Writing a Memoir: Shackles


In my recent memoir writing class, one student wrote about her troubled brother, and kept censoring herself. She wanted others to love him as much as she does, despite his intrusive troubles, so avoided detailing his shames and humiliations. Such shackles on your brain will cramp its expression on every subject, not just the matter at hand. It is important to find a method of writing the whole truth in a way that will not threaten your emotional well-being.
Family secrets are shackles, so are moments of intense intimacy, and degradation. Though these memories can be painful to the writer, the reader is likely to sail right through them – think of all the books you have read which portray such things, or popular movies which show people in the most naked intimacy or despair. The discomfort lies not in the reader, but in the writer.
Devise a method of securing your first draft; perhaps it is handwritten and then locked in a drawer, or stored on a secured file on your computer, or on a separate disk. Perhaps it is recorded.
The real business of writing  begins at revision, and this can go on for a long time. The first draft is written so you can discover what you really mean to say. As you move past the first draft, you will find a graceful way to unveil the soft spots.
It is hard to write the truth. Anne Lamott suggests tackling difficult projects piece by piece (or “Bird by Bird,” the title of her book on writing). You don’t need to write everything at once. You are in complete control of your first draft. Write at your own pace.

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