LIKE YOU, I JUST SAT through several of the highest of emotional high holy days of holidays with friends and family, during which I listened to aspirations and admonitions, many of them told to me in the form of new year resolutions. And always, I nodded and listened, but these days I’ve also added a single, simple reply. It’s this: Write memoir. It will save your life. And I mean it. Writing memoir is good for you. Why? Because writing memoir is the single best way to understand your life, and the difference between living a life you do not understand and understanding the life you live is, well, the difference between immediate pleasure and utter joy.
What Were Your Resolutions?
Not convinced? Let me see if I can put it another way. Add up all those new year resolutions for the last 10 years, those that you can recall, anyway. Lose weight. Read Proust. Stop drinking. Read Proust. Meditate. Read Proust. (Hmmm, I’m seeing some trends here). Lose just 10% of your weight. Lose five pounds. Lose some pounds.
But underlying all of those aspirations is you, and you are interesting. You have a life story. You have many areas of expertise. You have something to say, and what if while writing it you were to illuminate for yourself some of the conscious and not-so-conscious motivations behind who you are? What if instead of spending time at Weight Watchers, you spent time really exploring why you and weight have this deadly tango in which you both seem to be forever locked?
What if instead of making a resolution to shed some bad behavior you wrote a book about what sustains you as you are – the love and devotion of the dogs in your life; the complex pantomime skills required for a long and happy marriage (didn’t know that most of marriage is pantomime? Oh my, you need to write a marriage memoir); the hold the beliefs of your family of origin continue to have on you, even as you try to shed them (where we learn to eat and drink and examining that with humor and grace can be the single best way to shed some of what we know – and, perhaps the weight and/or the drink).
Writing Memoir Will Save Your Life
Yes, I am arguing in favor of you actually writing that book this year because it will save your life. How do I know this? It saved mine.
My first book was written when few, if any, people had ever heard of Alzheimer’s disease. Houghton Mifflin took a big chance on me and, even though I was still in my twenties, gave me a substantial book contract to write about the devastating effect on a family of this worldwide health issue. The book was based on a New York Times Magazine piece I had written on the topic when I was 26 years old
After months of toiling over my first draft, I finally had something to read, and was shocked to discover that there, on the pages, was something I had never known, and that it not only provided a fabulous structure, as well as ending for my book, but that it also provided enormous insight into one of my life’s biggest needed fixes. I was unnaturally connected to my mother. No, I don’t mean in a physical way. I mean in that emotional way that can prevent us from moving forward. And when she got Alzheimer’s at only 49 years old, while many things erupted and threw my entire family into utter turmoil, I was given this chance to write about it. And I did. And in that, I made a discovery that saved my life. Quite simply: I had to let her go or the life she and I had agreed I was raised to live would have been over right then.
She had raised me for better things than to live in perpetual grief. And perpetual grief was a possible outcome when your brilliant, funny, gorgeous, literate and talented mother of 49 begins to lose her mind in handfuls. To avoid that kind of lifelong, mind-numbing, soul-sucking grief, I had to separate from the very person who had imbued me with the confidence I would need to write that magazine piece and write that book. Complicated? Yes. A good story? Yes. And did I come up with a fine ending to the book? I did, and it’s one that taught me the ultimate lesson in all this. You’ll have to read the book if you want to know how I did it, of course, but I can – and regularly do – say with some authority that writing memoir can save your life. It did mine.
Not Convinced? Meet My Friend Josh
Not enough to convince you to make this a priority for 2018? Then how about this? My friend Josh Hanagarne is a librarian and former Mormon living in Salt Lake City. He is 6’ 7” and has extreme Tourette’s. Perhaps those details do not seem to foretell the kind of success that memoirists can have in the marketplace. Well, think again. When Josh wrote his first book, The World’s Strongest Librarian (Gotham, 2013), it received rave reviews from no less than The New Yorker, O Magazine, Parade, The Boston Globe and People Magazine. What’s it about? Destroying stereotypes, which is exactly what he did as he lived and wrote his way out of how he viewed himself and others viewed him. Oh yeah, and the book was a huge success.
So, how about you? I’ve shared with you my story and that of my friend Josh. And I could go on all day, having worked with thousands of people on their memoir writing, last year alone, working with hundreds of writers as they took my online memoir classes and corresponded with me about their work. All of them learned something significant about themselves. No exceptions.
Why Write A Book?
So why do you want to write your book? Figuring that out is the key to making 2018 a success. So, before you walk away or go jump on that Peloton bike or meditate, try this: Write down your ten top reasons for writing this book-length memoir. What are they?
Let me give you some examples of what my first book’s reason were:
- To share what I know about Alzheimer’s disease
- Because if I didn’t I was going to go mad myself
- Because this disease is misunderstood by everyone
- Because my heart was breaking
- Because I knew I could tell a compelling story
- Because standing by and not doing anything was not an option
- Because other people wrote books all the time and I wanted to write one
- Because I read lots of books and loved reading
- Because without that book, nothing good would result from my mother’s illness
- Because I could
So, what are yours?
What are your top ten reasons for writing this book now?
Are your kids waiting to read it? Write it down.
Do you know something after having been through something that you think others should know? Write it down.
Will it drive you crazy if you don’t? Write it down.
Let’s Add To That List, Shall We?
Now, let’s add to that list a little. Why this year? Why now? Go back and heighten those sentences anywhere you can. Let me give you some ideas. Taking my own top ten list, let’s see what happens if I add a little urgency.
- To share what I know about Alzheimer’s disease before it becomes a worldwide epidemic
- Because if I didn’t I was going to go mad myself and not too far in the future
- Because this disease is misunderstood by everyone and that’s costing lives of caregivers and patients
- Because my heart was breaking and I had to stop that feeling from taking over my life right this minute
- Because I knew I could tell a compelling story and that with 4.5 million other patients in the world, someone else was going to tell it
- Because standing by and not doing anything was not an option when I could help
- Because other people wrote books all the time and I wanted to write one and I was not getting any younger
- Because I read lots of books and loved reading and wanted to begin my writing life
- Because without that book, nothing good would result from my mother’s illness, and that would make me sad for the rest of my life
- Because I could, and when you can, you do
Even The Wall Street Journal Says Writing Memoir is Good for You
If that’s not enough to sell you on this being your year for writing your book-length memoir, consider the fact that The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece about the personal benefits of writing memoir, and that Psychology Today did so recently, as well.
And then there is this: I will help you. This transformation of yours is going to take place, it is going to take place this year, and it is going to take place with a well-published author and memoir coach right there at your elbow. That’s my new year’s resolution. And, unlike my yearly made-and-broken resolution to read Proust, it’s one I intend to keep.
I will provide you with the guidance and the community to succeed. Keep coming back here. I’ve got more to tell you soon. In the interim, please read the series I’ve started on book structure.
You can choose from these posts:
- What Is Memoir? A Book With Structure
- How To Structure A Book
- What is Memoir? It’s a Three-Legged Stool That Holds Up Your Story
- How to Choose Your Memoir Structure
Come back soon for more. This is the first in a new series about how to get that book of yours written this year.