Writing a story about a difficult part of your life can be terrifying-and it can be the single most compelling reason to write anything at all. Stephen Grosz, a psychoanalyst who wrote The Examined Life, said:
“When we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us – we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t understand.”
Ideas that become stories may arise from the dreams, the symptoms and the need to understand our own actions as well as the actions of others. The pressure to bring these ideas into reality can be torture for some writers. It can be the difference between living with a secret and being free from its clutches.
Over the years our writer’s group hears many personal stories. They are the beginnings of what will become memoirs and personal essays. Some address misfortune with humor, many are touching glimpses into childhood or adolescence, and once in a while we hear a few that are jaw-dropping.
No matter when these life stories come along, mixed in with novels and screenplays, there is a quality to the writers who bring them. They appear fixed in an orbit, having launched themselves with admirable effort to get there, ready to circle the object of their choosing for as long as it takes until the story comes out.
Writing a personal story is, in the end, a relief, the unburdening of a revelation. But in order to say all that there is to say, there requires a commitment to time and focus. We have to turn to the past and live there again.
The past. That is where memory meets us. And what if we can’t remember the past as it was? What if we only remember it so imperfectly that it alters the truth?
The question I put to the writers in our group is this: “Does it matter what you recall of your past when it is your past?”
“The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things don’t come to mind when we want them.” Friedrich Nietzsche
The offerings these writers bring are stories about who they were then. It’s an effort to provide an explanation about who they are now. These stories are poignant manifestos, some more devastating than others, all puzzles painstakingly assembled to provide answers to questions partially uncovered, tauntingly retrieved.
We watch as they read their stories, hear their voices stumble at times, notice their body language tense and relax. Writing about a deeply personal event makes a writer separate and reconnect from that event over and over again like dance partners creating a blatant recreation of the catharsis for the reader.
We all know what readers have in store for them when these writers finish their memoirs. They will applaud the writer’s courage because they will feel the writer’s pain.
That’s the gift of the personal essay, the memoir. They are written for those who cannot write, for those who must live their story day after day and suffer the dreams, the symptoms and actions that defy understanding.
We are the storytellers who can free not only ourselves but others by telling our stories; stories that have changed us, turned us around and made us who we are today.
Christina for PenPaperWrite
If you want to learn how to take your idea and turn it into more consider learning the
60 Scenes® Writing Method. The next workshop is January 19th, 2019. My mantra is
“If you can write 60 Scenes® you can write a novel.”
We have helped writers move from idea to first draft by teaching them how to storyboard, use scene cards, timelines and plot beats. It’s all taught in one day. Class size is limited to 15 so sign up early and get your registration packet today.
Join the growing community of 60 Scenes® alumni and read what they say about the course on the 60 Scenes® website: www.60scenes.com