For the last few days, perhaps even the last few weeks, I’ve been teetering closer than I realized to the brink of despair. Yesterday I sat down, opened my file, and looked at the frayed end of my story, trying to pick up the thread again. After several minutes of feeling lost, I went to bed. This morning the story was the first thing I thought of as I awoke. Suddenly all the doubts that have been building in the dark exploded to life:

  • This isn’t working. It’s like randomly tossing loose jigsaw puzzle pieces on the table.
  • Nobody will bother reading this.
  • I’m boring myself.
  • Why am I wasting my time on this?

You get the idea. I had unwittingly allowed my inner guidance system to switch to the Critic Channel rather than my muse.

I had a full-fledged case of the doubts when less than a month ago I was exulting about the structure I’ve chosen that focuses on place rather than chronology. What knocked me off-path? Whence the doubts? Philosophical discussions! I’ve been listening to a few purists who include chronological order at the top of a checklist of criteria necessary for a manuscript to qualify as a “real” memoir.

I know better than to do that! On the very first day of every class I teach, I issue this passionate rejoinder: Don’t let anyone else tell you how to write. There are skills, there are components that make your writing easier to read and understand, but the way you tell your story is as personal as your fingerprint. Listen to that inner sense we all have of how to tell it. First and foremost, it MUST fit your sense of your life and your Truth.I get pretty worked up about that message.

I had lost sight of that fundamental Truth and as I woke up this morning I was actually considering abandoning the project — or at least scaling it back to a bland, gray chronological documentary.

Feeling the gravel slip from beneath my feet as I stood on the brink of despair, the student was ready. The teacher appeared. For reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with my writing project, I surfed over to Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonet’s Women’s Memoirs site. There I found a video post reconnecting me with Natalie Goldberg, one of my key sources of inspiration. In the video Matilda reminds viewers of the preference for reflecting rather than recounting that Natalie expresses in her most recent book, Old Friend from Far Away.

Bingo! That is exactly what I needed to hear. That is where I’ve been heading. Ten years ago I spent days researching the difference between memoir and autobiography. I came to understand then that reflection was the key difference. Memoir reflects, autobiography recounts. Reflection may follow a chronological path, but like memory, it may jump all over time and space. Yes, there are skills. Yes, scene is important. Yes, I do need to add some elements to help readers see the grid. I can do that! But only if I keep writing.

Thank you Natalie for the critical support, and thank you Matilda and Kendra for channeling that wisdom back to me at just the right moment. I am such a strong believer in “messages from the Universe,” and this is a very strong message.

This morning I listened to a replay of Rebecca Lawton’s December 2009 NAMW monthly member teleseminar. I’ve already listened to this program a  couple of times, but I usually listen to each one several times and hear something new each time.

This program is on time and mind management for writers. When Rebecca began talking about the Inner Critic, skyrockets of recognition exploded. Perhaps I’m blessed to be less afflicted with IC issues about my writing ability, though they are certainly not absent there. In this case my IC (known as Gretchen to long-time readers of my Heart and Craft of Life Writing blog) is shouting loudly about content:

  • “Your life was unremarkable.”
  • “Why do you think anyone would be interested?”
  • “Do you really want Those People to know they hurt your feelings?”
  • “What’s the point?”
  • “Are you sure you really want to do this? That it’s worth your time?”

On and on and on, she goes. Where will she stop? Nobody knows! Yes, dear readers, we all face Gretchen (by any other name) sooner or later. In this case she snuck up on me from behind and hid just out of sight. Here’s my reply to her:

“Gretchen, I know you are there. I’ll find you very soon and send you back to your room until I’m ready for your help. It will be in your best interests to vamoose right now and not wait to be found!”

I’ll keep you posted.