Posted by: marilynmendoza | March 2, 2012

Before you write that memoir

From Agoraphobia to Zen Yesterday, on a whim, I searched for my book in the local library and noticed it was checked out. It was a strange feeling. Someone was reading the most intimate, traumatic experiences in my life. At first I felt giddy with pride. My book that was my jailer and my addiction; that made my soul both soar and bleed was worthy to be in the public domain. My life which I had kept in a toxic Pandora’s box was let out like a bunch of balloons, never to be locked inside again. Now, I am at peace with that thought.  Yet, before you write that memoir, and I assume your memoir is written with truth and some pain, do some soul-searching. If you are not ready to be unmasked in a sometimes harsh light you are not ready..

 Memoir’s are written for many reasons and most of those reasons are personal. We write because writing heals and soothes. We write because it is in our DNA to create in this way and we write to announce that we matter, that our lives made a difference on the planet while we inhabited it. But there are repercussions to ponder before you attempt this most personal type of writing. First, are you writing to get revenge on those who wronged you?. It will not work. Are you writing to show the world how other people and circumstances forced you to do certain things both good and bad.? It will not touch anyone. Are you writing to blame, get pity,convince, or brag?. It will backfire.   Are you writing because you have a story and it must be told?. Now you are on the right track.

Before you write that memoir, make sure some time has passed so you can look at your life from a distance. Write with passion, but not passion for yourself. See the humor in some of the heartache. It will help make your memoir less pitiful even if your life was Misery Inc…  Talk to your husband, lover or kids and tell them that your life and some of theirs will be exposed.Hopefully you kept their personal stories at a distance from your memoir unless their part of your story is vital to reveal. I tried to keep my story just mine, but sometimes I couldn’t.  If they refuse to read it, accept it. My children can’t or won’t read my memoir. I understand my new attitude and acceptance of my past is mine alone and  doesn’t necessarily mean that they are happy for  me to reveal myself so thoroughly and unflinchingly. If you care too much how others, even your family will judge you, you are not ready to write a memoir.

Most of all write a memoir because you know you can write a book that is meaningful, and might help someone who is in a similar circumstance. But if you don’t write it well, it won’t get read, and that is why we write, to touch others with our words, to have a memoir that screams, “Don’t put me down” I hope that the  stranger who took my book out of the library feels that while reading “From Agoraphobia to Zen”. . I love that person..



  1. Thanks Marilyn for your open advice. My memoir is about my happy childhood being brought up by a dad who grew up the hard way–Jewish orphanage. Through his heartache, I was taught to love others and life itself.
    I am starting to teach Night by Elie Wiesel to my 10th graders. He had to write, not only for his own pain, but also so others would know not to let these things happen again. What an exciting feeling that must be to know someone is reading you!

    • Thank you so much Judy,
      I am very interested in your memoir. My memoir is about my mother who was brought up in the depression with a severe mental illness and she was Jewish. I read Night and more books about the Holocaust but she never could because it was too close to her she said. I did not have a happy childhood for the most part but found out it is never too late. Thank you so much aloha

  2. Love this best: “Most of all write a memoir because you know you can write a book that is meaningful, and might help someone who is in a similar circumstance.”

    It’s why I’ve stopped just shy of taking the leap and actually writing down what’s percolating inside me…I didn’t think anyone would care. But I’ve learned over the last few years, the fact that you remembered means the story needs to be told. And there are others who will find it worthwhile. So I need to “just do it.” Congratulations to you, and thanks for your inspiration!

    • Thank you for reading my blog Elizabeth and Your encouragement. Sometimes I need encouragement too. My book; let’s just say it’s not selling like hotcakes and I still believe with all my heart that it is the most important work of my life. Aloha

  3. Thoughtful post, Marilyn. I like how you suggest keeping the focus on yourself while also being sensitive to those people who share your life.

    • Thank you Theresa,
      It is a fine line to walk for sure, but if you focus on your story, minor characters will remain in the shadow. In my first chapter, a violent one, I had changed the whole name of the girl but kept writing the real name as I continued so I ended up changing her last name and she is a big part of my story. My children are part of the book but only as they relate to my story. I was as sensitive as I could be but they still can’t or won’t read it. It’s their choice and part of their story too and I respect that. aloha

  4. Marilyn I love your blog and your encouragement on writing memoirs. You hit it right on. I hope that your book is checked out and read many times.

