Writing a memoir that resonates with your readers involves revisiting significant moments in your life. Some of these personal experiences might invoke a sense of happiness and nostalgia, but there may also be very painful memories. Focusing on the trauma you’ve experienced can be cathartic, but it can also trigger feelings of stress and anxiety as you delve into difficult memories. At Writer’s Relief, we know writing about disturbing emotions, death, cancer, mental illness, drug addiction, and physical or psychological abuse in your memoir can be challenging, but it can also help you—and your readers—come to terms with these life-changing events.
6 Tips To Help You Write About Trauma In Your Memoir
One: Trauma is a response, not an identity. Trauma isn’t something that makes you better or worse than anyone else. It is something that happened to you that you formed a response to. It’s important to show your readers that your trauma isn’t the only thing that defines you—or them. Most people don’t realize they have trauma until they experience something that draws a traumatic response from them. Trauma is not an inherent trait that defines someone, but a reaction to something distressing.
Two: Make yourself an active agent in the story. You are someone who has experienced something traumatic. You are not a statistic who has had something bad happen to them. You are the main character, and you have your own goals and motives outside of your trauma. Think of it as if you’re creating a hero for your novel. Your readers need someone to carry them through the events of the story.
Three: Distinguish between catharsis and resolution. Writing about your experiences is definitely a great way to process your feelings and memories. But, while writing can help you process what happened, it’s important to consider additional forms of therapy for your trauma. If you haven’t fully sorted through your feelings and how they reverberate through your life, it will be hard to create a compelling narrative.
Four: It’s okay to leave some things out. Unlike an autobiography, which can encompass an entire life story, a memoir is creatively written and focuses on certain moments or life events in order to serve a greater meaning. It’s okay to leave some things out of your narrative if they don’t propel your story forward.
Five: Timing is everything. When you set up a joke, you wait for the right moment to deliver the punchline. The same goes with writing about tragedy and trauma. Digesting your feelings and sorting through them takes time. Be sure to allow yourself enough time for self-reflection before you take what may be a very visceral trip down memory lane. It can be difficult to relive what may be the worst moments of your life. And take a break when you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed. If you’re writing a particularly distressing scene, you may need to write several drafts before you can finally tell the whole story.
Six: Don’t force a happy ending. The pressure to give your memoir a happy ending can interfere with your ability to tell the truth. Readers can tell when you’re not being completely honest. While your memoir should offer value and a greater meaning to your audience, it shouldn’t seem contrived. If a happy ending works naturally for your memoir—great! But keep in mind that you and your readers can still learn and grow from an ending that’s not a storybook “they all lived happily ever after.”
While writing about trauma in your memoir may be difficult, it can ultimately be a rewarding process. Your memoir can help you and your readers gain something meaningful out of an event that was painful.
When you’re ready to publish your memoir, we can help make the process as stress-free as possible. If you want to try the traditional publishing route, the research experts at Writer’s Relief will target the best literary agents for your work to boost your odds of getting published. Learn more about our services, and submit your writing today!
If you’re considering self-publishing, we can help with that too! Our Self-Publishing Relief division will guide you through every step of the self-publishing process to ensure you create a book you are proud to put your name on. Learn more about our self-publishing services here.
Question: What memoir about trauma have you found most meaningful?