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The baby boomer generation is into personal stories. Writing a memoir is a top retirement goal for many boomers. Even more are eager, but never follow through. “You should write a book about that,” we’ve been told. Many shuffle off, smiling shyly, “No, I could never do that.” From writing my own memoir (after much procrastination) and from teaching adult classes in personal non-fiction writing, I’ve seen every shade of resistance.
This article covers some of the reasons, spoken by well-meaning, bright people all with a story to tell, hiding in the shadows of their own resistance. Here are the top five barriers, and how you can move beyond them.
- “I’m too busy … Don’t have time.”
There will always be something to do that is more urgent than writing your story. But there is not a lot that will give you more satisfaction or healing or pride in accomplishment.
Ask yourself, are you using your time on what is urgent or what is important? Do you dare to focus on what will give you real joy and what can make a difference in your life? To follow through on a writing project, you have to get out of the reactionary mode (e.g. allowing the latest phone call, email, tv program … fill in the blank … to hijack your attention). What would it be like to commit to your deeper desires. Identify a regular writing time and place. Set aside a time (once a day, once a week, ½ hour, 3 hours, in the morning, in the evening … whatever is realistic for you).
This is not a trivial step. Often it’s best to get some help in establishing and following a routine. I recommend that you find a writing class, writers’ group, a coach or support of some kind to keep you on track. After some time, you’ll internalize the discipline and the joy of writing, but at the beginning, it’s hard to go it alone.
- “I don’t know where to start.”
No one knows where to start, and in fact, this is a good thing. You’re going to learn so much in the writing. The best way is to jump in, write about some scene or event from your life (especially from childhood) that you’re curious about, something that has bothered you, some time that you can’t let go of. If you’re new to personal writing, don’t worry about writing craft. Too much focus on craft can quickly become a barrier. Pick a scene that is still alive within. Get as specific as you can. What did the room smell like? What did it look like? How was your mother dressed? How did she stand? What was your inner desire in the moment? If you don’t remember the details, make them up. Jump in, have some fun, see if you can recreate that event on paper.
- “I’m not a writer.” And its’ first cousin, “I’m not creative.”
Right. Nor am I. Nor was Hemingway. Or Virginia Woolf. Every creative person, i.e. all of us, doubts herself. Even after publishing 10 books and top best sellers, you still confront the blank page.
If you write, you are a writer. Regardless of degrees you have or don’t have or words published or readers. Calling yourself a writer or not a writer is just one more story that exists in your head. If you want to be a writer, there is one action only that you need to take. Sit down and write.
If you want to write but don’t, it is more like a failure of intention than of talent.
- “I don’t have anything to say.”
If you are alive, you have a story to tell. Your story and your truth are waiting to see the light. They may be hidden under years of conditioning, under the false illusion that your story is not worthwhile, under mounds of guilt or piles of shame. Your story is your signature, as valid and as any other. You own it. Far better to write your story than to have your story write you. Claim the past and live in the present. Do it now.
If you’re stuck, wondering what to write about, write about being stuck. If that is your truth in this moment, then know that there are many of us out here, also stuck, who might learn from your stuckness. Lend a hand.
- “No one would want to hear my story.”
The main reason why memoir is one of the most popular genres today is that people love to read stories they relate to. We don’t want to read just about Nobel Prize winners, movie stars and Olympic athletes. We see ourselves in the stories we read, and we learn from these stories, how to manage ourselves with grace. If you believe your story has worth, that worthiness will bubble up in the writing. If you think your story is not worthy, you may be surprised by what you discover in the writing.
If there is a small voice within whispering to you to give it a try, why not? Writing your story is a way of speaking up for yourself, demonstrating the value of a life, your life, with all its ups and downs, prouds and sorry’s. It’s a statement of faith and belief in yourself.
If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?
If you feel inspired, give it a try. See what you find. Come back and tell me, will you?