For years people have said to me “You should write about your childhood!” And from their points of view, I understood why: raised by hippies in a culture of drugs, art, intellectualism and hedonism in Northern California, there’s a lot of rich ore to mine. But my childhood was not something I could write about directly; every entry point upset me, bored me, or filled me with anxiety.
That’s partly because the story of my childhood is not just mine. There are a lot of people involved, not the least of whom are my parents, with whom I still have contact and love a great deal. The other part was that I hadn’t worked enough of it out on my own; I didn’t want people to read my writing-as-therapy.
And yet, very recently, these stories have found their way out of the cracks of my barriers with something bordering on ease for the first time ever.
I tried to figure out, why now? And I came to a few important realizations that might help other writers to put down on paper those personal stories—whether in memoir or fictional form, or both:
- Open to Understanding. Write about these stories with the intent to understand them, yourself, or the events better. When you write from a place of exploration, again, you don’t drive the sword of blame into anyone—you open an investigation.
- Leave Blame Aside. When you take the stance of non-judgment, leaving blame out of the picture, you reveal the wider circumstances. This means you’ll come off less like a victim or martyr, and your “people” do not end up as villains.
- Feelings never Fail. While the facts may vary from one person to the next, your emotional truth is never wrong. What you feel and believe is yours, and that is your jumping off place.
- Fiction Speaks True. When in doubt, turn to fiction; change events, people and places up just a little. In that framework you have the power and license to shift and massage the truth and the events around a structure that tells a story. It doesn’t exactly let you off the hook, but it helps with the writing process.
On that note, my essay The Art of Lying & Stealing is a guest post over at Rachel Thompson (RachelintheOC)’s blog. She is known for writing dark, honest truths about her life, as exemplified in her bestselling book Broken Pieces. I appreciated her making a safe space for me to do the same.