Writing a Memoir in Times of Chaos

A few posts ago I officially put my memoir on hold because I felt it was too hard to write a personal memoir about injury and recovery while the collective world was in the middle of a pandemic (COVID-19). Then several weeks ago the murder of George Floyd prompted riots, protests, and discussions of systemic racism. So, my little Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and coma memoir felt even more insignificant. However, as someone who has been an amateur writer my whole life, after the initial shock wore off of the onslaught of chaos the world is experiencing, I felt like writing again.

So what’s a good balance between selfishly writing about yourself and being a responsible citizen of the world? As someone actively writing her memoir again, I thought I’d explore that question this week.

As was indicated by my statement that “I felt like writing again, ” I have written a little bit more in my memoir. I’ve written enough lately to say that I’m actively writing my memoir again. However, I can’t help but feel guilty for focusing on myself and my story when every time I read the news on the Internet, newspaper, or watch it on TV, I am struck by all the stories unfolding of other people and their struggles and stories that are actively happening. And here I am dwelling on the past by writing my memoir. Needless to say that I feel guilty. And self-indulgent. So as you can see, I’m relatively conflicted about committing time to what I see as a somewhat selfish pursuit: writing my memoir. Yet, realistically I know that I’m not harming anything by writing my memoir during times of chaos. Even so, I still want to do so responsibly (without being ignorant of others’ stories and current events).

One of the ways I am being a responsible memoirist is by reading and watching a lot on other experiences (specifically the black American experience and those affected by COVID-19). I will write more about the books I’m reading and have read in my first post of July (my scheduled book review post). Reading about other experiences different than my own is helping to both inform me on those experiences but it also helps strengthen my own writing voice as a memoirist. I can’t tell you how many times I have paused reading something to make a note to myself on a topic or story I want to include in my memoir that was inspired by what I was reading.

And because my reading has inspired me to remember and write stories about my past, that is what’s caused me to begin writing my memoir again. Actively after a brief pause. Therefore, I have a new word count for my memoir and I’m officially moving forward in writing it again.

My new word count for my memoir is as mentioned in the graphic above (53,207 words). And I plan to continue writing with more drive and direction than I’ve had since I put my memoir on hold at the start of COVID-19 really hitting the United States. As an aspiring published writer I don’t really want to pause any longer or stop writing all together. So, this brings me to another question about writing a memoir during chaotic times in society: What do you do? Acknowledge the chaos or ignore it?

My approach right now is to acknowledge the chaos. I have written a small part in my memoir about COVID-19 and I will write about the current climate with race. However, those two things aren’t really tied to the central story of my memoir which is still very much my brain injury story. I’m lucky that I can write in-depth about my brain injury without centering on racism or race and without centering on COVID-19. That brings me to a sense of guilt I am having about still writing a memoir amidst all the chaos of the world. (This essay, as you can see, is really me working through many layers of guilt.)

Memoir at its core is a bit of a navel-gazing artform. And by navel-gazing, I mean self-indulgent introspection. It’s a little hard to justify continuing to ruminate about my life when there are millions of stories and lives happening that are a little more relevant to current events. Once I had this thought I then fell down a rabbit hole 🐇 🕳️ of thoughts about how one continues writing their story when so many other stories are out there needing to be told. Not that I am the one to write or tell those stories but what makes my story important? (See. Another layer of guilt.)

Before I could fall further down that rabbit hole of thought (and guilt) I pulled myself out of it by looking for a fun picture to illustrate navel-gazing for this blog. The picture below is what I found (I edited it slightly to make it family-friendly).

Picture originally from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphaloskepsis

Nothing like some naked Greek statues to bring you out of a funk (it worked for me since I have the emotional maturity of a prepubescent boy/girl).

After doing a little thinking and research (because that’s what I DO), I realized that the world is in fact always going to be chaotic in some way. Just because it starts to calm down for one society and one person or group of people doesn’t mean that the world is, in fact, calm. It was naive of me to think calmness would come back to the world and things (and my writing) could proceed as normal. So I need to figure out how to write in the midst of chaos. I went to the Internet to see what others have done and found various things. The first was a blog post by writer and writing coach Ann Kroeker about how to “Write in the middle of chaos.” Kroeker writes about being a caregiver to her elderly father when they were moving him from his own home to that of a care facility. She developed a list to help her write and work during this chaotic time in her life. Her list is more about working and writing during a period of personal chaos rather than global. However, I think her tips work on many levels. Especially when she says to adjust expectations about what you will accomplish and when. As readers of this blog know, I have a pattern of setting high expectations for myself and not always meeting them (writing and finishing a memoir in a month, a completed short story every month, etc.). So I need to take heed of this advice in normal times as well! Kroeker writes a series on her blog called “Write in the Middle of…” and she writes about how to still write in the middle of various chaotic life events or periods (e.g. motherhood, traveling, holidays, etc.). She also writes more recently about how to write during the current global pandemic of COVID-19. Her suggestion is to write a journal. My blog is kind of confessional so it almost works like a journal but keeping daily track of events in a more traditional journal would be good for me. Good advice!

I think what I’ve realized in writing this post is that I just need to get out of my own head (ironic since I am writing a memoir on brain injury) and just WRITE!

A Doggy Conclusion

Both @selbysweetie (my dog) and @bellajocavalier (my sister’s dog) spent time with me at our lake cabin. It was our first time at the cabin this summer and it felt good to get back to something we had done before COVID-19. Because if you can do anything well at the lake cabin, it’s social distancing! Selby loves to be with her cousin Bella and Bella is a very good sport about tolerating Selby. I will conclude this post where I sorted through layers of guilt with a cute picture of these adorable pups who will always provide levity in any situation.

@bellajocavalier and @selbysweetie enjoying/tolerating each other.

6 thoughts on “Writing a Memoir in Times of Chaos

  1. I too am writing a memoir, and am about as far along as you are. I agree that for a long time COVID paralyzed me. I did write two personal essays, but it was hard to get back to the book until the Georg Floyd murder. Now I am bursting at the seams again. So whatever it takes to get the creativity going take advantage!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good job on your progress on your memoir! How much more do you think you have to write? I’m not sure myself. I need to go through what I have and my outline and organize!


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