You know that secret pounding at the gates of your soul longing to spill out onto the pages that others can read? That traumatic, dramatic moment that changed your life? Perhaps it is time to write it out. Your shared secrets, especially shared victories over those secrets, can release valuable insights and hope to many, many others. But it is scary to begin writing your memoir, speaking out the most intimate details of your life.
Here is how to begin. I encourage you to write your story first for yourself – and then later, decide if you want to rewrite it and share your transformational insights in a book for the rest of us.
Writing the first draft of any personal story is frightening at first but by the end of the process, you discover the therapeutic benefit for yourself. And, when you realize that the secret has lost its power over your emotions and no longer controls you, you can shape the narrative to assist your readers who share similar secrets and long to feel understood, affirmed, and healed on a deeper level.
Once that terrible secret is released – you can control it and shape it into something beautiful. Kept hidden, it controls you like the monster waiting under the bed.
I’m going to share a few tips on how to get started writing your deepest, darkest secrets. And if you get stuck, contact me. I’ll help you work it though. Take a deep breath and let’s go!
The Deep, Dark Secret
We all have a dominant secret story that runs like an unseen current through our souls – driving us along consciously or unconsciously. We also have other stories that make up our lives. For many considering writing memoir, it is the deep, dark undercurrent story that they seek to release – the one they consider the dominant theme that shapes their lives. Ask yourself why do you want to write your story? Lots of people have experienced trauma and pain beyond imagining. Why share your secrets and stories?
What do you want to do with this dominant undercurrent? Write it for your own therapeutic effect? Or do you want to release the story to reveal personal insights and offer healing? In this human experience, we all feel shame and pain over something. There is nothing new under the sun. No experience so egregious that we haven’t heard it before. We just haven’t heard it from you – or how your unique way of responding and recovering can bring hope to us all.
If you are feeling compelled to write it- you must start! If you feel afraid to touch it – you and your readers need to know is this –
You are not THAT story!
Your life is comprised of so many other stories. You are not a survivor of a deep and dark secret – you are a beautiful, resilient over comer. You are not a monster – you were held captive in thought and deed during a singular point in your life that forced you to make a choice just to survive the moment. The monster now, is just a figment of emotion hiding under your bed, deep in your psyche. Face the monster and you turn your dark story into a lighter story that offers hope to us all. We need to read your story
The dominant theme of your life is not a label like “survivor of…”. It is not even about how wrecked your life was – or how you wrecked someone else’s life – it is about how resilient you are and how you overcame such horrible physical, emotional, relational issues to survive and thrive in your life. You write about your deep, dark secret, yes – but that is only a small piece of the story.
The take-away value, the value of writing your story – offers hope, direction, and insights into yourself first. And if you choose to offer them as gifts of healing to others, you leave a legacy of loving compassion as you redeem the terrible. Redemption is a powerful theme. So is justice. Just the telling of clandestine systems and dark secrets releases a sense of justice even if you obscure specific facts, names, places and other details about the villains. You are the hero of your story. Become one!
What if my family reads this?
So now, if you have decided to push through your anxiety and write out your story this most vulnerable question probably assails your mind: “But what if my kids/spouse/family read this?”
What is the message you want them to take away? You lived a story and it controlled you for probably many years – but now, you control the narrative right?
After I wrote my first book, The Note on the Mirror, Pregnant Teens Tell their Stories about 30-something years ago, I edited it heavily in accordance to the publisher’s guidelines. Along with the stories of several women who as teenagers, opted for either adoption, abortion or single parenting, I decided to include my own story. I felt vulnerable then! But nowadays, with everyone today writing confessional literature or spilling their sexual exploits over the internet, the topic of teen pregnancy seems tame and outdated. I didn’t write my complete story, of course. It was short, to the point, a single chapter. It was so incomplete that when my daughter read it years later, she picked up the wrong message about her father and my decisions, and it took years to undo that damage.
Had I written the story as I intended to – without editing for publication – I would have pushed through the pain and written more honestly. I would have controlled the narrative better.
How honest do you want to be?
