The question can come any time of the day or night: “Does my story matter?”
It can stop you in your tracks.
The question doesn’t usually come asking for an answer either. Why is that? Because the question is more an expression of self-doubt than a real question asking for a real answer.
With memoir, self-doubt can be about more than writing skill, too, it can be about subject matter, and the hard part there is the subject matter is you.
First, start with this question: Why does any story matter? The answer to that will set you in a better direction.
Name a memoir you’ve read, a book that mattered to you. What memoir has made an impression on you for the story it told? Did that book matter to others too? Did it sell to hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of readers? What does that say about the book? Readers could relate to the story somehow, they could learn from it, be inspired by it in some way.
Imagine the author of that book writing it. Do you think they ever wondered whether their story could be important to someone? Probably. But they powered through.
Memoir writing can take courage. It also takes skill and dedication as well as willingness to write without a known response. It’s up to you to trust that your story and the lessons in it matters.
I’ll never forget what Liz Gilbert, author of the best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, said on Oprah once. A woman in the audience asked Liz how she was able to get up from the bathroom floor in an early scene in the book. Liz had left her bed to take refuge there one sleepless night, at a loss about how to continue living the married life she had helped create. The woman from the audience—who undoubtedly spoke for thousands—wanted to know how she could do this herself. She wanted the author’s tips for how to launch a new life.
The time Liz spent in anguish on the bathroom floor one night was a turning point for her and the first plot point in her memoir about re-creating her life. On Oprah that day, Liz had this reply for the woman: We all get up off the bathroom floor in our own way, she said. We do what we have to do when we have to do it. For her, she decided that night, this meant ending her outwardly successful marriage and heading into the unknown with the hope of finding a truer, more meaningful life. That’s the type of turning point/plot point that often leads to an important story: what happened and how did you change because of it? What was your growth journey? Believe that readers can potentially learn from it.
Here are three good ways to counter insecurity about writing your story:
• Think of a writer who found the story inside their experience and told a story that others could benefit by hearing. Keep them in mind.
• Remember that perfection doesn’t exist.
• Take a short break from the writing for some emotional distance and creative clarity. Go outside and exercise or work in the garden to clear your mind and improve your mood. Return to the writing refreshed and ready.
If you haven’t found the important story inside your experience, keep looking for it. Uncover it. You might try writing for discovery of this separately from the book you’re writing or thinking of writing. Ask yourself what happened to you that you learned from and that others could learn from too. Explore the question through writing to yourself about it. When you know what you’ve learned and you understand the story you want to tell as a growth journey you’ve taken, you’re in a good place to trust that others can benefit from it too and apply any lessons they learn to their own lives their own way. You’ll be ready to write that story with confidence. Or at least with faith and willingness.