I wrote about breaking through writers block back in 2011. But it's such a recurring theme I wanted to post an update, with some new "why I can't write" protests, and tips on why, and how, you can write. Blame the students in my Monday morning memoirs class, who expressed frustrations along these lines. But here's the thing -- when I talked to them about ways to move on, there was a palpable change in the room. A huge sense of relief, and excitement.
This is how the discussion started. Seem familiar?
"I'm afraid to write about my life. If I go into the feelings, I won't be able to deal with it...Too much pain. I just don't want to go there."
Then there was damned if you do and damned if you don't:
"I want to write my memoir, but I'm afraid that if I get into the story, hours will go by and I won't be able to get anything done. That happened to me recently. I started to write, looked up at the clock, and it was three hours later. I can't afford that kind of time! I promised to do things for my husband, and other people, and I have laundry, shopping...."
So, here's what I said to the first issue. I know it's hard to write about painful memories. But once you get them out on paper (or computer screen), you'll feel so much better. It's really cathartic. Writing is a recognized technique for overcoming the pain of loss. There is much written about this in the literature of social services and psychology. I'd used the technique in my Grief Lifters classes. So I'd also had experience helping others release pain through writing.
Several in the class nodded when I mentioned the power of writing to help ease the pains of old hurts. One long time class member and I recalled Kay. A wonderful writer, not suffering from a block, but she did feel pain, acutely, when writing some of the stories of her life. She, and the rest of us, learned that the first time she read one of these tales, she'd cry. The second time, the crying would happen, but less of it. The third time, no tears. The same thing happened over and over. Kay knew how healing it was for her to write these memories down. And so did everyone else in the class. A lesson they applied to their own work.
Another member had lost his wife. Writing helped him get through the pain. And it had another benefit. It brought him close to two of his estranged daughters. They'd never known how much he cared for their mother; he was schooled in the "Don't show your emotions" school of family life. But when they read these stories, his kids all realized that indeed, he loved his wife very much.
One other, important benefit of writing about painful experiences. The way you got through them can help those who read your stories. Perhaps you'll be able to show them a technique for coping that helped you. And just the fact that you got through it can buoy a reader's spirits.
I also told the class a story about one of my own experiences. I was in a relationship with a fellow, and it was quite serious. Then one day he didn't show up. Something told me he never would. And I was right. I was in such pain when I realized this that I jumped into my car, with no idea where I was headed. This was Carmel. Beautiful area, with small towns and roads right on the Pacific coast. A spot in nearby Pacific Grove called out to me. I parked, sat, and stared at the ocean.
Somehow I'd taken a yellow pad and pen. I picked them up and started to write. One hour later, the tablet held twelve pages of hardly crossed out handwriting. I began to read. "You know I'll never hurt you," my former lover said to me in the first line. Reading all the pages, as if outside myself, I morphed into a reader of someone else's prose. "Not bad," came to mind. I realized this was the beginning of a book. And that clearly the process of writing had defused the pain.
Once people realize how useful writing is at getting over deep wounds, it becomes easier and actually logical to just dive in. I encourage you to try it. Please let me know how it's going for you! Comment here or send me an email.
On the second issue, "I'll get lost in the writing and won't be able to get anything done -- promises I made to others, or chores for myself" -- here was my reply. This is a common roadblock people throw up to keep from putting pen to paper. But you do not have to lose yourself in your writing. You can set a time limit.
Also, while we all make promises to other people, it's important to do things for ourselves as well. Remember, the writing is something you want to do, for yourself. You've stated that you want to get your stories down so that others in your family will know what you've done in your life. Some of you want to get your stories published, and perhaps performed.
How to avoid being swallowed up? Try using a timer. Figure out what amount of time is right for you. Can you give yourself one hour a day? Or one or more hours once a week? This has to be sacred time. Nothing can interrupt. Think of it as a gift and a promise you are giving to yourself. You deserve it.
Whether you've had either of these reasons to keep from starting or keeping on, or others, you'll find that once you start, you'll want, and even need, to keep on going. Persistence really does pay. The pages will pile up.
If you just write.
Hi, and glad to see you! My new blog features memoir and fiction writing tips for you out there aiming to create enchanting memoirs and flights of fancy of your own; new "Pawprints," those close encounters of the furry kind, by moi; and topical comments as they bang on my head to be written. Plus: videos featuring talented authors I'm privileged to work with, reading live, Coming...your life stories, here. Got one you want to share? Use our form to be considered.