I say that to encourage you to write the whole truth as you know it – not an edited truth meant for publication.
When you consider writing your story – just write. Don’t edit. Not yet. Write raw and real and don’t stop the action until you are completely wrung out. You survived the living of the story – you will survive the writing of it. Remember that oyu are writing it just for you – first.
The opening of my story in the teen pregnancy book was ripped from one of my teenage journals – exactly what I felt at the most dramatic point of no return. It was so raw that readers said they immediately started crying as they read my words and felt what I was feeling. Now that is impact! I grabbed my readers by their emotions and flung them into the story line. Raw emotion should not be edited. It is powerful and will drive your readers right to the final message and perhaps heal their wounds more deeply along the way.
Don’t be afraid to reveal the pain you felt – it is the very thing that needs to come up and out. It is the very thing that readers identify with and will draw them to you.
How ready are you to tell your story?
Here are two questions I ask my clients who have contacted me to help them write their stories.
First, have you ever told it out loud to another? If not, speak into a recorder and just talk. Better yet, find someone who is willing to sit and listen to your whole story, uninterrupted. A therapist is a good place to start. Make an appointment, see if you trust that therapist and tell her that your intent is to just speak out your story uninterrupted and sort it out later.
Secondly, if you feel comfortable talking about your story, do you feel like you have a measure of healing from the trauma? Readers are looking for hope – not another horrible story but a more complete story. Reveal the other parts of your life that caused you to break into a victory song and celebratory dance. They want a redemptive story…a reason to push on, a reason to dance upon the injustices of their own lives.
How to Begin Writing the Terrible, Beautiful Secrets of your Soul
Now that you are ready, here is how to push through the telling of the story. Forget writing a book. Just write what you can write. Here are five (not so easy) steps:
- Set aside a private place and time to write the hardest part of your story – this is the narrative therapy part. As you write that crisis / traumatic moment, the main action – the core dramatic moment – comes into full focus. Bring tissues, a punching bag, whatever you need to get through it and write it raw and real, screaming it out on every line, let your tears flow freely once again. Access the pain and feel it bravely. Write honestly. It is a hard and lonely task but once that terrible, deep, dark secret is out on paper – you will have dragged the monster out from under the bed and vanquished it forever. You will feel relief, and a sense of detachment from the story line. Congrats – the secret story is something that you faced bravely and now control.
- Set aside another time and place to write the happier themes of the story. You survived that secrets and the writing of it, and made a decision on how you would live. This is called the main turning point of the story. This is where you offered hope to yourself and will offer hope to others. What is the one sentence or vow, you made to yourself that caused you to move forward onto a healing or redemptive path? This is the take-away value to the reader.
- Now write the backstory- what led up to that moment when it seemed like all was lost? This is probably sad writing – but not as hard as the deep, dark secret. And you have already written the most hopeful turning point so you have that moment of courage and resiliency to draw from as you write. Remember – you control the secret now – it doesn’t control you. There is no more monster under the bed.
- Next write the final ending. And write about how it shaped you for the better. What are you most grateful for now that you are out the other side? Did it set you on another path in life and enable you to gain a new vision for your life – or the lives of others? Your monster has now become a teddy bear – stuffed full of promises.
- Finally, put the pages in order and you have a complete story – the backstory (beginning), the crisis/trauma (middle), the moment you pulled up and into your higher self when all seemed lost (the climax of the story), and the recovery, which is the redemptive message, perhaps even, leaving readers with the sense of final justice.
Congrats! You have survived the first draft of writing your story. Now comes the hard part – deciding if you want to publish it. You don’t have to if the writing of it brought a deeper sense of peace, healing and insight into yourself that was meant just for you. No matter what you decide, you did an amazing job getting the story up and out. Now you can shape the narrative and control the story – rather than letting the story control you. And in the end, I think you will realize – that many people in the world share your deep, dark secret and are longing to break the isolation of feeling like they are the only one to have faced such things.
I think you will discover that some readers will tell you that their terrible is now bearable because they read your story and found hope and healing, or regained faith for redemption and even justice.
– Julia Loren, Author Coaching and Consulting