Why Can't I Sit Down And Start My Memoir?
The first of a new advice column - Ask Auntie Cali
Dear Auntie Cali,
I have been a part of a literary mentorship program and I am supposed to be working on a memoir for which I have the structure in place and everything. But before I could start writing the first draft of my book, my life changed.
My marriage broke down and I had to suddenly pack up six years of my life in a different country and move back home. On top of everything, my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer and is undergoing chemo so there's a lot going on at home as well.
In the beginning it was really difficult to even write but slowly I have started writing. I write my own newsletter now and it's giving me great comfort in this process of grief but also sharpening my writing skills because I find myself wanting to write.
However, I am just not able to sit down and start writing the first draft of my book which is making me feel very guilty as if I am cheating on it by starting this newsletter instead and still writing. It's not like I don't want to start writing this draft. I feel very motivated at times and even start writing it in my head. I wake up early so that I can start working on it but then end up dozing off after breakfast.
Why can’t I just start writing the draft of my book even though I really want to? What can I do to start? Let me know if you have any tips for me. Thank you.
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First of all, congratulations that you are writing your newsletter. It sounds like you have been through hell. As you say, it was difficult to resume writing after all the physical and emotional upheaval, but slowly you managed it. Well done!
As far as your memoir is concerned, I have one word - resistance. You say it yourself when you say “why can’t I just start writing the book even though I really want to?”
When a project is very dear to our heart, the obstacles – both internal and external – increase. You can tell that it is an important project because if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have any anguish in not getting started.
Resistance is like a compass. It occurs when our soul is really calling out to do something.
I always say that there is no resistance to getting fat on your sofa as you eat too much chocolate. But try and adopt a fitness or healthy weight regime and you’ll soon encounter one hurdle after another to try and knock you off course.
Resistance is our inner gremlin, or small ego, wanting to keep us safe. As far as the gremlin is concerned, it is easier for your life if you don’t write this book. Why go to all the effort and perhaps have to revisit some challenging emotions when you could write a nice cosy newsletter instead. If you got the book written then you might have to show it to other people and, god-forbid, publish it.
In the gremlin’s world this is a terribly unsafe and difficult course of action. It’s best if you just stay in a nice sheltered box and don’t do it. There, there – eat your breakfast and go back to bed. It’s better that way.
Your inner gremlin wants you to believe that it has your best interests at heart. It is clever and insidious. It knows very subtle ways that it can stop you from answering your soul’s calling. However, it doesn’t realise that all of the “safety” causes intense pain which eventually becomes bigger than the pain and risk of actually doing it.
Don’t worry. Everyone has their own tailor-made version of resistance. You are not cursed.
My tough love answer is to just start writing the damn memoir because the only way to beat resistance is to see it for what it is, and then do it anyway.
However, this is Gentle Creative and I wonder if there is a kinder solution. You have been through a lot recently. They say that the top three stressors in life are divorce, moving house and bereavement. You’ve got two out of three, including moving to a different country, and your mother is seriously ill.
Are you burned out? Do you need to rest more? Do you need a period of being kind to yourself to process everything that has gone on? Are you having to give your mother practical support as she goes through her treatment? This can be very tiring and will also have an emotional impact on you.
Let’s suppose that your energy resources are diminished as you cope with everything. Perhaps you can’t write both the newsletter and the book. I’ve been suffering from chronic fatigue this year and I wasn’t able to work on my novels. It is only now, as my energy is gradually returning, that I have the mental and physical resource to tackle my fiction again.
Here are three choices:
1 – Make a decision to park the memoir because you don’t have the capacity for it at the moment. Set a date, say six months from now, to review this decision and your situation. While this means that it won’t get started, you will free yourself from the mental torture and guilt which is wasting your precious energy. The newsletter makes you feel better that you are at least writing and it helps you to process your emotions.
2 – Acknowledge that you are using your newsletter as an excuse to procrastinate on the memoir; in your words, cheating on it. Either stop writing the newsletter and work on your memoir or consider reducing the frequency of your newsletter so that you have more time and energy for the memoir.
3 – See that the barrier to starting the memoir is just resistance, as I described at the beginning of this answer. In that case, you need some strategies to get around the inner gremlin. The best way to do this is to set the bar really low. Decide that you will write just 200 or 500 words, or work for ten or thirty minutes at a time. This is very doable and you’ll feel a lot better that the project is in motion. It also respects that you do have a lot going on in your life right now.
You will know in your heart which is the most appropriate option for you at this time.
You can get the memoir written, even if you are unable to start it at this point. It might take longer than you want, it is likely to be a path with lots of obstacles and you can do it. It will be worth it.
Please be kind to yourself and acknowledge all that you are dealing with. Well done for having the courage to reach out for help.
Keep plodding gently forwards.
Auntie Cali x
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