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  • Writer's picturePatricia Grayhall

Five Things I've Learned Writing Memoir

It Takes Courage

Memoir requires you to write about life events that have affected you deeply and that may be associated with shame. A writer must face fear of humiliation and exposure. However, it is this process of revealing our real humanity and struggle (rather than the polished version of ourselves we often present on social media) that allows us to really connect with others. I hope my readers will learn from my poor choices, as well as my resilience.

It Takes Conviction

Writing into the void, even if no one else is listening, takes conviction that your words can impact others. Brene Brown said, “One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide” My memoir documents the perseverance and resilience of an ambitious woman who faces struggles not only as a woman, but also as a lesbian desiring a stable love relationship and a career as a doctor. Based in the 1970s it is relevant today as the gains we’ve made in overcoming misogyny and homophobia can easily be reversed. I hope my memoir will be someone else’s survival guide.

It Allows Control of the Narrative

Even when painful things happened in your life, there is pleasure in looking back and seeing patterns in the experience. Initially, I began writing only for myself. Then, I began to see a line of continuity in seemingly unrelated chaotic events. In shaping the story from my memories and journals, I was able to create a cohesive narrative, develop new insights, and make meaning out of the formative years of my early adulthood.

It Requires Perseverance

I had written and published many medical articles but never a personal story. I had to learn the craft of writing: scene building, dialogue, voice, setting, sensual detail, bodily sensations of emotions. I wrote dozens of unsatisfactory first drafts and killed numerous darlings. I don’t know any writer who just sits down and creates a perfect narrative on the first try. In the end, I came to love the process which became as much fun as the getting the story out.

It Requires You to Feel it Again

Who knows what you might find when you go delving into the past? Perhaps some answers to questions that were unresolved or too painful to contemplate at the time. I know the past isn’t dead, it lives on inside of us and influences us whether we are aware of it or not, shaping our present responses and who we are now.

While writing my memoir, I would feel once again the passion and pain of those years. Sometimes it was all too much, and I had to put it aside. However, it was necessary to feel those feelings again to write a narrative that could evoke in you, the reader, similar feelings tempered with understanding and meaning.


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