Memoir: Honor the Person You Used to Be

by Laura Lentz

When we write our stories and memoirs, we often must dive into the person we used to be to make it come to life.   I remember writing in a poem to a lover –  Love all of me, put your hands on the young woman I used to be.

Often when writing our stories, we have to pull up grief, we have to pull up past bad behaviors or things people said to us that may have been hurtful – but at the end of the day we have to put the person we used to be down.  It’s important to put her down because we are a writer creating a craft of a story.  Becoming the person we are writing about doesn’t help, but hinders the creative process.

I’m working on my book Twenty-one Men about sleeping with many men while grieving for my dead boyfriend when I was 23.  I’m not that person anymore, yet I’m able to go back and give her more texture, understand her behaviors in ways I could not understand when my grief was unfolding through my body.

Am I that person now?  Part of that promiscuous girl will always live inside me, but I have distanced myself from her enough to write a book about her.  I don’t need to bring my young self to life to call back the stories.

When we are writing our stories, we don’t have to become those stories again.  Having distance gives us the clarity we are seeking and fuels the creative process, and it often helps when writing difficult stories, to get therapeutic support.

It’s important to remember the book is not you, it’s a part of you. Everything in your life is pouring into it, including the current version of you who is able to look back with the lens of a person who has been forever altered.

A professional writer can distance themselves from the person they used to be and not judge or shame themselves for their past. They can look into the window of their life with curiosity, empathy and love, and when they put down their story, they can gently close that window on the person they used to be with perspective and wisdom.

There is no reason to become your former self by taking on old behaviors for the sake of art.

Writer Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Hands Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Philip Brautigam
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