A question from one of our memoir writers came in the other day. She's writing about a particularly difficult and emotional time in her life and was feeling totally spent after she'd written a crucial scene.
"Is it always going to be this way?" she asked. "I have to relive the emotion of it all to be able to express it well, but I'm entirely exhausted. Do you have a strategy for how to make this easier?"
Going back into old emotions and recounting former crisis situations is possibly one of the most challenging things we humans can do. And writing a memoir about those times is definitely going to be hard.
As the only answer I could come up with was 'have copious cups of tea and perhaps cry on the couch' I put the question out to our other memoir writers in our delightfully supportive Facebook group. Back came some wonderful wisdom from two particularly smart ladies, Sarah and Bethany, which I have summarised below:
Tips for staying sane and calm as you write an emotional memoir
1. Manage your expectations
Allow plenty of time and space for writing, expecting it will be emotional. Only do small steps, one at at time.
2. Plan carefully
Plan when you will write about one thing, go through the writing process. It might help to make a list of everything you know you want to write about. When you sit down to write, if there's nothing burning in your brain to put down that day, choose something from the list. If it's a hard day, choose something easier from the list. If you're coping well that day, choose something more difficult to write about.
3. De-brief with someone else
If you have a writing buddy, have a chat with them about what you've done and how you feel. Or you may want to choose a trusted friend, or a professional who knows your story.
4. Affirm yourself
Did you write something hard? Give yourself a pat on the back and tell yourself how well you are doing. Make a list of your achievements that day and give yourself points and positive self talk. Be nice to yourself - it's important.
5. Work it out in your body
When things get really stirred up, it can help to do something physical to dissipate the adrenaline and physiological stress that creates: exercise that involves your whole body is great. Dance, go for a walk, swim, jog, do a hard workout at the gym or dig something in the garden. Fixing or cleaning something around the house can work too, as long as it takes physical energy. When you've used up some energy, then do something soothing and calming like colouring in (it's not just for kids!), listening to music, or watching a favourite movie or TV show... whatever you do that is safe and healthy to calm yourself.
6. Step away if needed
Most of all, give yourself permission to walk away from the writing until you are feeling settled enough to come back, even if that is days or weeks. Your story matters, but your health and well being are really important too. You will not be able to tell your story if you're not taking care of yourself in the writing. Pay attention to how the writing is affecting you, and make wise choices about continuing or taking a break.
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