How to Overcome Memoir Writer’s Block

Memoir-writing offers the chance to immortalize one’s life experiences, share personal wisdom, and leave a lasting legacy. Yet, for many aspiring memoirists, the journey from intention to publication is fraught with challenges. Perhaps you resonate with the scenario: You’ve envisioned your memoir, outlined the chapters, and even shared your aspirations with trusted confidants. But when it comes time to put pen to paper, something always seems to derail your plans. If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing what is commonly known as memoir writer’s block – a frustrating obstacle that inhibits progress and stifles creativity.

In this article, I’ll discuss the intricacies of memoir writer’s block and unveil four proven tips to overcome it. Whether you’re an aspiring memoirist facing a creative impasse or someone intrigued by the idea of chronicling your life story, these techniques will equip you with the tools and mindset needed to break through barriers and reignite your passion for writing.

The primary reason many first-time memoirists struggle to complete their books is the absence of a clear plan. That’s why our team at Page & Podium has crafted an invaluable tool: The Memoir Method Checklist. This comprehensive resource is completely free and will guide you step-by-step from the inception of your idea to the exhilarating moment you hold your finished book in your hands. Ready to take the first step towards becoming one of the fortunate few who completes their memoir? Download the checklist now at pageandpodium.com/checklist and embark on the journey to fulfilling your writing dreams. Happy writing!

Understanding Memoir Writer’s Block

Before discussing the tips, it’s essential to grasp the nature of memoir writer’s block. This phenomenon is characterized by significant difficulty in starting or progressing with a memoir project. This mental barrier can manifest in various ways, including feelings of self-doubt, perfectionism, fear of vulnerability, and uncertainty about where to begin or how to structure one’s narrative.

You’re not alone in facing writer’s block, especially when it comes to memoirs. I’ve worked with clients who’ve battled it for years, writing, deleting, and repeating the cycle. It’s especially tough with trauma memoirs. But fear not! Here are four proven tips to help you break free from this rut and finally start putting your intimate stories on paper. Let’s get your memoir journey unstuck!

Tip 1: Start Journaling to Overcome Writer’s Block

This step might seem simple, even mundane. It’s not flashy or high-tech; in fact, it’s as old as time itself. The tip? Start journaling. Now, you’ve probably heard this advice a thousand times before—write in a journal every day. But here’s the thing: if you’re not sure what to write, getting started can feel impossible, especially when battling writer’s block.

As creators, whether writing a book, crafting an article, or engaging in visual arts, we need to exercise our creative muscles regularly. If you’re not accustomed to consistent creative output, breaking through the blockage will take time and effort.

Think of it like trying to start a car on a freezing morning. If you haven’t been using your creative muscles, it’ll take some extra effort to get going. That’s where journaling comes in—a tip borrowed from Julia Cameron’s transformative book, ‘The Artist’s Way.’

Cameron introduces the concept of ‘morning pages’—writing three longhand pages every morning. At first, it’s liberating, but as the days go by, it can become challenging, much like writing a book. The key here is to understand that morning pages aren’t for crafting your memoir. They’re about clearing the clutter of self-doubt and critical thoughts.

During morning pages, keep your hand moving, even if you’re writing, ‘I don’t know what to write.’ The goal is to expel those negative thoughts onto the page, clearing the path for creativity. This exercise isn’t about producing polished prose; it’s about flexing your creative muscle and getting into the habit of expression.

To enhance your journaling experience, you could choose a journal that excites you and use colored pens to make it visually appealing. Make morning pages a non-negotiable part of your routine, even if it means scheduling it in your calendar or setting boundaries with those around you.

This simple practice will help clear the mental pathways, making it easier to transition from journaling to your word processor. Give it time—within a week or two, you’ll likely feel more motivated and confident in tackling that big project you’ve been putting off.

Tip 2: Seek Support

After completing your morning pages, the next step is to enlist support. This isn’t about hiring professionals or joining structured programs like the one we offer at Page & Podium. All you need is just to find someone you trust.

It could be a close friend, a family member, mentors  or even an adult child who’s eager to assist. The goal is simple: have them interview you about the stories you want to write.

This technique, inspired by the ghostwriting process, is incredibly effective. Sharing your stories verbally makes it easier to articulate them. Your trusted confidant can then transcribe these interviews, helping you capture all the essential details and emotions.

Their role isn’t to critique or advise, but to ask questions that reveal gaps in your narrative. By maintaining consistency with one support person, you’ll build upon each session and create a cohesive story.

Once you’ve recorded the interviews, consider having them transcribed by a human service like gotranscript.com. While AI tools are an option, human transcription tends to yield clearer results.

With your transcript in hand, the final step is to write. Use the interview dialogue as a guide, translating it into your preferred writing style. Remember to incorporate any prompted questions seamlessly into your narrative.

