Don’t Wait for Answers to These Questions–they aren’t comin’

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Over on Huffington Post, I’m coming clean about the questions that just won’t be getting answered to your satisfaction before the memoir gets rolling.

you can read it Here: 

or scroll down.

Those questions that run through your mind like a song on repeat..

We all have plaguing, nagging questions that get in our way before we start a project. Why would it be any different with your memoir?

As unique as each of our life stories is, there are some commonalities in the journey from memory to memoir. I think that all life writing projects start out with the burning desire to describe an experience. This yearning is universal, in my opinion, and I see it almost every day of my life. Whenever someone meets me for the first time and finds out that my business is to inspire memoir writers―they sit me down, put a coffee in my hand and after a three-minute synopsis of key life events, tell me how “everyone says I should write a book.” (Sound familiar?)
But they quickly admit―”I just couldn’t get past the questions I had.” Again, has this happened to you? Read on….Then there are the folks who have gotten to the page and poured their memories and feelings onto them. Hurray for them. I get jazzed when a person just like you sends me a note and says, “I was so inspired to write about my life after last month’s family reunion.” They go on to describe how they wrote like a whirling dervish (look it up), cranking out pages like a Gestetner (remember those) on jet fuel.

Question mark sign made of stones

Questions are NOT cast in stone!

Then comes the next common element of the memoir writing process―the toilet-scrubbing, agonizing walk through the mud that we all must endure―the questions that ride like anvils on our shoulders:

How do I know my story is good enough?
Why would someone ever want to read about my life?

I want to offer evidence to you and in order to assuage the doubts that are keeping you from filling journals with the stories of how you came to be the person that you are. 

Do you think Elizabeth Gilbert knew whether her “story” about travelling to Indonesia, Italy and India in the year after she had endured major life crises was going to be a best-selling sensation, that an Oscar-winning actress would play her in the movie or that her memoir would be translated into umpteen languages? No. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say she had these two questions too. Eat, Pray, Love was the book Gilbert was called to write, the story that chased her to the page. The questions above were asked and answered: I can’t know and I don’t know. Then she went back to writing.

What about the woman who wrote a memoir about a 94-day hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995? (you may have heard of her) Do you think Cheryl Strayed wasn’t wondering if anyone would be interested, at least some of the time in the intense two and a half years she spent crafting Wild? Strayed spoke about this when questions regarding her next book were occupying interviewers minds: “It’s kind of none of my business how the next book does or what people think of it.”

Each of these memoirists had to ask and answer the two burdening questions above. They needed to put aside the distracting concern of the quality of the story and the interest of the reader. Then they just wrote the book that was in them to write.

The truth is, you can’t answer either question, anyway.

Your attempts to craft some satisfactory response for yourself will only paralyze your efforts and consume the precious energy you could be using to draw memories from the reaches of your mental archive.
Put simply―stop asking the questions and just dip your pen in the inkwell.

I have a sign that hangs over my desk:

Don’t think. Write.

It’s what writers do.
The sheer joy of the flow of the story and the filling of the pages will be all the reward you need…to never bother asking the questions you can’t answer anyway.

Write on. The world is waiting to hear your story.

P

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