The Healing Power Of Memoir: Surviving Your Story

Guest Post by Jasmine Cabanaw

There is a famous quote about writing that I’m sure you’ve heard: “Writing is easy; all you have to do is open a vein and bleed.” I like this quote, because I think it has a lot of truth in it (writers tend to write about what they know, after all), but I don’t think actually being a writer is quite so simple.

I mean, have you ever just sat there with a bleeding vein and let the blood spill forth? I can’t imagine it would be a most pleasurable experience. And just think about the mess!

So, yes, writing is easy, but being a writer is hard work. And yet the process is also healing, both for your mind and your soul. And that is what the quote is lacking— what happens in the aftermath, when you need to close up the vein and heal.

Memoir writing in particular has a raw and exposed quality to it, to the point where it can become consuming and take over your life. But this is also the beauty of it; like any therapeutic process, you have to go through the fire if you want to rebuild from the ashes.

Something that I’ve seldom come across in articles about memoir writing is how to survive your story. Memoir writing is no doubt therapeutic and has the power to heal, especially when it concerns emotional trauma from your past, but the process of memoir writing itself can be destabilizing if you don’t take care of yourself when you’re opening that vein.

Establish a Support Network

Here’s some truth: I haven’t finished writing my memoir. I suffered a great trauma once, and tried writing about the time period. The memoir started out well, but the pain of reliving all of those memories was too much to bear.

Looking back, I realize that I had no support. I was opening up old wounds, and had no one to talk to about it other than the page. The experience of writing about that time period was healing, but only to an extent because I didn’t have a support network that would enable me to complete the healing process. I know we all like to think we can manage on our own, but if you’re embarking on writing a memoir, consider having some friends or family members you can call upon if the emotions become overwhelming.

Grow a Tough Skin

If you’re writing a memoir simply for personal fulfillment and don’t plan on publishing, then your skin doesn’t have to be so tough. But if eyes other than your own will be reading your memoir, brace yourself. Are you fully prepared to have people scrutinize and maybe even criticize a vulnerable time period of your life?

Again, this is where having a support network will come in handy. But also remember to stay true to yourself and connect with why you wrote a memoir in the first place. Selling copies of your memoir (and hopefully even becoming a best selling author) are awesome goals, but don’t let that trump the reason why you opened your vein and let it all spill out in the first place.

Connect with Other Memoir Writers

Being a memoir writer is a bit like being in a secret club. I’ve certainly met other memoir writers and we’ve given each other a knowing look, Oh, so you’ve been through this, too?

It’s important to connect with other writers who have gone through the fire. It’s like having war buddies, but the war each of you fought was within yourselves. And the camaraderie is part of the healing process, it’s one of the ways you survive your story.

There are many ways to connect with other memoir writers. You can attend a reading, venture out to writers conferences, or simply read memoirs written by other authors. Attending a workshop or class from a memoir writer of note is also a great way to further your path as a writer, either during your memoir writing process or after you’ve finished writing your memoir.

As for me, I’m thinking of taking the plunge once again and delving back into my story. I’ll be attending an upcoming writing workshop and retreat in Napa with best selling memoir writer Elizabeth Gilbert, and I’ve got a great group of friends established as a support network. I’m all set! Now to just find the courage to open that vein and bleed.

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