Six months ago, I made a public declaration of my intent to write my memoir. I had been thinking about it for years, not sure if I wanted to document a difficult period of my life in the form of a book.
Most writers admit that writing is hard. Even fiction writers who make up characters and stories confess about the travails of the writinglife. Imagine the degree of difficulty while writing about your own life! Of course, it’s scary. And disclosing a part of your past where things were far from perfect is even more difficult. Wouldn’t it be easier to let sleeping dogs lie?
My memoir covers a three-year period of my life when I was in the in-between phase of being married and being divorced (separated but unsure of the next step). When I finally sat down to write it (after the public declaration of intent), I was not sure how to proceed and what to expect.
No one was paying me to write this story, nor was anyone holding a gun to my head to do so. Yet, I felt compelled to write it.
Going back to basics
In his TED-talk turned book Start With Why, motivational speaker Simon Sinek repeatedly talks about the power of Why. Being clear about ‘Why’ helps fashion a vision statement which can then be parlayed into actionable steps to reach the end goal. He uses Apple as an example of a company that does a great job of making people want to buy their products, whether its computers, phones, or other digital devices that are very different from the ones they were known for. Most of what Sinek says is directed towards companies but I found it applicable to my one-person effort of writing my book.
Could I articulate my “Why’ for embarking on this long and arduous endeavor?
I took a break from my regular writing to explore my reasons.
Here are my “WHY’s” for writing my memoir. Not one, but three reasons.
- To stop hiding my pain
During that painful period of my life, to an outsider my life appeared to be under control. And once the worst was over, it was widely accepted that things had gone well. In many ways, it had. I had come out outwardly unscathed. I had not thrown up my hands and moved in with my parents. I had not fallen apart. I had not taken to alcohol or drugs or required psychiatric intervention. Yet, the days of not knowing what the future held, of single-handedly taking small and large decisions, of holding myself together had been a period of intense change and churning. I had not allowed anyone to see the toll it had taken. I didn’t want to hide it anymore.
2. To seek closure
With the lens of hindsight and through the act of writing, I wanted to understand myself – the confused, diffident woman who had stepped off the beaten track not knowing how things would unfold. The process of writing was a retrospective (and cathartic) exercise in revisiting the younger me, to delve deep into my own motivations and put my doubts and demons to rest. I wanted closure.
3. To help other women struggling at the same crossroads
During those years, I often wondered if there was a book I could read, a true story of someone who had been at the same crossroads and made it. A story like that would have buoyed my spirits and given me courage. It would have told me that I was not alone. And that fact would have helped me believe that I would triumph. Sadly, there was no such book. By writing my story, I wanted to help other women who could benefit from my story.
Being clear on the “WHY” was a painful yet necessary exercise, and an important part of my writing process.
The ‘How’ follows the ‘Why’
The second scary part was sharing the writing journey itself.
I knew that there would be days when I would want to retreat into my cave and abandon the project altogether. After all, I didn’t really have to do it. I was not the first or the only person to go through divorce.
The best way to psyche myself into staying the course for writing was to make a public declaration of my intention. I launched my newsletter as a way of building public accountability for myself. And I’m happy that it has been a great motivator to keep me going. I will be sending the manuscript to beta readers this month.
In my biweekly newsletter, in addition to updates on my writing journey, I shared my inspirations and my struggles. Not all were related to writing. Recording my chapter and listening to my voice narrate my own story was scary. Getting my professional headshot taken at a photo studio was another equally interesting episode. All of this added to the excitement of my writing life which is a small subset of my life that includes a day job as a scientist and a family that depends on me.
I will also send out the 10th edition of Rewriting Your Happily Ever After newsletter this week.
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I have had a great time writing this book and can’t wait to share the final version with you soon. Stay tuned!
How do you deal with scary projects? Feel free to share your coping strategy in comments.