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The Memoirist’s Dilemma—Vulnerability and Truth in MemoirIsn’t it amazing that we’re invited into strangers’ living rooms and lives and psyches, even their bedrooms, in a memoir? And we, as memoirists, are told that in order to write a good memoir, we must open up our lives this way! We have to become that open, that vulnerable. Many times during workshops I have likened this revealing process we’re supposed to do in memoirland to being on stage without our clothes on, and this still seems true. I’m nearly done with my second memoir, and I’m no extrovert, but I did find new layers to explore in this new book. I also had the same doubts and fears that I had last time. I kept writing anyway. That’s what we have to do if we are to reveal anything meaningful or useful to ourselves or our readers

People have different levels of comfort with sharing and showing personal details of their lives. But it’s not only our lives that we open up to the scrutiny of others, it’s our dreams, our thoughts, our shame, as well as our secrets joys and pleasures. For some people, this is tougher than they imagined. I hear that all the time in our Write Your Memoir in Six Months class—sometimes a bit of buyer’s remorse—but really, it’s fear. It’s the old teachings that we shouldn’t speak out or write out the truths of our lives. That we need to keep everything tucked away, even the things that might inspire others and change their lives.  The real secret of life might be that together and with compassionate hearts, we can all help each other in this journey called life, and our books, and thoughts and truths can be a way to do that.

During the NAMW group coaching each month, free to all members, everyone introduces themselves and says what their memoir is about and why they are writing it—which elicits oohs and aahs from the rest of the group, because each story has a core of courage, each reveals the vulnerability of the writer, and at the same time, the stories offer us nuggets of wisdom. We cheer everyone on each month, and after a while, we celebrate the progress everyone has made.

To feel more comfortable with writing your memoir, you may need to explore your vulnerability.

  1. Write down what you least want anyone to know.
  2. Write a list of all the things you think your family and friends will say if they read your memoir.
  3. Write about your fear of being seen or that people will find out some of your secrets. Freewrite these scary bits to get them out of your head.
  4. Then make a list of the ways you feel your story will help others—think of ten messages you will deliver in your book.
  5. Write about why you want to write your memoir, and about the journey you have already taken so far.
  6. If you have any sticking points about writing a memoir, explore what they are through your journal. We all have these issues. We have to sort them out, let them have a voice, and then we can contemplate what to do about them.

Vulnerability and the willingness to write an honest memoir that pursues truth and her authentic voice is one of the themes of the July member teleseminar with Karen Lynch. Please join us as she discusses her memoir Good Cop, Bad Daughter and how she chose what to put in and what to leave out, among other interesting topics.

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