I never used to be one of those people who dreams about showing up in public naked. That is, until I became a memoirist. Publishing a memoir IS showing up naked in public.
My story is largely about how shame silenced me. How ironic to publish a memoir, right? I think it goes without saying that writing Caged Eyes with the intention of publication was an entirely terrifying prospect. The further I got into the project, the deeper my fear ran. I’d have panic attacks and nightmares and there were days I literally couldn’t write a word because I was so frozen in front of my computer screens.
There wasn’t an easy way out, but two things did help me: 1) patience with myself. My book would get done when it was done and no sooner; I couldn’t force myself to work through the fear any faster. And 2) Writing as if I was writing to a best friend.
This idea of writing to a friend was nothing more than a mind game, but it worked. I picked out a friend I felt like I could tell anything, who I felt wouldn’t judge me, and I decided she was my sole reader.
There’d be cracks in this denial of course, days when I realized how I was deluding myself. Still, I never would have been able to finish Caged Eyes without that strategy.
In this one regard, post-publication has been easier than I thought it would be. I had expected that every time I spoke with someone who had read the book, I’d be hyper aware of all of the details of my life they were suddenly privy to. They’d know a thousand things about me that I wouldn’t know about them, a uni-lateral sharing of vulnerability in our relationships which would create imbalance in them all. While that’s true factually, the difference is I don’t find myself focusing on it. And neither do my friends or acquaintances. Largely, they respect the memoir for the truth and activism in it, and that takes away from the focus about the nitty gritty details of my life.
After he read Caged Eyes, one of my friends even said, “This isn’t really you. This is a construct of you.” How astute! Yeah, the narrator is not really me, because as a writer I’ve chosen the details and words of this story carefully, and so she’s just a representation for who I used to be.
I’ve heard a few authors who have published both fiction and memoir say that in some ways, the novel feels more exposing because what we make up can speak even more clearly to our inner workings than the real-life events which have happened to us as people. The more I think about this idea as I read novels, especially friends’ novels, I see this point.
So then it’s super easy to do the vulnerable writing for my second memoir…okay no, not true. Actually, I’m still imagining writing to a friend. We do what we have to do to get through, you know?