How to Keep Writing When the Going Gets Rough 5

ANYONE WHO HAS WRITTEN A MEMOIR KNOWS that it’s hard work. Not at the beginning, necessarily, but when you’re part way through, and that nice, round idea you had of your story has become fragmented by scenes and summaries of scenes, and reflections about those scenes The memories aren’t clear enough, you are reaching too far for meaning and connection, and there’s an underlying thread that you sense — it’s close enough to taste — but you can’t quite define it.

This is widely known as the “messy middle,” when the going gets rough, and many would-be authors give up.

I’m here to encourage you to not give up, to tell you that you DO have a story worth telling, and to convince you to stay with it. Sure, your story may not end up a best seller. Most aren’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable, not a story that others couldn’t resonate with or benefit from.

Do how DO you keep writing when the going gets rough?

First, and foremost, you have to sit down to write at your scheduled time. This is non-negotiable. You have to put your rear end in that chair, boot up your computer, and lay your hands on the keyboard (or pen and notebook), or writing will not happen. This is a given.

Secondly, you have to commit to not editing anything previously written, nor judging anything you write now. Writing comes first. Revision comes second. Mixing them together is a guaranteed recipe for stuckness.

[bctt tweet=”You have to put your rear end in that chair, boot up your computer, and lay your hands on the keyboard.” via=”yes”]

Following are some methods I use that have worked (and continue to work) for me whenever I get stuck while writing memoir. These are not linear or in any particular order, but strategies you can use singly or combine to keep words flowing onto the page.

  • What were you last writing about or in what scene are you stuck? Reread it, but do NOT edit. Just read it. Then, close your eyes, breath slowly, and picture that scene or that time in your life. What images and emotions arise? Write about them. They don’t have to fit into a scene; just get the thoughts onto the page.
  • Pull out the photo albums. If you’re lucky enough to have photos, pull out the albums and find a photo taken around the period you are writing about and that brings up emotions for you. Write a description of the photo, what is going on in it, the people included, and what that photo means to you. After you have written this, ask yourself if you can fit this description (or part of it) into your story.
  • Pull out your old journals. Read a few journal entries surrounding the time or event you’re writing about. What do they tell you about what was going on in your life at the time? What themes emerge? Did you write down any profound thoughts or ideas? Could those be included in some way into your memoir?
  • Research events during the time period you are writing about. Google the year and timeline, I.e. “1989 timeline.” The events listed on the timeline may kickstart some ideas.
  • Write about what you remember. Finish the sentence, “I remember…,” over and over again. Don’t worry about whether anything fits. Just write what you remember.
  • Write what you don’t remember. Finish the sentence, “I don’t remember…,” over and over again.
  • Write in general terms about the reason you writing your story. It doesn’t matter whether or where this fits into your memoir; pieces of what you discover can be integrated into your story.
  • Use other techniques as described in my Journaling for Memoir blog posts.

What about you? Have other ideas worked for you? The more, the better. Please share in the comments section below.


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5 thoughts on “How to Keep Writing When the Going Gets Rough

  • sara etgen-baker

    Such practical and sincere advise. Thanks, Amber.
    The best thing I can do is sit down in the chair at my scheduled time and do something that moves my memoir forward. So true, so true.

    I’ve also used many of the techniques you mentioned. The ones that work best for me are looking through old photos and researching the time period.

    What also works for me is actually re-visiting the places where the memoir took place. I can physically do this, for I still live relatively close to where I spent most of my childhood. If I can’t actually go to those places, I re-visit them in my mind. I close my eyes, walk down the streets, ride my bike, play with my friends, listen to conversations, breath in the air and the smells, and listen for the sounds. Doing so evokes emotions and triggers memories galore. I write down what comes even if it’s not flowing or clear…it all leads to something in the end.
    I remind myself that writing memoir is not a linear experience. It is an emotional one. And I love it!

  • Patsy Ann Taylor

    The “I don’t remember” line was one of the first prompts I was introduced to when I started writing poetry. That was years ago, and I still use it to jog my memory for the details I thought I DIDN’T remember. Of course, the opposite: “I remember” works equally well.
    Another prompt I like is to “discover” the things left in a character’s trunk in the attic. This works with fiction or memoir. The trunk may not exist, but the contents do.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Patsy, I like your idea about the trunk. With memoir or writing about family members, we could also use the character’s closet, furnishings, bookshelves — anything that would help flesh out the person’s interests and personality.

  • Maya L.

    Thanks for these suggestions, Amber. I like the “I remember…” and “I don’t remember” statements. I’ll try them when I get stuck.