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Controlling your fear

Thomas Keneally says that, ‘Writing is an exercise in controlling your fear. Above all the fear that you are not a writer.’ This is another way of saying that we all have to write with an inner critic looking over our shoulder, telling us that what we are writing is no good.

If you are a memoir writer, this inner critic is often a version of someone in your family or immediate circle of friends/colleagues. That person may scream relentlessly about how you are violating other people’s privacy, offending people you love etc. etc.

Fear of this particularly nasty and personal kind of critic is the making of many a bad memoir. How often do you read a memoir when you think, ‘Well, that writer seems to have skirted round the most interesting bit of the story ….’

Consider this quote by Alexandra Fuller, ‘I think that women have to stop asking for permission to tell their stories.’ This applies equally to men. We all have a right to tell our stories but we sometimes need to do some work in order to take full possession of this fact.

Just to be clear, I am not telling you that you never have to think of other people’s feelings when writing a memoir. What I am telling you is that you must sort out in your mind the difference between self-censorship and editing.

Self-censorship is a failure of nerve. Editing happens late in the writing process and is a legitimate and considered decision about what to put in and what to leave out.

First write without any self-censorship, edit only after you have really said everything you want to say, no matter how controversial or unpopular it might be.

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