5 Tips on How to Write an Illness Memoir
“Nothing is quite so isolating as the knowledge when one hurts, nobody else feels the pain,” Robert Murphy.
What can we learn from illness memoirs?
Recently I have been ill with a severe adverse response to a certain osteoporosis infusion medication. I wished that I could have spoken to someone else who had experienced what I had gone through. A search of Google did not reveal any personal writing about the same experiences. There was much medical literature available on the internet but it was too clinical and did not address my personal issues.
When we face serious or chronic illness or disability we are thrown into an unknown, insecure and uncharted world. We leave our world of health and security and are thrown into a place where nothing is known and has to be learnt. Writing about our illness experience gives us back our power and with it creates a voice. We often lose this voice when our bodies are ill or diminished in some way. The therapeutic process of writing examines the shock of trauma of illness; we the writers, can be observers to the situation of our lives and can reflect and grow. We write down the words of our experience and in doing so develop resilience in ourselves through the process of writing. When we review our lives through personal writing we develop strength and a pattern to face illness or death.
The two main reasons for writing an illness memoir:
- To assist the writer to gain control of their illness and hopefully heal.
- To help others with similar illnesses and their families to understand.
A personal narrative in the form of an illness memoir has been long considered as one of the most important methods of advancing personal human issues. A personal story speaks loudly and can shine a beacon into a dark and frightening area.
Imagine- if you found a lump in your breast and were shocked to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Your doctor and medical team might be helpful and supportive but, another person who has experienced the same as you would comprehend your deepest fears and anxieties. You might search out a memoir of someone who has battled breast cancer and won. This can be a metaphor for your own struggle.
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7 tips for writing a memoir about addiction (drug or alcohol or gambling)
“When you can stop you don’t want to, and when you want to stop, you can’t…”
― Luke Davies, Candy
Memoir writers are the custodians of memory. Each one of us should leave some sort of written record of our lives. It can be an informal family history, an oral history, or a formal history.
Some may ask, why write a memoir about your own or someone else’s addiction, be it drug and alcohol, gambling of whatever?
By writing the addiction memoir the writer helps themselves heal and reflect. The sharing of experiences can shine a light in the darkness of addiction for others who may be struggling as well.
I am an advocate for healing through writing, be it a memoir, journaling, scribbling notes on the back of an envelope or exercise book. Addiction memoir is currently very popular and there are subgroups such personal addiction stories, celebrity addiction, families of the addicted.
Louise DeSalvo in her excellent book, Writing As A Way of Healing. How telling our stories transforms our lives, stated that writing traumatic or distressing events in detail and exploring deep emotions and feelings improves health.
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5 Ways to start a memoir about your migration experience
‘History in its broadest aspect is a record of man’s migration from one environment to another.’ Ellsworth Huntington
Migration memories are currently a popular genre. If you check on Google you will find many books on memoir. The reading population has developed an appetite for non-fiction memoirs.
The National Library of Australia holds thousands of migration memories. Personal stories of survivors of war-torn Europe or Asia makes for enthralling tales.
Reclaiming families past culture adds to the cultural pride for children and grandchildren.
There are many reasons why a person leaves the country of his or her birth and migrate to another country. Some leave because of terrible wars or dangerous politics forcing them to abandon their home country. Some migrants come as children with their families at an early age and quickly become immersed in the new country. Others leave their country out of a sense of adventure or curiosity and, become expatriates among a community of similar migrants.
Many migrants suffer from themes of dislocation, and disillusionment. If they cannot speak English even simple things like reading signs or finding the right train can be challenging. Children of migrants may memoirs that express conflict in family and differences in culture.
Over time memories become fragmented and distorted. Writing your family’s migrant history helps to clarity stories about your ancestors. Family memoirs and histories can humanise those that are dead so children and grandchildren may know them. Migration memoir may assist the writer to understand current family dynamics and can also solidify a sense of family.
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Writing a memoir on a difficult subject: on loss, grief and death
Welcome to my blog, I am delighted you have joined me today.
‘Do you know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken.’ Terry Prachett. When we write memoir the dead still live within our writing and thoughts.
I started writing my memoir Calel a few years ago after my much loved mother died as a means of healing the deep pain and confusion within me. Experts tell us that the relationship between mother and daughter is the most complex. I agree. And add mental illness and migration unhappiness into the mix and the relationship between my mother and me was challenging.
I started carrying a notebook and jotted things I remembered about my mother and her life- trying to heal myself. Eventually a context emerged and developed into something that I could hang a story on. As I kept writing the surprising thing was I was writing about my mother but I grew to understood myself more.
I dug up old photos, letters, diaries, even played old Beatles music. Like a jigsaw puzzle it started to create a picture.
One day I smelt the aroma of an old furniture polish called Marveer and the memories came flooding in. My mother used that to polish the furniture until it gleamed. The smell of Rinso washing powder boiling in a copper brought back blocked memories.
The Buddha said ‘The trouble is you think you have time.’ Start your memoir now. Start a memoir someone who has died that was meaningful to you.
‘Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.’ Soren Kierkegaard. Going backwards into my life has helped me move forward. Writing about difficult topics helped me cope. Many studies have shown that writing about stressful and traumatic events can improve our mental health.
This is a photo of my mother smelling a rose. It is a simple photo, but within that photo lay hidden complex and painful issues that were going on at the time. The longer I stared at the photo the more I remembered bits that were hidden from my consciousness.
The flowers in the photo are growing in cracks of cement. Writing a memoir opens up a life that has laid dormant.
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Why write a memoir?
A memoir draws on selected stories about your life to support a focus or a theme.
Perhaps you have a personal story of migration, grew up in a dysfunctional family, been a victim of abuse, had drug or alcohol issues, overcame significant physical or mental setbacks, financial or emotional crashes. You could discuss how things were for you then and how you over came the issues. Your story of change and transformation.
Your story will assist others going through similar situations. Create a blue print of sorts how to rise up and meet life.
Linda Joy Meyers wrote in her excellent bestselling book The Power of Memoir How to Write your Healing Story that a memoir assists the writer to gain understanding for your life and heal the past and hope for the future. And to expose injustice or abuse. I would highly recommend her book available on Amazon. (My copy is battered from constant use.)
Memoirs are highly sought after at the moment and are big sellers. You don’t have to be a celebrity to sell your memoir.
Check out Amazon Kindle books on memoir and see the variety of memoirs that are selling well.
In further blogs we will cover making money from your memoir.
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