Lessons From 100 Days of Memoirs

On April 6th I began a little project called 100 Days of Memoirs. For 100 consecutive days I wrote and illustrated personal memoirs. Yesterday was the final day of the project, and I feel like I ran a marathon. Tired, relieved, proud, and so glad to finish. High fives to all you others who participated – we did it!

While the journey is fresh in my memory, I wanted to share a few lessons learned through the process.

On Writing…

  • Write a lot. This may sound ludicrously obvious. But really, if I want to grow as a writer, that means I need to write. For me, this meant carving out daily time to focus on writing. I shut off my phone, let the wasteland of bathroom floor dust sit, and write. My day’s work was not finished until a story got completed.
  • Read a lot. Reading gives me fuel to write. While writing my own memoirs, I found inspiration and guidance through reading Stephen King’s On Writing and Kimberly Rae Miller’s Coming Clean, both great memoirs. The clunkier Beyond Belief by Jenna Miscavige Hill taught me a different lesson – how you tell a story is just as important as the story itself. 
  • Pay attention to inspiration moments, and always be ready to take notes. One morning on a drive with my kids, I noticed our neighbor’s tree with a swing hanging from its branches. For a sliver of a second, a memory from my childhood lit up in my mind. Pow! The genesis of a story. I constantly typed notes into my phone, often while bouncing a baby and sipping coffee, churning out ideas for my memoirs. 
  • Find a rhythm that works. With an infant, toddler, and 6-year old, having the luxury of hours in quiet and solitude to write is a ridiculous pipe dream. Maybe that will happen someday. Until then, my writing happens in short spurts – during my kids’ naps, while they play independently for 9 minutes, that magical gap of time at night when the kids are asleep and I have just enough energy to write a little bit more. My rhythm was sporadic, but it worked with my other roles and duties. 
  • Get a proofreader. Throughout the project, I’d receive many, many notes via text from my dad such as, “Need a different predicate” or “From which *she’d read.” Thank you for your thorough grammatical editing, Dad. 
  • Let other things go. For these 100 days, I’ll gladly admit that my hair was greasier and I was far less aware of current events. If you’re going to invest time in writing, you need to give up a few things to make space. 
  • One word at a time. This is Stephen King’s response when asked how he writes. I couldn’t say it better. The work is accomplished in the simple act of writing one word at a time.  
On My Own Story…
  • I have been shaped by a wealth of experiences. So much of who I am and what I believe was birthed by particular moments and people. Writing memoirs helped me see my own story a bit more clearly than before. 
  • Life is a mixed bag. Some of my most painful memories were often the places of the most redemption and eventual good. I’d like to remember that truth, especially while in the depths of difficulty. Or while parenting my kids through their teen years. 
  • More than ever, I am grateful for my parents. Boy, did I put them through a lot as an adolescent and teenager, made clear by many of my memoirs. Through it all, they offered unconditional love and grace. If you’re curious, we made it to the other side and now enjoy a strong relationship. 
  • I need to share the ugly, unpleasant stuff. Every single one of us has the ugly stuff, and too often, we’re told to keep it to ourselves. That’s crap. If we can open up our whole selves to each other, we can experience freedom and healing and compassion. 
Finally, I’m grateful for every person who read my memoirs. I wrote for myself, but I also wrote for you. Everything I wrote was as true as I could be. Thank you for entering in with me.

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