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Memoir Writing Tips

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #248– Memoir Writing Tip – Matilda Butler



Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Today I’m pleased to welcome memoirist Cynthia Lim to our community of memoir writers.

Hi Cynthia. Thanks for joining us. Your new memoir, Wherever You Are: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Brain Injury, covers an important topic that unfortunately more and more women face. I know this book will be of great interest to our readers. Before we get into some of your experiences in writing your memoir, would you start by telling us a little about it?

Cynthia Lim Memoir AuthorCYNTHIA LIM: Hi Matilda. Thanks for inviting me.

In 2003, my life was changed when my husband suffered a cardiac arrest and brain injury, leaving him severely disabled. We had been married for 20 years and had two teenage sons. After the brain injury, he could no longer work as an attorney and had short-term memory loss. He needed help with bathing and everyday living tasks. I struggled with caregiving and working full-time as we slowly adapted to the person that emerged from brain injury.

Wherever You Are is the story of my journey as a spouse and caregiver as I learn to build a new life and redefine what love and marriage really mean after brain injury.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Cynthia, that’s certainly a powerful story to share. Taking on the role of caregiver can be an overwhelming shift in a life. I wonder what caused you to decide to write your memoir at this time?




Cynthia Lim Memoir AuthorCYNTHIA LIM: I scoured bookstores after my husband’s brain injury to read about what happens to families and spouses after a catastrophic event. How do they go on with their lives and how do they face each day? I didn’t find many books that told the story of how spouses or families cope. I wanted to write about my experience so that other caregivers in the same situation would not feel so alone.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Cynthia, I love the way that you have moved from looking for books to help you to writing a book that can help others. How did the writing begin?




Cynthia Lim Memoir AuthorCYNTHIA LIM: During that post brain injury time, I kept a journal and wrote several times a week. Then I took a class at UCLA Extension called “Writing to Heal” and began to turn some of those journal entries into essays. I took more classes and workshops and learned the craft of telling a story with a narrative arc. I met fellow writers and we formed a writer’s group that continues to meet monthly. We’ve been meeting for about 10 years now and it is so helpful in terms of receiving critical feedback. It also provides the accountability I need to keep up a regular practice of writing. So many of my pieces are written because I know we are meeting in a week and I have to have something to workshop.

I also started sending pieces to literary journals to see if they were publishable. That gave me a good idea of what resonated with readers and editors. I got lots of rejections but many encouraging notes from editors and several published essays.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Most of us who write would be hard-pressed to name the easiest part as there are so many difficult aspects. But let me ask you what was the hardest aspect of writing this memoir for you?




Cynthia Lim Memoir AuthorCYNTHIA LIM: I think every writer will say the hardest part is to just sit down and write! Having the discipline to clear my head and just write is hard. There is always something that needs to be done in the house or some distraction that can keep you from writing. At the beginning, I had children at home, full-time work and caregiving so it was hard to find the time to sit down and write. Having the writer group helps because that imposes deadlines.

Also, parts of my memoir were extremely hard to write because I had to relive the pain and anxiety of the moments. It was hard to go back and read those journals and re-experience the emotions of those moments. There are chapters that are still difficult for me to re-read now. I’m often asked if writing about traumatic events was cathartic but it wasn’t. It was very hard and painful to write the emotional truth. And it makes me feel very vulnerable to be so open about the struggles we were facing with caregiving and disability.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Cynthia, I appreciate your openness concerning the emotional drain of writing about the trauma your husband, you, and your children went through. You raise a good point. One shouldn’t take lightly the idea that writing leads to healing. It may, and it does for many people, but it is not a cathartic process easily done. For other women writing their memoirs, what would you share as the benefit of writing?

Cynthia Lim Memoir AuthorCYNTHIA LIM: Writing is very rewarding when you share your story and know you touched someone, especially those that are going through the same experience that you are. It is a wonderful way to explore your creativity. There is the thrill of stringing the right words together that can transport readers.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Cynthia, thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights about memoir writing. I have one last question for you. Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for women just now beginning to work on their memoir? 




Cynthia Lim Memoir AuthorCYNTHIA LIM: Just write, don’t censor yourself, don’t edit until it’s on the page. The hardest part is just getting something on the page. I sometimes scribble first drafts on scratch paper by hand and then type. There’s something about using recycled paper that doesn’t make the writing process so daunting. I think, “Well, it’s just recycled paper so it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Read memoirs to find narrative styles you like. Develop a thick skin and be open to feedback on your writing. Find trusted readers and get feedback from writers you respect. Don’t feel like you have to change your draft based on everyone’s feedback because it will be different from person to person. Trust your gut and take the parts that are helpful to you. Remember, you are the writer.

About Cynthia Lim

Cynthia Lim grew up in Salinas, California. She holds a BA in Experimental Psychology from UC Santa Barbara, a Masters in Social Work from UC Berkeley, and a doctorate in social welfare from UCLA, and had brief stints as a VISTA volunteer in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Boise, Idaho. She recently retired as the Executive Director for Data and Accountability for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Cynthia’s essays have appeared in Hawai’i Pacific Review, Kaleidoscope, Gemini Magazine, Hobart, Forge Journal, and Witness Magazine. She has lived in Los Angeles with her family for the past 30 years. 

Cynthia’s website: http://cynthialimwriting.com
Cynthia’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/cynthiawriting
Cynthia’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/cynthialimwriting
Amazon Page for the Book: Wherever You Go

If you are interested in the ebook of Wherever You Go, please click on the image to the left.

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