Beck came to me last spring with a vague idea about the story he wanted to write:
Snippets of experiences from my childhood living as a girl and moments of parallel in adulthood, as I re-experience firsts as a man.
I knew there was an important story there, and I also knew that “snippets” weren’t going to do it justice.
“What are you most afraid of?” I asked, figuring the snippets approach was a way for Beck to protect himself, to guard his heart from further trauma and judgment.
Snippets! So light and breezy!
Because this is a writer who has been abandoned over and over by the people who are supposed to love him most.
“Oh, I’m afraid that people will think my book is a narcissistic journey into nothingness,” Beck said.
I hear a variation of this fear all the time from writers.
Being afraid that people will think you’re a narcissist if you write your story really means you’re afraid that no one will care what you have to say.
Other fears pop up on the memoir journey too:
- Being afraid that you aren’t a good enough writer.
- Being afraid that you’ll hurt other people.
These are real fears with real solutions.
But the fear that no one will care what you have to say, that no one will care about your story—that’s the biggest and most common fear of all.
Virtually all memoir writers face this fear, and for writers from marginalized communities, this fear is even more acute.
Because when you’ve been told repeatedly that your story doesn’t matter—that you don’t matter—you start believing it.
You start believing the lies that you have nothing of value to say.
One way to face this fear is to voice it. Say aloud what you are most afraid of. Write it down. Take away some of its power.
Write Your Dream and Nightmare Book Reviews
One of the exercises that Barbara, Susanne, and I ask our clients to do is write their dream book review—and their nightmare book review!
The dream book review exercise is fun—writing down all the incredible things you hope someone will say about your memoir!
The nightmare book review—not nearly as much fun but it’s definitely enlightening.
First, it’s cathartic to release those pent-up fears and put them on the page. It helps you open up space for your creative process.
Second, many times those concerns you write down in your nightmare book review turn out to be the very things you need to address as you write forward.
For Beck, these things were “narcissism” and a “journey into nothingness.”
Beck acknowledged his fears, cleared space for his creativity, and is turning those “snippets” that didn’t have a narrative arc and could be seen as navel-gazing into a heart-wrenching and powerful braided narrative. He is writing about his unusual journeys to parenthood, to his authentic self, and to reconciliation with the parent who abandoned him and his siblings when he was eight.
Doesn’t sound much like a narcissistic journey into nothingness, does it?
Beck wrote down his fears, faced them, and is on his way to writing a story that will make an impact on readers.
What are your biggest fears about writing your memoir?
I’m cheering you on to write them down and take away their power.
Because someone out there is waiting for your story.