Start Your Writing Year in the Right Way: Memoir Writing Tips

by Matilda Butler on January 1, 2014

Writing Prompt LogoPost #184 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompts and Life Prompts – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

A Word from Matilda and Kendra

Kendra Bonnett and I are co-authors of the award-winning Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep. We started this website a number of years ago, long before we understood the concepts behind our new writing approach — concepts that grew out of our teaching. We’ve had valuable feedback from you. As of this morning, we have 4,555 comments…and that’s just the ones on our website. Many of you email us directly with your thoughts, reactions, and suggestions. Thanks so much.

If you are not a member of our memoir community, we hope you’ll join us this year on a regular basis. So many of you are already using our revolutionary writing approach — Writing Alchemy. Many thanks. Your stories of writing success excite us.

This year we will continue to share advances in the uses of Writing Alchemy. Be sure to tell your friends and invite them to get our free ebooks, signup for our blog, and consider using our new writing approach that we document in Writing Alchemy. In addition to serving as conference speakers, face-to-face teachers, and online coaches, we use Skype with groups and would be glad to speak with your writing group.

Let us know what we can do to help you use Writing Alchemy more effectively in 2014 and to make progress on your memoir writing.


Make 2014 Your Year of Memoir

2014 is here. Yea. Looking forward to the coming 12 months? We are. But before we look at the road ahead, it’s timely to make an assessment of the year that just ended and what elements may have held you back from achieving all that you intended when the year began. Let’s consider the clutter in your life. There are many kinds and all of them distract you from personal reflection and from writing. Our list includes:

  • Physical Clutter
  • Emotional Clutter
  • Mental Clutter
  • Relationship Clutter
  • Physical Clutter in the Life of a Writer

    The most obvious clutter is what we see all around us, or what we’ll call physical clutter. The piles of books and papers. The closets filled with clothes we might wear someday (when it comes back in style, when I lose weight, when I am invited to a formal occasion, etc.). The cabinets stuffed to overflowing with objects you don’t even like.

    We once had a student who felt she needed to keep the large mahogany dining table and eight matching chairs that her mother had left her. This might seem like a generous gift or legacy but our student lived alone, rarely entertained, and had to give away a favorite sofa to make room for the dining set that needed to be put in the living room as it was the only place big enough to house it. The table, not surprisingly, just became a place to hold more piles of stuff. Meanwhile, the table was a constant reminder of a tangled and unhappy mother-daughter relationship.

    When she finally acknowledged what was happening and gave the set away, she found she felt lighter and could begin thinking about the positive elements in her life. Physical clutter gets in the way of making forward progress.

    TIP #1 FOR WRITERS: Begin to declutter your physical space today. Don’t procrastinate. Just spend 30 minutes going through piles of papers or clothes or books or whatever is filling your physical space to overflowing…filling it so much that you cannot concentrate on undertaking new adventures, including your writing. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t declutter in a day. but you can make good progress by turning to this task for just half an hour today (and every day).

    Emotional Clutter in the Life of a Writer

    Have you ever tried to write when you were emotionally low? How about when you were angry? Ask yourself how emotions may be cluttering your life, taking away your clarity, your ability to focus. Does you mind return to an incident when you felt you were slighted or outright ignored or ridiculed? Can you not move past those situations because you are still emotionally entangled with them?

    Emotions are a part of life. They can be good, even useful. They help us in our reactions and in our understanding. But if you continue to carry old emotions around with you, if you relive them over and over again, they clutter your reactions to new events. It really isn’t that different from having piles of useless papers sitting around.

    TIP #2 FOR WRITERS. Try some tough love with your emotions. If they are not helping you, if they are not improving your life, if they are hurting you more than the person they are directed at, then it is time to declutter. Imagine putting an emotion on a piece of newspaper. Wrap it up and toss it in the garbage. Do that whenever old emotions clutter your life.

    Mental Clutter in the Life of a Writer

    Do you have good intentions about writing? Did you promise yourself that you would write yesterday but just couldn’t work it into your life? Did you even sit down to write but found that you couldn’t focus on something as abstract as a memoir? Does your mind go a “million miles a minute?” Do you keep grocery lists in your head? Upcoming trips in your mind? Need to-do lists that never seem to get finished?

    It’s tempting to say, “Join the club.” But instead, you need to acknowledge the ways that mental clutter, mental overload, takes away from the quality of your life and definitely from your ability to focus on your memoir writing.

    TIP #3 FOR WRITERS. Simplifying mental clutter is much more difficult than decluttering our physical life. However, there are strategies you can use. We’re big believers in creating a list of top priorities for the day. The key phrase is “top priorities.” There are so many ways to fill a day and most of them will not make a difference in your life today or tomorrow or next week or next year. If you really want to create your memoir, then it belongs on your list. If friendships are vitally important to you, then a phone call or email to a friend belongs on the list.

    Do you really need to check Google news every hour? Are you on various email lists that dump email after email every day or even multiple times per day? How about the Amazon ads that draw you in with the daily deal? What other time sinks show up uninvited. If you find yourself deleting emails from a particular source or sources, scroll down to the bottom and unsubscribe. Save yourself the mental clutter of dealing with all of that junk.

    By getting rid of the mental clutter, you can open yourself to new experiences, to more clarity of vision.

    Relationship Clutter in the Life of a Writer

    People are important in our lives. But how often do these networks of friends just become time users? You might want to consider decluttering your social networks. How much time to do you devote to Facebook or LinkedIn or one of the other resources? If this brings you pleasure or a sense of connectedness, there’s no need to drop out. Just watch the amount of time you are spending with them. And evaluate how much it means to you.

    Time is our most valuable resource and if you let relationship clutter take over, then you don’t have the clarity and vision to nurture the few wonderful relationships that each life needs. Just because we can spend time researching whatever happened to your first boss right out of college doesn’t mean you should. The more years we live the more potential there is for relationship clutter.

    TIP #4 FOR WRITERS. The best place to start your relationship decluttering is with people who are not supportive of what you want to accomplish. You know who they are. There is no need to be mean or to get angry with them. But you are a busy person and you don’t need to accept their invitations or feel the need to invite them. Surround yourself instead with those people who add to your life rather than just fill it with clutter.

    Here’s a Toast to a Decluttered Life in 2014

    Are you thinking about taking clutter out of your life? We invite you to tell us actions you intend to take.

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