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How I Wrote My Memoir: The Inspiration

Photo by Logan Campbell, Flickr Creative Commons

I can remember the moment I decided to write a memoir. I was fresh off hormones from the birth of my first daughter and I was euphoric as I frantically typed random memories and thoughts in a Word Doc.

It was sudden like that. I spent my whole life with the knowledge that I’d write a book simmering in the back of my mind, but the moment I decided to do it wasn’t gradual, or well-timed, or calculated. It fell on me like an anvil. That day, I spent the afternoon writing those memories and by the evening I had a list of all the important scenes I wanted to include in my memoir.

I felt like I was on drugs for days. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about entering a creative contract with the Universe, and the endorphins that initially follow. The Universe gave me an idea and I took it and ran away, greedy and giddy.

The high wore off after a while, but the drive never did. Every day I’d write knowing my purpose. Sure, I agonized over scenes and whole chapters, but I never had writer’s block. I was in contract with the Universe and with the list of scenes I knew I needed, I always had something to do.

The scenes didn’t take shape into a story arch for months. They’d be pieced together later in a way that made thematic and chronological sense. Those early writing sessions were just about the individual scene. Had I known how long it would take, how hard it would be, would I have ever started? Probably, knowing myself, but I may have been less ecstatic.

But it’s good we don’t think about how hard a creative project will be when we begin. That initial ecstasy is what pushed me through those gray months (YEARS) of rewrites. I never forgot the day the idea fell into my lap and I never let go of the conviction that it was something I had to do.

I think what grounded me in the process is that I was a writer first. The story I was tasked with was a memoir, but if it wasn’t memoir, it would have been something else. I’m a writer first. Memoir is what I write. (This time around.) So on the days that my characters weren’t working for me and the plot climax wasn’t climaxing, or the whole book felt stupid to me, I fell back on my identity as a writer. This distinction was important for me, as I’ve read a lot of bad memoir over the years by people who really wanted to get their story out but didn’t love the craft or didn’t identify as a writer.

The glimmer and glitz of the idea will wear out, but when what you’re left with is a solid commitment to being a writer, you’ll have the grit to stick with it through the years of hard work. And you’ll have the honesty to let a project go too if it’s truly not working. If you’re a writer, you’ll find another story to tell.

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1 Comment

  1. Melissa on January 9, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    Totally appreciate the Elizabeth Gilbert reference — BIG MAGIC was a pretty pivotal read for me recently. Can’t wait to see the rest of this “How I Wrote My Memoir” series!

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