you comparing yourself to? (This is a writing prompt in itself, and it will lead you to explore your jealousies and moments of pride from many eras of your life.) But returning to the issue…Let’s say you couldn’t sing like Aretha Franklin and your political influence amounted to handing out flyers at polling booths. So what? If a reader is interested in singers or politicians, then they’ll go read those memoirs.
My family comes from very humble stock indeed, and when I was researching them for my mother before she died, I struggled to find anything I could share with her. These were silenced women, lower working class, oppressed by corsets and endless domestic labour and worse, exhortations to be humble, self effacing and modest. And yet, I’d have given anything for a letter, a photograph. Any skerrick of information about them would have been a treasure. I didn’t care one iota about my ancestor’s status or ‘success’ in life, and I’m 100% sure that yours won’t either.
And speaking as a professional historian, I rejoice in a good descriptive diary of an ordinary person. It gives me material to work with. So in fact, your ordinariness can be a boon. Right now I’d love some diaries of ordinary Australian florists between 1850 and 2000. If you know of any, please get in contact.
Meanwhile, purchase a basic notebook. Carry it everywhere with you. Start making notes. Your notes will become sentences, then paragraphs, then whole pages and before you know it, you’ll have a first draft.
Dr Kylie Carman-Brown teaches memoir writing privately and for the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre. She offers clsses, one –on –one mentoring (in person, phone, Facetime or Zoom) and editing services. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at https://kyliecarmanbrown.com.au/