Top 3 Reasons People Never Write Their Memoir

getting started memoir mindset memoirs Apr 08, 2023
Overcome obstacles to writing your memoir

Writing a memoir can be a powerful and transformative experience. The process of writing about your life allows you to reflect on your past, share your life story with others, and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

Despite all the potential benefits of writing a memoir, many people never take the first step. People’s reasons for not getting to the start line vary, but here we’ll look at three worries that most commonly keep people from ever writing their memoir, plus tips for overcoming them.

Why Memories Don’t Become Memoirs

1. Fear of Judgment

One of the most significant worries that keeps people from writing their memoir is the fear of what people may think. People worry that their story may not be interesting enough, that they will be judged for their mistakes, or that their loved ones will be offended by the content of their memoir.

While it's true that writing a memoir can make you feel vulnerable, it's important to remember that writing is a creative process, and the primary audience for your memoir — at least your first draft—is you. Writing your memoir can be a therapeutic experience and can help you make sense of your past experiences. Like Irish-English poet C. Day Lewis famously said, “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”

If you're concerned about offending your loved ones, it's possible doing the work to process your own difficult memories may open the door for you to share some of your experiences with the people who were involved. When I finished writing my memoir, I shared it with my five siblings. It was scary to expose the deepest wounds of my life. I worried how they would react—would they minimize my experiences or be angry that I had told the truth about my childhood? To my relief, each of them treated my story and my feelings with great respect and care. Sharing my own story led to honest, candid conversations with each of my brothers and sisters. The act of making myself vulnerable with them and then receiving their feedback has been one of the greatest healers for me.

Granted, my experience won't apply to everyone, nor do I recommend you do what I did. One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is permission to tell the truth, even if makes others uncomfortable or angry. If you're writing about sensitive details and experiences, you may want to wait until you're a little further through the editing process—a second or third draft—before letting "risky" people read it. 

And like Anne Lamott says: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

2. Perfectionism

Many people feel that their writing must be perfect before they can start the writing process or that they must have a clear structure in mind before they begin. Perfectionism and the need to know everything before you begin to write can be paralyzing. 

To overcome procrastination caused by perfectionism  (I'll call this “perfectination” for fun), it's important to remember that the first draft is just that: a draft. It doesn't need to be perfect, and it doesn't need to have a clear structure. The most important thing is to start writing, even if it's just a few sentences at a time. As you write, you'll develop a clearer sense of what you want to say, and you can refine your writing as you go. Though creating an outline will ultimately help you write more efficiently, the most important thing is simply writing. Don’t let perfectionism keep you from getting started.

3. Time Constraints

Finally, many people worry that they don't have enough time to write a memoir. Life is busy, and finding time to write can be challenging. However, it's important to remember that writing a memoir doesn't have to be a full-time job. Even if you only have a few minutes each day, you can make progress by setting a daily writing goal and sticking to it.

If finding time to write is a challenge, consider breaking your writing down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Set aside 15 or 30 minutes each day to write, or break your memoir down into chapters and focus on writing one chapter at a time.

Writing a memoir doesn’t need to be a sprint; slow and steady wins the race. Commit to showing up regularly to write, and before you know it, you’ll have a first draft done!

Tell Yourself a New Story

If fear of judgment, perfectionism, and time constraints are keeping you from starting your memoir, try telling yourself a new story to replace your worries with beliefs that will set you free to write.

From fear of judgment to freedom from what others think

Instead of: “My mother will disown me if I write about my childhood.”

Try: “I’m going to write what is true about my childhood so that I can understand how my mother shaped my life. Once I’ve written what’s true for me, I’ll decide how to navigate my relationship with my mother.”

From perfectionism to freedom to learn new things

Instead of: “I’m not a good writer, and I don't have the skills or knowledge to write a memoir.”

Try: “I’m new to writing, and I’m going to do my best. I’ll learn how to make it better as I’m writing my memoir.” 

From too busy to freedom to pursue what matters most

Instead of: “I’m too busy to write my memoir now. I’ll do it later.”

Try: “My story matters, and I’ll make time to write it starting now. Even if I only write a few minutes a day, I will make time for what matters most to me.”

Writing a memoir requires courage, willingness to learn new skills, and time from your busy life to make it happen. The freedom and fulfillment of writing about your life is well worth the effort to overcome any obstacles that may be keeping you from starting.

Need a few more tips to get going? Download my free guide,7 Tips to Get Started Writing Your Life Story.”


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