4 Questions to Ask to Keep Self-Doubt from Sabotaging Your MemoirJan 11, 2022
When you get to the end of 2022, what do you want to look back and remember the year for? Spending more time with your friends? Losing 20 pounds? Reading a book a month? Decluttering your closets?
I’ve made several goals for 2002, but chief among them is finishing my memoir: “By the end of the second quarter of 2022, I will have completed the first draft of my memoir.”
Obviously, just declaring my goal isn’t enough. I’ve also scheduled my writing time, and I’ve been disciplined in keeping to my writing routine. Still, there are mornings when I sit down to work, and I ask myself why I’m even writing a memoir. What’s the point of it? What difference will it make if I write it or not? Does it even matter?
Self-Doubts that Sabotage Memoirs
In the past, questions like these have sabotaged my progress, even nearly derailed me completely from writing the story I know I’m meant to write. At face value, they’re honest questions—Why am I writing my memoir? What difference will it make? Does it matter? All good questions to ask BEFORE you start writing your memoir!
When these questions surface in the midst of your writing—and they will—they come at you like daggers threatening to take down your dream: Why am I writing this memoir? What is the point of it? Your brain poses these questions like a challenge, and they can rattle your confidence.
If this is the year you’re going to start writing your memoir, you’re taking a big risk. Writing a memoir is a vulnerable act. Your brain knows you’re going to be exposed to danger, and it wants to protect you from possible failure, rejection, abandonment, you name it—every fear feels real when you’re writing a memoir.
Ask These Questions Now
To make sure you’re ready to calmly respond to the potentially self-sabotaging questions your brain will throw at you, ask yourself (and answer) these four questions now so that you’re better able to ward them off when they hit you later.
1) Why do I want to tell my story?
Maya Angelou famously said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
What is the agony you’re bearing; the untold story that’s burning to come out of you?
Make a bullet list of all the reasons why you want to share your story. This list is for you, so don’t hold back. There’s no judgment and no shame, even if some of your reasons feel self-serving or ego-driven. (Nothing wrong with wanting to see your name in print.)
After you’ve brainstormed a full list of reasons, sift through it and highlight the ones that capture the urgency and drive behind why you don’t want to pass from this life without having written your story. Write these on post-it notes and put them on your computer monitor, your bathroom mirror, in your journal, or on your car’s dashboard. Remind yourself regularly why you’re investing time in telling your story.
2) What difference will it make if I tell my story?
Now that you have a list of all the reasons why you want to write your memoir, make a list of all the possible impacts it could have. Will sharing your story help someone else who’s struggled with a similar experience? Will you be leaving an important legacy for your grandchildren? Will writing a memoir help you process your life experiences and bring wholeness and healing?
Irish-English poet C. Day Lewis wrote, “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”
Sometimes the biggest difference you make in writing your memoir is in the way it changes you.
3) Who am I writing my memoir for?
You may dream about writing glorious, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping scenes that will captivate readers everywhere and change the world. (You wouldn’t be alone in this dream.) But when you get into the messy middle of your memoir, it’ll be helpful to have an audience of one to write for—that one person who epitomizes who your primary reader will be.
Is it your daughter, your husband, your girlfriend going through a divorce, your younger self? When you get all tangled up in the plotline of your own story, being able to envision one person you’re writing for will give you clarity on what to write next.
4) Does it matter if I write my memoir or not?
Does the world need another memoir? There are millions on shelves already. But imagine getting to the end of your days. How will you feel if you haven’t told your story? What would be lost? What would it cost you not to tell your truth, not to share your wisdom, not to leave your legacy? What would others miss out on? (Psst, see the list you made in question 2.)
If you die and have never taken the chance to tell your story and you’re cool with that, then maybe it doesn’t matter if you write your memoir. But if you want to leave this world a better place and make your mark on at least the people you love most, then get going! Your voice matters, and there’s no story out there that’s been told in the way only you can tell it.
Poet Mary Oliver says it best: “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
Don’t be one of those regretful people. Your story matters. Write it.
Keep Your List Handy
Now that you've asked these four questions, keep your list of answers handy. In fact, you might consider starting every writing session with a quick review of your list so that your brain doesn't try to fling these confidence-busting questions at you when you're in the middle of your writing.
You may not be able to ward off every moment of self-doubt about your memoir. But at least you'll know unequivocally why you're taking a risk and investing time in this life-changing endeavor.
2022 will be a lot of things. Why not make it the year you finally write your memoir?
Need help to get started? Download my free guide, “7 Tips to Start (and Finish) Your Memoir.”
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