1. JellyBean24
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    JellyBean24 New Member

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    Writing a memoir and difficult feelings that come up

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JellyBean24, Oct 19, 2011.

    Currently I am working on writing a memoir about things I experienced in my early 20's. At the moment I am working on a couple chapters about a trip I took overseas as an international volunteer. Some of the things I experienced there were really hard...I volunteered at an orphanage in Russia, where the children there were clearly neglected and mistreated. In my free time I did some things I'm really not proud of, mostly drinking way too much and getting into a couple scary situations as a result. Parts of these chapters also deal with unrequited love. The more I recall and write about these things, the more difficult it seems to cope with emotionally. Even seemingly little things, like remembering flatmates whom I didn't especially like, can trigger an unpleasant feeling. At the same time I can't really avoid talking about these things in my writing, because they are what makes the story well..the story. As the "characters" and the "plot" come to life again through my writing, I feel like I'm experiencing them again for the first time. I realize that's probably a good thing since my story will be more accurate and true to life, but it makes it hard to find motivation initially because of it.

    So I guess my question is, with this in mind, how do I find motivation? Have any other memoir writers out there had to deal with this? I love writing but I don't want to be miserable afterwards either! Thanks in advance for your support.
     
  2. MarmaladeQueen
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    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

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    Sorry - blip in the system - duplicate post
     
  3. MarmaladeQueen
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    MarmaladeQueen Senior Member

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    I wrote a memoir of my early life some time ago. It wasn't and isn't intended for publication. I wrote it primarily for my children, and any children they may have, and their children's children, thinking how much I would have loved to have had some sort of memoir left to me by my forebears. I look back on childhood as being a very unhappy time, and so it was emotionally intense, and often very hard, to write about those times.

    I spent quite a lot of time remembering and to some extent researching what life was like in those days (late 1950s through to early 70s). Making the memoir into a picture of life as it was then helped to take some of the emotional sting out of it. In your case, there must be a lot to say about Russia at the time you went that would be fascinating to read.

    Obviously, you need to decide on your audience and what deeply personal things you are willing to share with them. I don't think you should feel obliged to bare your whole soul. We all have some things that we need to keep private and that we will take to the grave with us.

    Ultimately, writing the memoir was, for me, a cathertic experience and I am better able to deal with some things as a result of having written it, so it was worth going through the process even though it felt uncomfortable and painful at the time. It laid some ghosts to rest and I feel more at peace about my childhood.

    I want to go on and write about my early adulthood but haven't yet summoned up the emotional energy - but I know it will be worth doing, even if no-one ever reads it.
     
  4. Allan Paas
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    Allan Paas Contributing Member

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    I haven't written any memoirs myself, but if I had this is what I would have kept in mind. Plus the signature under my reply, I never forget that one.

    If you get bad feelings from your memories and that prevents you from proceeding, it suggests that you haven't accepted what happened in the past, you would rather things went differently. If the hard situations had never occurred, would you still be writing a memoir? Would you still be the person you are now? What happened in the past happened, you cannot change it, you have to accept it and move on.

    People learn best from bad, hard situations because those are the kind they can never forget, they are and always will be present in their minds. Those memories fade over time, but some remnants will stay and if dug deep enough they'll return, as if for the first time.

    If I get hard memories or feelings from the past it makes me, too, sad and miserable, but I also am glad over it. It shaped me into who I am now. If things had gone differently I probably wouldn't want to become a writer.

    I live right next to Russia, unfortunately. The situation there is extremely bad, poverty everywhere, and it just gets worse and worse. I wouldn't wonder if its population started a rebellion in the next several years, if not sooner.
     
