why you should write your story
WHAT IS MY TRUTH?
When life brings this question to the forefront of your mind, which it always eventually does, where do you look for answers? You may look into your memories, old journals and pictures. You might think about your secrets, the parts of you that you’ve never revealed and how keeping those secrets has shaped you. This question of personal truth pulls us to seek deeper meaning within the events of our lives.
Even when our discoveries are painful, finding themes and patterns has a healing effect. The alternative is to look at our lives and see a chaos of ups and downs with no themes or patterns that we can attach meaning to, which causes us to exist in a more stressful state. It’s human nature for us to look to stories to understand ourselves, the world we live in, and the universal lessons that we all face. Through stories, we are able to connect with our ancestors, our communities, and future generations.
One way to honor your truth creatively is to write a memoir. Your memoir could take many forms—book, blog, dedicated journal, series of personal essays—all of which could be shared publicly, with a select group of people, or kept private. There are many factors to consider with memoir writing, but let’s focus on the benefits of overcoming emotional obstacles and embracing your truth through story.
A HEALING NARRATIVE
When we write a memoir we have to confront former versions of ourselves. The shy child. The rebellious teenager. The invincible young adult. The decisions we regret. The people we try not to think about. You develop new relationships with your former selves and their experiences as you write your memories down.
The process creates a back and forth dynamic where you step into the inner world of this former version of yourself to write, and low and behold, a broader perspective arises from the creativity and inner wisdom of your current self. Through the lens of story we are better able to evolve from our coping mechanisms like avoidance, shame and anger to create a healing narrative and explore possibilities we’d never considered before.
In her book, The Healing Power of Memoir, Dr. Linda Joy Myers says, “We come to realize that there are levels of truth, and that some of these levels have been hidden in our unconscious, only to stream out of the end of the pen as we begin to write.”
Dr. Myers lists the following seven reasons why people are motivated to write about their lives:
To gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your life
To heal the past and create hope for the future
To create a legacy for your family
To expose injustice or abuse
To settle emotional scores — from anger and revenge to acceptance and forgiveness
To present a point of view about a controversial issue
To share with the world your unique experiences with travel, education, illness, recovery, family or a spiritual quest
Do any of these reasons hit home with you?
The reason I first set out to write a book — a memoir, specifically — was that I wanted to connect with others and feel less isolated by my secrets. It’s not uncommon for us to feel alone in our experiences even when we have a support system. I sensed that the process of writing the book would be healing and would force me to describe memories and find patterns that I’d never noticed before. I soon realized that it would be harder than I thought to tell my stories without revealing parts of other people’s stories as well.
Writing allows you to put a creative structure around your healing. There is an energy that comes from the desire to write that can’t be denied. If you have that feeling, you must trust it and allow it to motivate you through the creative obstacles you will face.
You will question if your story matters and if you are worthy to tell it. You will hear the voice of your inner critic trying to shut you down and the voices of everyone you think will have an objection to what you write. You will worry that your memories are too painful. You will question your memories — "Was that a dream? Did I make this up? Do I have the details right?" You will wonder if you are wrong to tell your story when it affects other people too. You may even fear how the process will transform you and if you are ready to align yourself publicly with your truth.
Writing a memoir will also make you question the myths that have restricted your voice in the past. You will have to stand up to the family and societal rules that have kept you from expressing yourself this way before.
MYTH: Keeping family secrets protects the peace while open, honest discussion causes pain and drama.
TRUTH: The energy required to keep these secrets becomes a burden over time and creates emotional barriers between people.
Often our fears of family judgment come from fears we had as children when we didn’t want to get in trouble for saying the wrong thing. But those childhood fears no longer need to control our behavior as adults. It’s up to you what you decide to share, but remember that speaking your truth is your right, and you’re not required to hide parts of who you are to please anyone. For many of us, a creative writing exercise like memoir is a way to make something tangible that declares that freedom.
MYTH: I must be who my family and friends want me to be, no matter what it costs me personally.
TRUTH: Self-denial leads to inner turmoil and emotional distress. Plus, when we deny ourselves to please our loved ones, those relationships can never be whole.
We often hold back the truth to protect or please people we care about, instead of truly showing up as ourselves and accepting whatever comes about as a result. We can’t control how anyone, even those closest to us, reacts to the way we express ourselves. However, there are ethical and moral issues that come up when our stories implicate others and reveal parts of their personal truths. You have to decide for yourself how to handle those sensitive situations. Some writers handle this dynamic by altering their story into a work of fiction.
MYTH: My story only matters to me and doesn’t make a difference in the rest of the world.
TRUTH: YOU are what makes your story special.
No matter your situation, there is no one who matches your spirit or personality and all the nuances that make you who you are. Your voice, the way you express yourself and translate your experiences can’t be duplicated.
If your heart is pulling you to write, you must trust it and see where it takes you. Even if you only write for yourself, your personal discoveries are valuable and more than worth the effort.
In the All the Many Layers Writing Circle, we explore creative self-discovery and storytelling through monthly writing workshops, coaching sessions, articles, prompts and resources. If you have stories you want to tell and don’t know where to start, join us for The Story of You writing workshop starting September 9. To register, click here to become a Writing Circle member.