My current project is a memoir in micro-essays. The topic is one that I haven’t spent much time thinking about for years (although as with any experience that shapes us it is kind of always … there.)
I know that this is the right project at the right time. But man, I am having trouble sticking with the first draft. Just staying in the seat in order to generate words – any words at all will do! – is so, so hard.
And I keep asking myself: Why am I doing this???
In search of inspiration, motivation and some new thoughts to think about this project, I grabbed my copy of Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, edited by Meredith Maran. Here is what I found:
Memoir writing isn’t therapy – it’s better than therapy. It opens out your life to the world and lets the world in.
– Kate Christensen
Trust yourself. If you’ve remembered something very well – a fight, a kiss, a plane ride, a certain stranger – there’s a reason. Keep writing until you figure out the significance of your most vivid memories.
– Kelly Corrigan
I want my story to be an engaging story that just happens to have happened to someone they may not know at all when they start to read the work but feel like they’ve known all their lives when they’ve done reading.
– Edwidge Danticat
To me, writing personal narrative nonfiction should be an act of generosity toward the reader. It’s an invitation. The writer is saying to the reader, “Come along with me while I tellyou a few things and explore a few ideas.” The writer is saying, “Come a little closer and I’ll confide in you about a few things.”
– Meghan Daum
Finding courage may be the hardest thing about writing. First I had to find the nerve to voice myself at all, to find that place in myself and follow it. Then it became about the courage to write authentically. To think and act outside of the confines of the world that shaped me, to express my own truth and my own voice.
– Sue Monk Kidd
The reason to write memoir is to put something important out into the collective consciousness, to distill one human life as you’ve come to understand it.
– Anne Lamott
When you tell your story, other people start telling theirs. It gives everyone a bigger span of experience than just the ones they’ve had. When anybody tells a candid story … it tends to make the world bigger and safer for everyone.
– Sandra Tsing Loh
Pretty early on I learned that for better or worse I was going to use my life in my writing … Not because I think my life is more interesting than anyone else’s, but rather I was going to use the self as a means to write stories that feel universal. The only way I know to do that is to plumb the depths of my own heart, mind, body, and spirit.
– Cheryl Strayed
You get the most powerful material when you write toward whatever hurts. Don’t avoid it. Don’t run from it. Don’t write toward what’s easy. We recognize our humanity in those most difficult moments that people share.
– Jesmyn Ward
I found both comfort and discomfort in these words, which is only a small sample of wisdom and honesty collected in Why We Write About Ourselves. (It also includes a fair amount of advice on writing and the writing life, if that is of interest to you.)
The main thing I want to remind myself as I work on my project is that my story can be used to hold space for others to share their own stories. That the connective tissue between my own work and future readers of it is my own willingness to be vulnerable and truthful.
And if you find yourself in a similar quagmire with a true, personal story of your own, let me reassure you:
YOUR STORY MATTERS. It’s that simple.
– Stephanie Dethlefs (that’s me!)
Make an Ordinary Story Extraordinary contains action steps to take you from brainstorming ideas to creating an impactful story, no matter the topic.