  5. Lou Plot Point Olson
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    Lou Plot Point Olson Member

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    let me be blunt in he worse way possible. i deal with this all the time. i'm in highschool and girls there find problems in everything. don't be offended obviously you're problems are more real and actually matter but they can be dealt with the same way. write about them. i know that's what you're doing but understanding your problems from the safety of the present is the best thing for you as long as you don't go over board. you should try and remember this while writing; you did bad things but you're better for them. like in Africa. they have a totem of a stork looking backwards as it walks forwards. the point being that you can't move forward without knowing where you've been. if any of this makes sense.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    writing a memoir can be and usually is a good catharsis... in most cases, the book is never published, but it doesn't matter, since having written it all down, the writer can go on in life with the painful issues that were written about confronted and achieving 'closure' as the shrinks say...

    one way to make truly awful experiences less painful to face is to write it not in first person as a memoir, but as a novel in third, as if it happened to someone else... you may want to try that with the parts that you are having a hard time wanting to write... you can always switch those parts over into first person later, after they've been written down...

    i've helped many of my mentees write such stuff, so i know this works...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  7. jacktheknife
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    jacktheknife Member

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    Jellybean24,
    Hi, I was thinking of answers to your question as I read the others posts,
    as I too am writing a memoir and am having the same problem.
    Mammamaia said: "Writing a memoir can be and usually is a good catharsis."
    {I had to look that one up} but when I did I realized that is the answer I was groping for words for to express.
    Writing a memoir may not help get rid of bad memories, but it is working for me.
    Jellybean24 your memories can't be a bad as mine. Write the memoir and see.
    Thank you so much Mammamaia,


    Jack the Knife
     
  8. JellyBean24
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    JellyBean24 New Member

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    Thanks, guys! Your answers are all so kind, supportive and thoughtful. I'm still working on writing this thing, but I think it's getting easier. I definitely agree that it is cathartic. It's so interesting to recall all of these memories, and then reflect on what I learned from my experiences. It's almost like I'm getting to see what happened from another point of view. Hopefully in the process of writing this I can finally let the past rest where it should rest, in the past.

    On a sort of unrelated topic, I am starting to wonder how this will work out if this book is ever published ( I know, very unlikely, but I'm always planning ahead). Obviously, it paints several people, myself included, in a pretty negative light. I can think of one person whose relationship might be destroyed, should others recognize who this person is...which wouldn't be difficult. I know that I could change everybody's name, but that wouldn't mask their identity to those who personally know them. I have thought about creating composite characters (fictional characters based only partly off of real people and/or a fictional character who has personal characteristics of several real people) but I feel it would take away from the story. I have found that truth is certainly stranger than fiction, and I want to reveal my story in all of its strangeness.

    There's also the question of what I have written about my experiences working in institutions in Russia, an account which is extremely critical of the Russian government. In the back of my mind, I am thinking "if this thing gets published, am I going to have a hit taken out on me?" It sounds crazy and paranoid, I know, but there have been many, many cases of journalists being mysteriously killed over there after publishing work that criticizes or reveals the government in some negative light. At any rate, I'm not sure that I would feel safe traveling there again, and I would like to go back someday. I know several American authors have written negative accounts of their experience in Russia or other parts of Eastern Europe, so I wonder how that has worked out for them. Even writing about this annonymously on a forum, I'm getting chills up and down my spine and looking over my shoulder. Any thoughts?
     
  9. Melanie
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    Melanie Member

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    While reading your post, I immediately thought of a book I just read: Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard. It's her memoir of the horrible things that happened to her in her 18 years of captivity. In it, she addresses everything noteable that happened to her in that time and a few times talks about how hard a specific chapter is to write and why/how she pushes herself to do it. This might be a good book for you to check out! Good luck!
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you should consult a literary attorney about the issues related to people you write about, as there is a very real risk of being sued by those you write about without their permission...

    as for changing names, etc., or fictionalizing anything, if you do that it will no longer be a memoir... and anyone who can recognize themselves, or be recognized by people who know them, due to the events you relate in the book could possibly take legal action if they don't like what you wrote about them...

    in re the russian situation, that's a risk you must weigh yourself, against the benefits you hope to get from publishing your story... however, the chances of it actually being published [unless you self-publish it] are so slim that you might as well go ahead and finish it for your own sake, so that you can 'put the past aside' and go on with your life...
     

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