Writing Corner October 2023
IGOR ON MY SHOULDER: WHY IS IT SO HARD TO WRITE ABOUT MY OWN LIFE?
October 1, 2023 at 2:53 p.m.
Writing Corner October 2023 Ariele M. Huff
WHY IS IT SO HARD TO WRITE ABOUT MY OWN LIFE?
When I was at the University of Washington taking every writing class I could lay my hands on, I had one from Joanna Russ. She is an accomplished feminist Science Fiction writer with many successful books to her credit. However, the thing I remember most from the class was her woeful tale of Igor who always sat on her shoulder.If one of her books had just become a bestseller, Russ said Igor was sure to lean close to her ear and whisper, “It’ll never happen again! You’re simply fooling everyone, and they’re sure to find you out soon.” Igor is Joanna’s self-critic, and she made it clear that all writers have one.
Our demonic faultfinders have no mercy, exaggerate flaws, ignore accomplishments, and dismiss hard work. Russ told us sternly that no one would ever criticize us more viciously than our own dear little shoulder-sitting, overly persnickety, nasty-minded Igors. And I’ve seen this over the years in myself, my students, the freelancers for magazines where I’ve been the editor, and even in quite famous authors.
After all, Igor is there to let me know I’m not following some important rule or doing the “writing process” correctly. Perhaps, I’ve chosen the wrong style of rhetoric or my plot line doesn’t arc or my narrative isn’t braided or whatever. But I was sure this wouldn’t apply to writing about my own life. It is, still and all, MY life, and who could know more about that than I do?
Yet—surprise, surprise—when tackling memoirs, most of us feel overwhelmed and get a furious case of combo writers’ block and writers’ cramp.
Solution? Understanding the reasons for feeling daunted. And they are:
1. A whole life is a lot of writing. Take a deep breath and realize you won’t tell it all. Pick topics like favorite books, best friends, hardest decision, or worst job.
2. I I won’t be able to stay chronological. Don’t worry about that. There are many ways to format a memoir, many of them NOT on a timeline. And you can always re-arrange stories later. If you feel the need to keep your story in sequence, create an outline with separate headings to write about. Any method of compartmentalizing the job and setting specific writing tasks for yourself makes everything run smoother.
3. People are going to feel offended. Yes, that can happen, but there are things to do about that. You may decide you have to write it as you feel it and then the chips will fall as they may. Or you may suggest to family members that they write up the same incident. You may give your version to others and ask for things they remember. At the outset of every memoir, it should state that this is simply the way the author experienced his/her life, not how others may remember it or interpret it.
4. My life is boring, and no one will want to read about it. While we’ve all experienced children or grandchildren who don’t want to sit and listen to our experiences or wisdom, there’s some kind of magic about writing it down. No one ever said to me, “Gee, I wish Grandma had left less writing about her life.”
5. I’ll forget things or tell the story incorrectly. Yes, you will do that to some degree, and not only because you’re human. Every one of us sees an object or an event a little differently. Also, time changes how we perceive things. That’s okay, too.
Ariele M. Huff offers Write About Your Life classes through the Greenwood Senior Center and Edmonds Waterfront Center as well as directly with clients. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for a flyer. Rewrite of October 2004 column with Northwest Prime Time.Ariele has been teaching in Washington for the last 45 years, including many writing classes as well as personal work classes like Get Rich…$tay Rich, Processing Loss, Pain—Therapies & Treatments, and, currently, very popular Ancient Healing Tools for Modern Stress.
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