Memoir writing is deep work. Opening doors to the past can suck you back into old beliefs, behaviors, and emotions. Physical, mental, and spiritual self-care is essential.
While there are some light-hearted memoirs out there, most memoirs contain stories of challenges and resolutions, adversity and eventual triumph. The paths traveled in memoir are often dark and dangerous, and digging deeply into those memories can be like shining a light into the chasms and crevices of a cave. You're not really sure what'll creep out, or what it might do to you.
Since the point of writing memoir instead of fiction is to be honest and authentic, we need to go to these chasms to extract their value, but that doesn't mean that we need to, or should, venture in there unprepared.
If you're planning to write memoir, or engage in any form of life writing, consider creating a plan of action to nurture yourself holistically, meaning physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Here are a few tips to help you do that.
1. Take conscious breaks. Some of my clients prefer to write in long time chunks, but there's no reason for you to immerse yourself in that intensity for hours on end if that's not how you work best. Check in with yourself periodically. Set a timer to chime every hour, if necessary. Take stock of how you feel. If you need a break, step away from the computer or notebook and do something completely unrelated. Do something that brings you into the present, perhaps involving movement or working with your hands.
2. Catch and release. As you're writing and remembering, allow yourself to feel the emotions that arise. Old emotions may feel new and powerful again as you relive the experiences they're associated with. Feeling emotions is healthy, but remember to let them go once they've yielded up their treasures. We can do this by moving our attention out of our heads, away from our thoughts, and bringing it down into our bodies. We can feel the energy of the emotions, then consciously relax and allow the energy to dissipate.
3. Find your power place or vortex. What refreshes you? Renews you? Brings you joy? It may not be just one thing. In fact, it's better if you have several. It may not even be a place, but an activity. It might be playing with your dog, crocheting, sitting in nature, dancing, meditating, listening to or playing music, or taking a bubble bath. Whatever works for you, plan to go to these places and indulge in these activities frequently while working on your memoir. Know what gives you energy, and keeps you on an even keel, so that you can return and dive back into that deep work.
4. Tend to the basics. If you don't already, plan to maintain a healthy lifestyle for the duration of your writing journey. Eat fresh, nutritious foods. Keep yourself well-hydrated. Exercise daily and get up frequently—from your desk or wherever you do your writing—to stretch and do some deep breathing. A healthy lifestyle supports a healthy body and brain, and you need both to do this work. Nutrition and exercise don't just affect our physical health; they affect our mood, clarity, energy, and ability to handle stress.
5. Recruit a support network. Book coaches generally recommend not showing your emerging manuscript to anyone, but that doesn't mean that you can't confide in someone during your writing process. Whether friend, family member, or coach, it's a good idea to choose someone who will listen compassionately and without judgement. Things will come up: old wounds, doubts, fears, and other negative thoughts. You'll also make discoveries, laugh and cry, and likely experience both trepidation and liberation. Have someone with whom to share it all in easy reach.