If you know that you want to write your memoir but can’t seem to get the words on paper or screen, you may think that you need more direction. So you create an outline or a storyboard. You make a list of the stories you’ll tell. You look through old photographs, calendars and diaries to remind you of the important episodes of your life. Then, still, you can’t write it out the way you want. Something is blocking you.
This isn’t writer’s block; it’s an emotional block. You could write it if you could think it, but your memory is hazy. Maybe it feels like a blurry picture you can’t put into focus. Or there’s a high shelf, and you stand on your toes but still can’t see what’s on it. Or you’re trying to get clarity on a fuzzy idea, and you reach out, you grab it, but when you open your fist there’s nothing there. Somehow it eluded you again.
What you need may be less direction, not more. Freeform writing may unlock that memory block and bring you the clarity you’re looking for. But be prepared, because you may discover that you’ve been keeping a big secret from yourself. You’re keeping the secret from your own conscious mind.
If you think you can emotionally handle whatever it is you’re hiding, here are some tips for freeform writing.
- You can try to set aside a time for freeform writing, but don’t worry too much about planning. If you find yourself with one or two hours of unexpected open time, take it. Sometimes it’s easier when you don’t have time to anticipate and develop anxiety. Instead, you have the time so you just do it.
- Make sure, though, that your time will be uninterrupted. You must be alone.
- Most people will probably need quiet. But if you normally write with music in the background, you can try that. There are no rules, only whatever works for you.
- Use the instrument you prefer, and if it doesn’t work try another one. If normally you type on your laptop, try that first. If it doesn’t work, try a desktop if you have one or put pen to paper. The opposite is true, too. You may think that you feel more in touch with your writing when it’s handwritten instead of typed, but in this case you may need distance, an emotional barrier, to get out some painful memories. Keyboarding rather than handwriting may provide that for you.
- Just write. It’s called freeform writing because you write whatever is in your thoughts without any filter. If you think, “I feel stupid doing this,” write that. Keep writing. “It’s raining. I wish it would stop.” Anything that is inconsequential or may not even make sense will still get your mind thinking. Eventually you’ll write something that will give you a clue.
- Read closely what you wrote. If you didn’t have a breakthrough, maybe you can find those clues in there somewhere. Why did you write about the cat you owned as a child? What made you think of that? As you do more freeform writing, you may start to see patterns. Why do you always seem to write about a certain year in your life? Or why does one person in your life always come to mind? Your questions can lead you to answers and prepare your mind for your next writing session.
- Monitor your physical reactions. Does your body change as you write certain things? Maybe you’re breathing more heavily, sweating, experiencing nausea, turning red with anger or embarrassment, clenching your teeth or feeling a tight jaw in anger. Awareness of your body during freeform writing can help you pinpoint the thoughts that trigger those reactions.
- Be persistent, but don’t push harder than you can handle. You may feel that you’re very close to learning something, and at that point you should try to stick with it. Just don’t put your physical health in danger. You can pick it up next time if you have to.
Freeform writing is not only for memoir authors who want to uncover a traumatic episode. It also can help you just get comfortable writing out your experiences and deepest thoughts.
But if trauma is in your background, freeform writing can be the key that works for you if trying to think through it or talk through it hasn’t helped. Good luck to all of our memoir authors. Each of you has a unique path to follow.