How To Write a Memoir During Lockdown
I’ve been enjoying Twitter these last few weeks. I have found so much sense there, and positivity. Not blind positivity, but a cheeriness, kindness, love and a desire to support one another. Of course we curate our own Twitter feeds by choosing the people we follow. And not that this has inoculated me from the suffering. I wouldn’t want to be hidden from it. I am in a fortunate position living where I do, near the beach in a lovely home, with a husband whose company I enjoy and two rescue dogs we adore. So I want to know what’s really happening in the world and be kind and helpful where I can.
I have seen tonnes, literally tonnes of tweeps swearing they’ll use lockdown time* wisely. For exercise, healthy eating, decluttering, completing, learning something new. And since I follow lots of writers, lots of people are talking about writing projects – starting them and finishing them. This is great. I’m sure lots of people will do the things or at least some of the things they’ve set out to do.
What I’ve also seen is more tonnes and tonnes of people offering advice, guidance, teaching, podcasts, online tutorials, videos and classes, many of them paid for – good for them, shaky times for creatives and freelancers – and loads of freebies too. Also lovely. I pondered if I might do something but, even though I don’t think it of others, I worry that folks might think I was jumping on the bandwagon. Plus I’m luckily very busy with my current batch** of authors, using the phone and Skype etc for our chats, and am mentoring writers individually instead of in person in class. Then, last week, I read this article: A letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future. By Italian novelist Francesca Melandri.
It’s subjective, of course. But these lines really resonated:
“You’ll find dozens of social networking groups with tutorials on how to spend your free time in fruitful ways. You will join them all, then ignore them completely after a few days. You’ll pull apocalyptic literature out of your bookshelves, but will soon find you don’t really feel like reading any of it.” Spot on. I could immediately see why this would be true. I feel that this is not the time for a massive upsurge in motivation. In the last 20 years, I have read more stuff about productivity than I’ve eaten Creme Eggs. Which is a lot. And what I’ve learned is that we can’t make massive drastic changes to the way we are. If we could, then the majority of us would be exactly who we want to be and doing all the stuff we want to do.
And I definitely don’t think that during a pandemic, when we’re anxious about our health, food, money and our nearest and dearest, is a time when we’re naturally inclined to make loads of lasting change and expend more energy. If you’ve read The Chimp Paradox, which is awesome, you’ll know that our inner chimps (our limbic systems) are probably very triggered right now. The chimp’s ONLY job is to ensure our survival and he will use every weapon in his arsenal to stop us expending what he sees as unnecessary energy on, well, anything beyond survival. He doesn’t give a rat’s tiny behind about your productivity. Not that we can’t learn to overrule him. We can, but it takes time, so much time, and practice. My chimp wants me to eat sugary, fatty food and do no exercise. He doesn’t care that if I do the opposite I’ll live longer. He was formed in a time when thighs like mine were a blessing. I’ve worked out some ways to quiet him down but it doesn’t work all the time.
He’ll also try to stop me writing. To him, writing burns valuable brain calories.
So here’s my memoir writing advice for those who are already writing and for those who are thinking of starting:
- Do it if you like
- Don’t do it if you don’t like
- Don’t do it because you feel you have to
- Or because someone else said you should
- Or because you saw someone online who said they were going to
- If you do much less writing than you normally would, don’t worry
- If you do a lot more, great
- If your writing really flows, super
- If it’s nothing more than scribbles on the back of a receipt, also super – both are valid and will get you to where you want to be
- If you do a lot one day then wipe yourself out, rest until you can start again
- If you can’t start again, don’t
All creative projects benefit from periods of rest.
And please, whatever you do, do not write about anything traumatic when you don’t have your usual routines and people around to ground you and help you bring your brain back to the present. Do not dig up anything when access to a therapist or other helpful professional might be limited.
That’s it. Yoda said: “Do or don’t do, there is no try.” I say, “Write or don’t write, there is no pressure.”
So what can you do during this time? Self care. I’ve been using a facial oil from local-to-me Floragy and more regularly moisturising my body after a bath. I’m as slippery as an eel, albeit one scented with Crabtree and Evelyn. My Mum has been doing the same. She’s been indoors for a month now (heroic) and says she looks 10 years younger. My oldest nephew is finding time to cook healthy meals and indulge in his passion of CosPlay. A friend is having more cuddles with her daughter. And doing Frozen-themed yoga. I know, I thought she said frozen yoghurt too.
I hope that when Covid-19 is gone, some of our self-care habits remain. At 44 and a half, I’m old enough to know that some of it will stick, some of it
won’t. I’m patient with myself. It’s taken me more than 20 years to
develop a #yogaeverydamnday practice. If you’d told me that when I set this intention…
But anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s my advice. Your story will be there waiting for you when this is over.
A couple of things to share, I hope they nourish you. My love, Tara Brach, meditation teacher (and so much more) has compiled some beautiful meditations and talks, and even guidelines for a home-retreat for Pandemic Care. It’s free, or you can donate if you can afford to. Tank’s Good News. As it sounds. ALL the joy from around the world. The Good News Movement. As above. More love and upliftment. And my yoga girl, Adriene, who finally got me going. Ey-o, as she would say.
Take care, keep safe and look after each other. Warmest wishes, Marnie
*I acknowledge the people like my youngest niece Symone, a care administrator, and my cousin Susan, a student nurse, and two of my best friends who work with charities, those in need both materially and emotionally, and the millions like them in essential roles who definitely do not have more time as a result of Covid-19. Thank you to you all, and others like you.
**Anyone know the plural for authors?