Updated: May 31, 2021
If you’ve been contemplating writing your own story, and don’t know how to begin, this post is for you.
The first thing to do, and it may seem obvious but it’s worth doing, is ask yourself (and answer) these questions. First, do you believe you can write your story? Second, can you stand outside your story and look at it objectively, like a reader?
If your answer to these two questions is a resounding YES, then I’d say you’re off and running. Have a great journey. You will see the world from a new perspective and be forever changed.
But if your answer is coming from that sneaky little voice in your head that says, ‘erm, me write my story? why? what for? who cares? etc., then you’ll need to stare down those negative ideas before you begin. I suggest you answer those questions with a few more questions, ie: Is this attitude good enough? Is this the world I envision inhabiting , where my story is irrelevant, even to me? Is that what I really want? And if my story doesn’t count, whose does?
Bottom line, what we’re really encountering, when we hear negative thinking filled with self-doubt and skepticism, is fear.
Fear comes to us in so many creative and remarkable ways. What shape does your fear of writing your story come in? You might believe, as I did for many years, that your story doesn’t matter, that by focusing on writing it you’re being arrogant and selfish, and that it’s a waste of time anyways because no one else cares. That was me letting fear overwhelm my self-worth.
Thought bombs, ideas that convince us we shouldn’t do what we really want to do — they come in many guises.
Maybe you’re worried about where to begin your story. Maybe you’re afraid of exposing your vulnerability, your humanity? Maybe you’re worried that other people will laugh at you and think your writing’s dumb? Or maybe what really bothers you is the idea of remembering the not so great parts of your story?
Fear - the only way to get past fear is to face it and take one step at a time right on through.
Let’s tackle the fear about not wanting to remember. That was by far the most powerful opposition I experienced when I faced the spectacle of writing out my memories. There were parts of my story I did not want to remember! But I faced down the resistance and started with the worst story, (which turned out to be not the worst after all, only the worst one I could recall at first) and it was not easy, it was not restful or enjoyable, or even cathartic. It sucked and hurt all over and I was a sack of soggy weepy potatoes. But I wrote it, and then a few more, one story at a time, and read them back, and eventually, could see them in the cool breeze of a warm summer day. They were no longer powerful or painful or anything really, but memories, after all.
I know it sounds awful to start with the worst story you don’t ever want to tell anyone, but I recommend it, that you start there. Write about that. Start by writing; ‘I don’t want to remember…’ and fill in the blank. Then follow that sentence with a ‘Why?’ and then make your next sentence the answer to the ‘why’. Here’s mine, for example; “I don’t want to remember that my mother refused to play with me.” Why? “Because it was mean.” Why? “Because it made me feel bad.” Why? “Because I was lonely and she was supposed to know that.” Why? “Because she was my mother and I needed her.” Why? “Because I didn’t know how to do everything myself.” Why? “That’s a dumb question.” Why? ” Because it’s obvious isn’t it? Babies need help. They need security. They need attention.” Why? “Because when they don’t get those things they start thinking they’re not important.”
I got the message that my needs didn’t matter. That was the message I received, or learned, or told myself, and repeated and believed. And the task of writing out my memories allowed me to disconnect from this old message and decide for myself, here and now, that I do matter, regardless of the fact my mother didn’t play with me.
I did say it would be hard, didn’t I? And uncomfortable. Most things worth doing don’t come without some kind of a struggle. Those thoughts that make it easier to be afraid, such as ‘Who cares, I’m too dumb, this’ll never work” etc, won’t give up easily, and may at some point hold more sway than before you began.
Please don’t let them win. Don’t let the negative thinking stop you. Hear them and carry on. If you want to, that is. Like everything else you do, it’s your choice.
I wanted to, and the desire to get my memories down remains strong. I continue to dig into those dark disquieting stories and pull them into the light and see them for what they are, old stories.
Every time I begin, I take a few deep breaths and relax my attention on empty space, then let my mind glide back in time and wait for a memory to emerge. It’s like scientific research, the details seem random at first, and then take on a similar theme: my mother standing at the sink and I ask her to play and she tells me she’s too busy; me lying alone in a dark room and I can hear the rest of my family together laughing; the smell of coffee and I hear my mother deep in a conversation with someone else while I sit alone in my playpen; my mother pulling me onto her lap and hushing me and holding me tight so I can’t move; the sound of her sniffing in rhythm with the click, click, click of her knitting needles and never looking up to smile.
As I write scenes like these out onto paper, I feel the emotion of each of them and understand they are all moments that taught me I didn’t matter. Writing them down feels like a relief, because seeing them gives me clarity around what stories are holding me in their grips. I can see how tightly I’ve held onto these stories, even though they were long in the past and have nothing to do with my present moment.
When we write our story we can examine what we’ve held invisible, in our cells and bones, and perhaps, hopefully, realize that they are past, and they only impact us now if we let them. This, I believe, is the greatest most powerful gift of writing our story.
If you prefer to not start off with the self-questioning analysis, there are less emotionally-wrought questions to answer. For example, what materials will you use, where will you locate yourself when you write, and what time of day works best? Making practical decisions that will give you the best chance of success is a good strategy. Prepare the ground. And when you’re ready, the place where you can settle in to write will welcome you and your materials will be waiting.
One final thought about fear. Where there is love there cannot be fear. That is a truth we humans can all experience instantly. Breathe into your heart area and remind yourself what love feels like. From this darling place write what you remember, and perhaps don’t want to remember. Begin here, exactly where love is. Then write.
Continue writing, non-stop, and if you run out of ideas, notice what your other senses are picking up, ie ‘I smell…’, or ‘I hear….’ etc.
Keep writing. You can do it.
One thing I hope you take away from this post — there is a healing power in writing your memories. I gained understanding and compassion for the fact I’m a human, in the process of living, and the humility that offers, that’s for certain, and more than all of these, I found myself alive in this moment, strong, brave and free.
Write your story, because you’re the only one who can, and there is someone out there who needs to hear it. But right now, in this moment, there is only you, and only you can love yourself enough to clarify and clear out the past and heal, here and now.
Write your story. If you don’t, who will?