    • Thank you Cjana,
      I will be speaking at my little town library in April so there will be 2 books in Hawaii and many in the UK. Some people here thought that was funny. I used to be a Sir Paul McCartney fan and my book is in his local library in St. John’s Wood in London. I imagine in my lonely momemts he could take out my book. Not likely but possible. Aloha and Mahalo thanks

  5. Yes–thank you for expressing so eloquently, that which needs to be said. when i wrote my first book Letters to a Prisoner by Connie D., I felt possessed, no one could’ve stopped me. Good thing too–because it not only healed me, it, the book, paid itself forward and set up a chain of events that have helped others. I love that! My family is proud, I think, although nobody is jumping up to say so. Maybe when I’m dead? Grin!

  6. I know that feeling about being possessed by writing your truth. I felt that way for two years of writing and rewriting my memoir. I also am experiening the healing and far reaching power of the truth. As for my family they don’t talk about it at all. I understand. aloha

  7. Wonderful piece, Maya. Food for thought.

    • Thank you Lynne, I’m about to write my 50th post now. aloha

  8. Hi Marilyn,

    I didn’t have the guts to put this on my blog as it is my biggest battle with is interesting you mentioned acne…I have battled it since I hit puberty and I am 41. To me it looks horrible. To others they either say it doesn’t look bad or there is hardly any…I also feel it so that doesn’t help. My husband says he doesn’t even notice but it devastates me…There is so much I don’t do because of it. I hide a lot. I spend hrs. in the mirror. I have to keep the lights low so I don’t end up in the mirror. I’ve tried the CBT thing and it only causes more panic, it doesn’t help. Maybe it’s not a good question to ask, but what did you have done? Did it help?

    • I am 61 and still break out. But I had so many procedures the latest one last June where I had laser resurfacing with a famous doctor in Minnesota who knows my daughter and gave me a break in price. I stil have scars because the procedure doesn’t work on deep ones. I had many other laser procedures including, carbon in Japan when I was teaching, microdermabarsion which doesnt do anything, blue light laser, that helped with the broken blood vessels. I have always had the Puppet lines as I call them and am wanting to do restalyne but don’t want to look in the mirror after that shock of video. Have you seen it? It is really not pretty. But, I don’t worry about the age thing because I do look young. I hate this disorder. love ya

      • I hate this disorder too! I haven’t seen the video, is it on your site? as far as age…people say i look younger than i am but again..i don’t see it…ahhhh!

      • I think Connie D, the organizer put the url on my blog from Utube. If you can’t find it just put in utube Powerful words opening doors. It is a really good event for poetry and I think I spoke my piece on mental illness. But the way I looked and what hurts is that I tried so hard to look good but it didn’t work

      • okay i’ll check it out. thank you for sharing that…i totally understand how you would have been feeling. *hugs*

      • Thank you, I’m checking out your blog and it rocks. I wish you all the love and aloha you deserve. Your new friend from Hawaii Marilyn Maya

      • thank you!

      • the poem on my blog called “Ashes” is about my battle with BDD..

      • You look beautiful in pink and you have a wonderful smile. 😉 I know you won’t see that but I do. It felt like you wrote that poem “Broken Glass” about my dad.

      • I really don’t look like that video but I do like my smile. repeat, I really don’t look like that video lol and those glasses were a afterthought. Did I tell you, among other flaws I also have a wandering left eye. I tried to hide it with the glasses but it just made me look like a old fashioned librarian Thank you

      • ha…i never noticed your eye at all!

  9. Oh also age has become a really hard thing for me too…skin seems to be my biggest issue and then weight although everyone sees me as tiny.

    • ps weight is my obsession. I have an eating disorder and lost 65 pounds but am still slighty overweight. I don’t worry about looking fat, just regaining because of my food addiction. As a woman told me who had severe mental illness. I do not hang my head in shame. Writing my memoir helped a lot in that way aloha

      • thank you for the encouragement! you sure have had an uphill battle too! such a courageous woman!

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