No doubt you’ve heard it before:
“You should write a book.”
When I was a child, I read a book by Richard Bach in which he said the only way for the creator of the universe to experience all there was to experience was to create enough people to live out all the varieties of possibilities. One person and one lifetime wouldn’t be enough to do it all, see it all, live it all. The concept stuck with me all these years, coloring the way I look at the things people do, as well as the things that just happen.
Since we’re all living different lives and experiencing different ways of being, we like to know the stories of others: this is how we experience humanity. It’s obvious how stories help a reader, but how does sharing our stories help a writer?
In many ways, I’ve discovered.
From the age of 10, I was a diarist. My adult writing led to a more in-depth analysis of my personal experiences. My posts then became noticed by others who could relate. This led to friendships, deeper self-analysis, refined writing skills, noticing my part of humanity, and the subsequent desire to transcribe crucial parts of my life into a book which became Overlay: A Tale of One Girl’s Life in 1970s Las Vegas.
The paragraph above took over thirty years to happen. The relevant part of this article is that writing was a form of personal therapy for me, which led to a career in memoirs. Writing was the only therapy available to me as a child. My diary was where I confessed everything I could not tell another. On the pages, I poured my feelings about my life and my hopes and dreams for a better existence than the one I was living. Putting my thoughts and feelings into a collection of words made it real: this happened, this is how I felt, and this is how I wanted things to be different. I didn’t need another human to hear me or read my words. Creating the diary entries was enough. I felt great relief after each scribbled page. The pages were proof of my existence and how I learned to tell a story.
My childhood diaries morphed into teenage journalling. The stakes grew as the self-analysis went deeper. The choices I made as a teen took me from the victimhood I felt as a child subjected to my parent’s choices to the realization that my teenage choices were my own – with subsequent consequences. As a teenage journalist, I learned to see how those choices played out in my life. Rereading the journals was a great way to keep me on track. That choice didn’t work out so well, I could later see as I promised myself to do it differently next time. Patterns became more clear in reviewing what I’d written, including my patterns, as well as those of other people. I learned to be honest. There was no sense in confession and subsequently analyzing cause and effect if I wasn’t honest with myself.
With the internet came the opportunity to create a blog. Blogging became a powerful way for me to discuss my experiences publicly. With each post grew the ability to interact with others. These others were strangers, and we learned we had things in common. We were of different ages, genders, and nationalities, but they could relate to what I discussed on my blog. Then they began sharing their experiences with me. Together we realized we were not alone in our struggles. No matter the written confession: abuse, neglect, addiction, single-parenting, divorce—there was someone out there who understood. In fact, there were many who understood, and far more than I could have imagined.
When I heard/read ‘you should write a book’ enough times, I wrote one. I spent three weeks writing feverishly until I’d completed the first draft of my memoir. All my earlier training as a diarist, journalist, and blogger shaped and honed my ability to write a compelling memoir.
My time spent easing my childhood loneliness taught me how to express my feelings. Rather than keep them inside, the pouring of my thoughts and emotions onto a page trained me to discuss what was troubling me. There was no sense in hiding my thoughts and feelings from myself. Years of journaling helped refine my skill at self-analysis. By learning how to examine where my choices led me, I could write a memoir that did not indulge in self-pity or recrimination. I simply told a story exactly as I remembered it.
My years of blogging and interacting with others endowed me with an insight into what others might think and feel about similar experiences. This knowledge helped me shape my final draft of Overlay into a form I felt would appeal to others. I believe this appeal is because I spent so much time writing as personal therapy. I could craft a memoir that was straightforward and lacked pity and blame. I’d worked all the feelings, emotions, thoughts, and blame out years before in prior writing. Overlay can now exist as a powerful story that stands on its own, rather than a whispered, unsure confession of the not-yet-healed.