Memoir Author Barbara Jaffe Shares Insights Into Writing and Healing

by Matilda Butler on October 17, 2017

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #249 – Memoir Author Speaks on Writing and Healing – Matilda Butler

[NOTE: I’m pleased to welcome Barbara Jaffe to WomensMemoirs. Her memoir, When will I be good enough?: A replacement child’s journey to healing has just been released and is available both as a print and an ebook.

Barbara has offered countless workshops to help participants find their writers’ voices through writing non-fiction. Today she is sharing how writing her memoir helped heal her and to gain perspective on her life.

Thank you Barbara for your valuable insights.


Putting Myself Back Together Again: Memoir Writing as Healing

Barbara Jaffe, Ed.D.

Memoir Author Barbara JaffeThe Process: How I Began to Write My Truth

From my earliest memories, I have always written down my thoughts and dreamed of writing a book, but I kept waiting for lightening to strike—to have that one pivotal moment of divine inspiration, enlightening me as to the focus of my prose. Instead, my ideas came in the format of a slow drip-like process with one paragraph, one page at a time, taking me on a slow inward journey.

As ideas formed, I reminded myself that I did not have time to write this book. My work as an English professor entailed spending tremendous amounts of my time and patience grading my students’ developing writing. Even my advanced students’ writing required me to spend at least ten minutes on each essay every week with a total of 120 students every semester. I just did not have time to devote to my own writing, or so I thought.

I met someone, though, whose words changed my writing life. When I told her that I had decided to wait until summer vacation from work for a chunk of time to begin my book, she responded, “I know someone who wrote his book writing 20 minutes every day.” I had no more excuses. I decided instead of waiting the five months for my free time—my writing time, I had to start my writing process immediately. Thus, every week day, I set my alarm for 4:15 a.m., 45 minutes before I normally awoke. With my strong cup of coffee by my side, I began writing what was to become my memoir — When will I be good enough?: A replacement child’s journey to healing. I kept to this schedule along with a couple of weekend retreats to my favorite B&B in Santa Barbara. I completed the first draft of my book within two years. Even though I constantly reminded my own students of the iterative process of their writing and editing, I experienced the grueling and humbling editing process firsthand over the course of another two and one half years as I wrote and rewrote my manuscript.

The Long Journey to Wholeness

My overall impressions of my earlier years are of joy and warmth, knowing that I was loved and provided for both emotionally and physically. At the same time, I grew up with deficits that required me to struggle in ways that others did not, ways that limited my growth and full potential. I lacked self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. I kept such vulnerabilities deep within so that others often viewed a determined and focused young woman. I over-compensated for my limitations through my people-pleasing and my perfectionism. But, the emotional pain I carried as a result of my inadequacies could only be masked for so long. During the pivotal moments of my life, when I left home for the first time, when I grew into my roles of daughter, wife, mother, and friend, my weaknesses were exacerbated and I felt a darkness envelop me. My writing provided an essential outlet, enabling me to explore the elements of my life that didn’t quite fit from my unique perspective of growing up as the replacement child, having been conceived soon after my second brother’s death, quite simply, to replace his loss and provide a sibling for my older brother.

“If Jeffrey had lived, you wouldn’t have been born,” my mother would often say throughout the years. I had not known how profoundly I grew up in his shadow nor did I understand my own shadow life—born from the seeds of the replacement child.

Writing my memoir enabled me to heal, to examine the pieces of my life that were off, amiss, lost, separated for so long. I often felt like an empty pool in summer, forgotten-to-be-filled, awaiting completion, eerily vacant. For so long, I couldn’t quite articulate this empty space within, yet writing enabled me to rebuild myself from the inside out.

With honesty and introspection, I wrote about my vulnerabilities. I addressed my trepidation of leaving home, leaving my mother, her reminder for me to return from college with my M.R.S. Degree (she believed that college was for finding a husband). I wrote about her disappointment and my utter failure in her eyes because I never returned home to the city of my birth—and most important, to her, after graduating. I reflected on my trepidation as I became a wife and then a mother, and coming to terms with my fear of making decisions—making the wrong decisions. In this writing process, though, I also understood myself in a way that I had not before. I was able to put the pieces of my soul back together, actually in a more intricate and more profound way as a result of writing my truth.

I was not prepared for the experience of rereading my drafts, for at times I relived what I had buried and, I intensely felt my struggles again with both darkness and despondency. Yet, I also reminded myself that strong writing makes the reader feel. How amazing that my own writing was actually making me feel! With every chapter, I was also aware of the universality of my thoughts and experiences. There are many of us, who, at one time or another, have felt ‘less than’ in at least one area of our lives. Thus, I wanted to publish my memoir not only for myself, but for others who could benefit from my lessons learned.

I encourage writers to explore their own memoirs, for the growth is exponential, filled with gratitude for the ability to open one’s soul, take the journey inward, and put ourselves back together in new and enriched ways that we never thought possible. Through my own prose—my own memoir—I have tremendous gratitude and understanding for my own growth as I continue to evolve into the woman I was meant to be.

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