Memoirs are almost always loaded with powerful moments, some of them transformative but all charged with emotion, whether positive or negative. The process of digging deep into your past and writing about the events that shaped you can give you greater insight into your own choices and help readers going through similar experiences. No one disputes the power of a well-written memoir, but there is a debate raging over whether writing a memoir is, or should be, cathartic for writers.

The Cathartic Writing Camp

Some writers say that writing their memoirs was a catharsis because they used their writing to face unpleasant or questionable aspects of their past. Through writing, they were able to explore specific events, seeing them more clearly from the distance of place and time. Retracing an emotional journey can give you perspective and reveal ways you may not have realized you’ve triumphed. 

Writing your memoir is a way to “lance the boil,” letting festering emotions drain and relieving any pressure you’ve been putting on yourself to move on and forget about the past. You take away some of its power over you by facing the past and revealing it to others.

The Potential Dangers of Memoir Writing

Other writers warn that there is danger in using memoir writing as a catharsis. Taking difficult memories on and writing everything down can be painful and even terrifying. It requires you to relive both the best and worst times in your life, and if you aren’t emotionally ready, it can be overwhelming. You will dredge up long-forgotten, often painful memories that may not match what others remember. If you aren’t careful when writing your memoirs, you may end up wallowing in the reliving of your past or overwhelmed by sorrow or regret. 

There is also the danger of alienating others who are a part of your memoirs. If you negatively portray someone or reveal something from their past they would like to ignore, you will have to defend your actions. The other person may or may not accept your apology.

Making Memoir Writing a Safe and Rewarding Journey

Fortunately, most people who write their memoirs discover a great deal about themselves in the process. They feel relief because they’ve put down the words. It may not heal them completely, but it brings at least temporary relief. Sharing their story with others is a way to reach out and connect with others. If you’re writing your memoirs, here are some tips that can help:

  • Try journaling as a separate activity that allows you to rant when you need to while keeping your memoirs on track.
  • Make sure you have a support network. Writing about adverse events can weigh you down during the process. When you’ve had a rough day of writing, reach out to friends who will get you out of your head and put you firmly back in the “now.”
  • If you are in therapy for the trauma you are writing about, share your work with your therapist. They can give you tools for approaching the process in a healthy way.
  • Don’t forget to write about positive memories and balance them with negative memories for a more authentic picture that offers hope rather than a litany of negativity.
  • Give yourself time to process your emotions as you write. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, put aside your writing and treat yourself to a day off. Use it for something enjoyable, not catching up on chores. 

Memoirs are cathartic for most writers who have been through traumatic circumstances. They are also a powerful way to share a story others can connect with, finding inspiration and solace along the way. To ensure your memoir writing experience is a healthy one, be sure to keep perspective and celebrate how far you’ve come.

Dudley Court Press

Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a full-service, hybrid publishing house, we help thoughtful people write their books to achieve publishing success. Contact us to discuss our assisted self-publishing option today.

For more information, including about DCP’s latest programs, please get in touch at +1-520-329-2729 or publisher@DudleyCourtPress.com. We’ve recently launched our latest program, memoir Writing for Non-Writers. This comprehensive, 10-week course helps you turn your memories into a compelling memoir!