Although this process may seem elaborate, verbally sharing your stories often proves faster and less daunting than writing them outright. By separating the storytelling and writing phases, you’re a step closer to overcoming your writer’s block more efficiently and producing a richer memoir.

Tip 3: Embark on Inspiration Dates

Here’s a personal favorite tip of mine: Take Yourself on an Inspiration Date. Many writers, whether facing memoir or any form of writer’s block, often struggle when facing the blank screen of a computer. The enthusiasm we had while planning to write seems to evaporate upon sitting down to do so. An inspiration date serves as the antidote to this dilemma.

When we’re stuck in a writing rut, we become disconnected from the experiences we aim to convey. While those experiences are deeply ingrained within us, the act of writing at a computer can feel impersonal and distant. That’s why an inspiration date should be a sensory experience, away from screens and books, engaging our bodies.

For instance, consider visiting your grandparents’ old farm, even if it’s now owned by someone else. Simply being in that space, observing, and soaking in the surroundings can trigger a flood of memories. Sometimes, it’s the subtlest of scents that evoke the most vivid recollections. Just browsing through listings or driving by familiar places can elicit powerful emotions and memories.

Another example: a recent trip to the mall unexpectedly transported me back to my teenage years. Stepping into a store like Bath and Body Works reignited memories of carefree moments and simple pleasures. These experiences serve as potent reminders of why our stories matter.

There’s no homework involved in an inspiration date. It’s simply about immersing yourself in an environment relevant to your story or reminiscent of it. It’s a fun, enriching experience aimed at reconnecting with your roots and reigniting your passion for storytelling.

After your inspiration date, you can reflect on the experience in your morning pages the next day. Remember, there’s no pressure to write during the date itself. It’s all about rekindling that sense of connection with your past and reaffirming the significance of your narrative journey. So, alongside your morning pages and interviews, make time for an inspiration date—it might just unlock a treasure trove of memories and inspiration.

Tip 4: Utilize Visual Stimuli

Number 4, the final tip, but certainly not the least important, is to gather 5 to 10 pictures from the period of your life you’re writing about.

Retrieve your pictures, whether physical prints from an album, stored photos, or recent snapshots on your phone. Begin by describing each scene and allow the process to guide you forward, unlocking the narrative potential hidden within your memories.

If you have pictures of the actual scenes or something similar, that’s fantastic. However, any pictures that include you, the people involved, and the surroundings will suffice. These images should ideally reflect the scene you’re currently focusing on in your memoir.

Here’s what you’ll do: Take each picture one by one, place it beside you at your writing space, and describe what you see. Aim for detailed descriptions. What were you wearing? What was your expression, and does it truly reflect your feelings at the time? Who else was present? What were they doing, and what might they have been thinking or feeling?

Your task is simply to type out a description of each picture. This isn’t about crafting scenes just yet; it’s about priming your creative pump and reconnecting with your past, much like we did in the inspiration date and morning pages exercises. By vividly describing your experiences, you’ll gain perspective and begin to stimulate your storytelling instincts.

Move through each picture methodically, typing out descriptions until you feel the flow of ideas starting to emerge. You’ll notice a shift at some point where you naturally transition from describing the picture to writing the scene itself. While this transition isn’t your initial goal, it often occurs organically as you engage with the images.

Final Thoughts

By engaging in these four exercises, I’m confident you’ll regain control over your writing process, feel more prepared to dive in efficiently, and reignite your excitement for the journey ahead. Although facing writer’s block can be disheartening, our aim is to break through those barriers and get you back on track. Start by acquiring a journal, immersing yourself in your favorite inspirational settings, enlisting the support of a trusted friend or family member, and delving into your collection of pictures.

I’m eager to hear about your progress. Share your experiences with me—how you’re kickstarting your momentum and unleashing your creative flow. I’m excited to see what you produce. Keep me updated, and happy writing!

Writing a memoir is a deeply rewarding and transformative process—one that offers writers the opportunity to reflect on their lives, share their experiences with others, and leave a lasting legacy. By embracing the journey of memoir writing and persisting through the challenges, writers can ultimately fulfill their dreams of sharing their stories with the world.

So, if you find yourself grappling with writer’s block on your memoir journey, remember that you’re not alone. By taking proactive steps to address writer’s block and tapping into your creativity and resilience, you can overcome obstacles and make meaningful progress toward completing your memoir. With dedication, perseverance, and the support of the Memoir Method Checklist, you can turn your memoir aspirations into reality. You can download this resource for free at pageandpodium.com/checklist.

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Amanda Edgar

Dr. Amanda Nell Edgar is an award-winning author, ghostwriter, and book coach and the founder of Page & Podium Press. Co-author of the forthcoming Summer of 2020: George Floyd and the Resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Amanda has authored two nationally award-winning books and ghostwritten many more.

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