The emotional benefits of writing your memoir

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Memoir writers have a few different motivations.

“I want to share my story with other people in the same situation.”

“I want to give hope to women.”

“I want to make people laugh. (Or cry… or both.)”

Something that we memoir writers sometimes think, but don’t often say, is that we may want to write our stories to make ourselves feel better.

Telling your story is a cathartic experience. It changes things in your heart. It focuses your mind. It resolves stuff.

Sometimes, it helps you clarify your present, understand your relationships, get a hold of your motivations.

Overall, it acts as a stage curtain, sweeping across one ‘act’ of your life. “This is finished now,” it says, in a dramatic way. “You can move on.”

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The physical act of writing your memoir has an effect on you that you can’t understand, and you can’t quantify until you’ve done it. Somehow, in the thinking, and the writing, and the reliving of the old experiences, you’re able to make peace with yourself.

And then, the changes happen. I’ve seen people write their stories and grow in confidence and purpose. They’re able to move forward and break new ground.

I experienced this myself several years ago. After the diagnosis of my son with a chronic condition that brought trauma to our family life for over five years, I felt like I was swirling. Things had improved, but I was still stuck in what I’d lived through.

I decided that writing my story was something I needed to do – for myself, and my own peace of mind. It did help, in remarkable ways. Even as a writer, I was surprised by the effect it had on me. Where there was mostly grief and crisis, now there was mostly peace and acceptance.

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Not everyone has a story of trauma and grief to tell. But if you’re read this, it’s likely you’ve got some kind of story itching in your heart, waiting to get out.

Maybe you’re scared of revisiting old feelings. Maybe you feel guilty for putting so much time into something that doesn’t seem that important to anyone but yourself.

But be encouraged: the simple act of writing your story is going to be powerful and transformative in your life. The more you allow yourself to go along with the process, the more you can gain from the huge emotional benefits of memoir writing.

 

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Writing a memoir, but you're not sure how to begin, or what to include? Grab our Red Lounge for Writers FREE Memoir mini-course for some answers. 

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My family and friends won't read my book

My family won't read my book

You've spent months, even years, working on your book. You've invested your time, your money and your emotions into your manuscript. It's your baby: at least, you love it nearly as much as your own children.

You send it away to a publisher, or even hit 'publish' yourself, and sit back with a sigh of relief, and a tingling sense of anticipation: what are your family and friends going to think when they read it?

Um, sorry to burst your bubble. Those family and those friends? They almost certainly aren't going to read it.

They'll congratulate you, sure. They'll say, "Oh well done - great work on the book," when they see you at family functions, and then, "So, when's lunch?"

Or they might do this: "So, how's your book going?" Listen for approximately 2.5 seconds and then cut in: "I've been writing something too... let me tell you about it." Or, "I've got plans to write a book one day. I've got the story in my mind. It's going to be really, really good."

Generally, what they won't do is read your book. I've heard it time and time again, and I've experienced it myself. So if you're looking to your family and your friends to be your biggest writing fans, you're going to be sorely disappointed. 

Why won't they read it?

Why is it so very difficult for our friends and family to be keen about our work? There are a few reasons. A simple one may be that they just don't like books or reading, or they don't enjoy the genre you're writing. They might only read a thriller or a sci-fi murder mystery, and never YA romance or memoir, or whatever the style of book is that you've poured your heart into.

A more complicated reason may be that they are nervous. There's a risk involved whenever someone we know does something out of the box. What if we don't like it? What are we going to say then? There's nothing more embarrassing than picking up your friend's book, finding out that they can't write for beans, and then having to pretend to be nice about it.

Even more complicated is getting past the tricky dynamics that make up every relationship and family system. Subconsciously we all know our place in our social setting, and we know the place of the other people in it too. When people do something unexpected, like suddenly excel, or achieve a new level, or come to the forefront of people's attention, it can upset our social balance. We don't know how to manage the new dynamics, and so we find it easier to completely ignore the achievement - or, sometimes, even talk it down.

If you've written a memoir, family and friends might perhaps be more likely to read it, but only because they're curious about what you've said about them. The rest will (probably) be about judging the way you perceive the world.

What are you supposed to do?

If your friends and family don't read your book - and they almost certainly won't - you can waste a lot of energy getting worried about it, becoming bitter and resentful, and creating barriers that don't need to be there.

Simply accepting that the vast majority of your family and acquaintances will never, ever read your book is the smartest and most peaceful way to live your writerly life. You get to focus on your writing rather than picking fights, and when someone does read your work, and tells you they like it, it's like having chocolate cake for breakfast... absolutely fantastic.

Here's the take home message: don't look to the people you know to affirm your writing or your abilities as a writer. They won't. Sometimes, they can't. Instead, accept yourself as a writer, and enjoy it when you find an audience who appreciates your work. (Also, when your writing takes off and people start to read it, your family and friends will quickly jump on that bandwagon, and you'll be able to smugly say in your mind, 'See? You should have read it first.')

 

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