“Writing about trauma is more than simply documenting experience – it’s about illuminating life on earth. It’s about transforming tragedy into art, and hoping that somehow that piece of art may help someone else whose gone through something unbearable and who doesn’t yet see that there truly is a light at the end of the dark tunnel.” –Tracy Strauss
When you have to write about your toughest moment in life it can be overwhelming and scary. How do you capture the most difficult experience (or day) you’ve ever had to go through, and write about it? Where do you begin?
Well, you have to go back to that day, immerse yourself in that moment. You have to start at the beginning . . . .
Whether you’re writing a memoir, or if you’re using your experiences for your character’s story, here are 5 tips to help you write about your hardships:
1. Write out everything you remember as if you’re writing in a diary that only you will read. Don’t worry about making it sound intelligent or lyrical. And don’t filter what you write. Just write! Write through the pain and sorrow you felt. Write about every painful, ugly detail. Write as if it’ll cleanse your soul!
2. Read through what you wrote and rewrite it as if it’s a fictional story. Make sure you show as much as you tell and add prose, but don’t soften any of it, just work on making it sound less like a diary entry and more like a book.
3. For a memoir, if there is something you’d not rather share, you can take it out. It’s your story, so it’s up to you what you reveal. Leaving something out won’t make everything else a lie. What you don’t ever want to do is add in something because you think it makes your story more interesting. Remember to always tell the truth!
4. Disguise the people you’re writing about. Even if you write about what they did and said, you can still keep their identity a secret by giving them a different name and physical description. You can even change their sex and race. This will ensure that they won’t experience any backlash in real life from your memoir.
5. If you’re giving your past to a character, follow the steps above to make your memory read like a story and to disguise real people as fictional characters. But you will also need to change your voice into your character’s voice.
This strategy helps you to stay anonymous about what you went through, while also sharing it. Only you will know what parts of your book were inspired by your life, and you can still help your readers by making your character’s experience as real as your own experience.
I have used this strategy in my own writing, especially in my (unpublished) series. I really felt like I was one with my protagonist, so I gave her my feelings and experiences.
“...some pretty terrible things have happened to me in my life (that I prefer not to write about because for me, books are for fun, therapy is for the bad stuff)...” -Meg Cabot from her 9/11 post
I know a lot of writers use their life as inspiration (as I do), and write about the bad they’ve endured, but this isn’t true for all writers.
So I am interested to know which side you stand on . . .
QUESTION: Do you agree that books should be fun and happy like Meg Cabot, or do you believe in writing about the traumas you endured to help others like Tracy Strauss?
SHARE: Your tips for writing about your toughest moment (or a memoir).