Friday Speak Out!: Writing a Memoir Is Not For Sissies, Guest Post by Margaret Norton

Friday, February 10, 2012
Writing a Memoir Is Not For Sissies

by Margaret Norton

“You should write a book,” my friends said to me after reading my journal. In 2004, eight people I knew died, including my mother-in-law and brother. As 2005 began, I was paralyzed with grief. A counselor suggested I write about my feelings. Cheaper than therapy, I thought. I went from journaling to writing a book, with nothing in-between. I didn’t know that this would be one of the hardest things I ever did.

Once I started transforming my journal notes into a manuscript, I knew that I was in over my head. In my middle fifties, it had been many years since I attended school. I knew little about writing. This can’t be much harder than doing a church bulletin or Christmas letter. But I was wrong. I immediately signed up for online writing courses and joined a local writers group. Then I started to look for an agent and a publisher.

It was difficult writing about my personal life. I relived the experiences I wrote about. Sometimes this was fun, but mostly it was painful. I found myself doing a lot of deep soul searching and self analysis. I had made a lot of mistakes. Why? I wanted to know. Eventually, I discovered the positives in my story and felt that others could benefit from my experiences.

Even though I was willing to share my life with others, some of the people in my book were not ready to have their actions revealed in such an honest and permanent way. It’s one thing to have disputes with your family--everyone does--but it’s potentially explosive when they find out you’re going to immortalize the family. Some family members and friends supported me, while others openly expressed their opposition. It was my story, but I was sensitive to the feelings of others. I changed the names of everyone in my book, as a courtesy to them. I left out personal, painful details that I felt would not dilute my message.

Writing is good therapy, but telling true life stories is hard. Even when you take the advice of experts and do what you believe is best; nothing prepares you for what happens once the book is published. Seeing it in print forced my family to deal with how they treated me, and the reactions varied greatly.

“Would you do it again?” I am often asked. Yes, I think so. It’s hard to honestly answer that question. I made a lot of mistakes--like picking the wrong publisher and not fighting for the cover I really wanted. I have thousands of hours and dollars invested; sometimes, I think maybe I should have lived abroad for a year, instead of writing my memoir. But then I get an e-mail from a stranger telling me how much my story touched them and the changes they are making because of my book. No, it’s not a bestseller, yet, but it does touch one person at a time. This makes it all worthwhile.

* * *

Margaret Norton is a writer, speaker, personal life coach, and It Works! distributor. She is running a blog comment and Twitter contest in February to coordinate with the re-release of her book, When Ties Break, and turning 60! For more information and to enter the contest to win a free life coaching session or copy of her memoir, please visit Healthy and Fit Granny blog and go to the February 8th post.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

I have known Margaret for a few years now. She was one of my first real editing clients, and I worked with her on When Ties Break. When I was first reading her story, I was like: "How could all this happen to one person? She has to be making this up." But it did, and she is still here today to tell her story and hopefully help other women stuck in situations they need to get out of. But what I admire most about Margaret is that she is one of those special people that doesn't take NO for an answer. IF she doesn't like something in her life, she is always looking for a way to change it and she acts on it. She doesn't sit by and complain! She is always reading and learning, and I think that's why she is a good life coach too. Great job, Margaret! Keep it up!

Wayne Kernochan said...

I wasn't prepared for the rush of emotions that I experienced writing my memoirs. I identify with this more than a non memoir writer can understand. Kudos to you Margaret. This genre takes guts

No wonder women are so good at it :)

Bill and Sandy Fifield said...

We can absolutely identify with you on the harshness of writing your memoir, Margaret. My husband and I are both alcohol and drug addicts, and twenty years ago we recognized this about ourselves and went through the 12 Step program.

The thing about the 12 steps is that you already go through the act of revisiting all your actions and confronting your mistakes. So, when we sat down to write our book, we at least had some practice bringing back these old memories.

While going through the 12 Steps ourselves, as well as sponsoring hundreds of others through them the past two decades, writing the book was absolutely fulfilling and healing for us. We hope it offers the same help to those who read it.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margaret--Yes, memoirs are sometimes tough to write, but as you're composing them, you're reflecting and becoming stronger and working out things in your head (hopefully). Thanks for the post.

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