In the third grade, I read The Little House in the Big Woods series of books. You could write about your own life—what a revelation! I wanted to do that. But also, a disappointment—my life wasn’t as interesting as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s. Mine was a normal life. Two parents and two sisters, a house on a cul-de-sac, school a half-mile walk away.
In the fifth grade, I started keeping a journal. My first entry read “January 8, 1976: My promises are I will not pick and bite my nails.” The thing with journals is that they are private—words are scribbled down to vent your feelings whether happy or sad or angry. Words that document your days, the things you do, the things you leave undone. These words usually don’t form a narrative arc. At least not in a way that would hold a reader’s attention.
Enter the memoir. The crafting of memories and journal entries into scenes, chapters, blogs—a whole book even.
This September is Bellingham’s third annual Whatcom Memoir Writing Month, or WhaMemWriMo, a month-long odyssey to write 50,000 words of memoir. During the first one, in September 2015, I wrote 40,000 words, starting with my first memory: Riding a tricycle on a sidewalk in a suburban neighborhood when the surroundings became unfamiliar and I felt hollow inside and stopped pedaling. In my memory, I am utterly alone, though I’m sure that I wasn’t.
Almost thirty days later, I finished with a write-up from a workshop the night before: Tame Your Inner Critic taught by the amazing writer-mentor Cami Ostman. I volunteered to sit in front of the medium-sized crowd and let Cami interview my inner critic. I answered as my inner critic, referring to myself in the third person, letting my critic tell all present why Laura was not a real writer, why she shouldn’t write. This was an emotional experience and recalling it was almost more difficult than recalling that surreal tricycle ride forty-nine or so years ago. The take-away for me that night: the voice in my head no longer spoke the truth and the way to silence it was to keep writing, no matter what.
I started September 2015 with this opinion on writing memoir: “All these years of work to let the past go, to live in the moment, to not drive myself crazy with woulda, coulda, shoulda, and now I’m expected, encouraged, and must dredge up the past, again?! My emotional side cringes while my logical side lectures: I’m dredging up the past with a different view in mind, a productive purpose. My fingers refuse—it is mutiny as they type out the memoirs of some fictional characters instead.”
As the month progressed, I realized that writing about the past “leads me closer to things I don’t say, things I don’t write about, and as I write this memoir I see how healing, how freeing it has been, dredging up old baggage and seeing it from the vantage point of now, filtered and enlightened with everything that happened between then and now. Which leads me to believe that writing about the things I don’t want to would be helpful but the resistance is strong.”
In October 2015, I launched my website, and this blog, to proclaim I Am A Writer and to craft blogs—mini memoir pieces. These blogs are supposed to be monthly. Apparently that is not a realistic expectation for me.
A whole year passed before I committed to writing a book-length memoir in the fall of 2016, and it was January of 2017 when I embarked on that journey. A journey I plan to be on for however long it takes. I am a slow, distracted writer but I’m heartened by Ray Bradbury’s adage: “You fail only if you stop writing.” I shall not fail.
May 14, 2018 at 6:25 am
Hi, Laura. Discovered you through Brevity. Late to the party here, but one paragraph of your blog really resonated with me. “As the month progressed . . . Which leads me to believe that writing about the things I don’t want to would be helpful but the resistance is strong.” Thank you for your openness and willingness to share. Best, John Hoag, Dripping Springs, TX
May 14, 2018 at 9:37 pm
John, Thanks for visiting my website. Glad the blog resonated with you. I enjoy sharing my experiences with others, especially about writing. Take care.
September 10, 2017 at 9:40 am
Inspiring! Everyone has a story, and you are brave enough to tell yours. Looking forward to reading more, Laura.
September 11, 2017 at 10:51 am
September 4, 2017 at 7:12 pm
One thing I’ve really wondered about with blogs and memoirs is how one writes truthfully without hurting others. And if one softens it, is it really real? I am seeing the benefits of the private journal. I respect your passion.
September 6, 2017 at 2:04 pm
For one, you write truthfully without judgement: you show what happened and let the reader draw their own conclusions. You don’t write from a place of vengeance, even if you’re mainly writing about yourself. Secondly, you can ask permission. Third, life’s not fair—sometimes people get their feelings hurt. Lastly, there is the refuge of the private journal. You can benefit from writing about your life without sharing it with the world.Thanks for reading!
September 4, 2017 at 9:03 am
Thank you for having the courage to share yourself with us. ( Of course you are the biggest benefactor 🙂
So Proud of YOU…. Dad xoxoxo
September 4, 2017 at 10:48 am
Thanks, Dad. xoxo
September 3, 2017 at 11:33 am
Very interesting take on memoir. Made me think a lot about how to relate past experiences as accurately as possible and made me rethink the notion of rehashing painful memories. Still thinking…
September 3, 2017 at 4:10 pm
Thinking is good! Thanks for reading.
September 3, 2017 at 10:51 am
Hey Laura. What fun reading your blogs…your memories. Especially loved the description of how you prepare to write…standing up, sitting down, taking time from household duties….aren’t writing duties just as important?? Ha! Thanks for sharing all these wonderful moments with all of us. Love you so, Aunt Joyce
September 3, 2017 at 4:10 pm
Glad you enjoyed reading my blogs. Love and Hugs to you.