Editor’s note: Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including her recently released memoir, Atlas Girl. For more info, visit her blog. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.
You know the ones.
The stories that keep you up at night, the ones that have you dog-earing pages and weeping in the margins for all these characters have gone through and you want to sleep but you want to read, more, because here’s the thing: these people are real.
The ones you’re reading about, they’re flesh and blood, and besides a few name changes there’s not much fabricated because it’s memoir.
But the best memoir isn’t just about real people; it’s about the art and the sanctity of storytelling.
All of us have a story
But not all of us have a story that is ready to be published.
Think back to those books you love. What are the elements that make them not only readable, but enjoyable? How do they pull you in and hold you, like a strong pair of arms?
The most memorable and poignant of stories have:
- Relatable characters
- A strong, unique plot
- A powerful, unified message
- A believable journey
- A satisfying ending
Tying these five elements together is the trembling humility of it all—like a long, torn ribbon—knowing that you need to write this because you have the gifts, but not knowing if you want to bare your soul to the world.
If there’s no trembling in your fingertips, if there’s no hesitation, it may be that you want your story out there for the wrong reasons.
It’s valid to want to be seen and heard, but if you’re going into publishing to have those needs met, you will be sorely disappointed. Though many writers may begin that way, the best memoirs cling to the sanctity of the story free of the undue demands of an author’s ego.
Sanctity is found in the calling
You need to ask yourself: Why am I writing this? Is it to fulfill a childhood dream? Is it to pass down my story to future generations? Or is it because I feel called to share my story with the world?
The publishing journey is agonizing and hard and, for most, the rewards are few. There are some who strike it big and this may, in fact, be you — but be sure your motives are pure before heading into the arduous journey of exposing not only your own wounds, but your family’s as well.
I was standing outside by the woodshed one day, my boys playing around me, crying because my family was reading through the second draft of my memoir and they had a lot of changes they wanted me to make, and some hurts they wanted to express.
It’s a healing path, this writing about your life, but it’s a hard one. You will have stones thrown and even if you’re one of the few that makes it big, the journey will be painstaking and lonely.
So, how do you know what to do with your one and only story?
All of our stories matter
But, here’s the thing: Some stories need to be passed on to future generations. Some stories need to be preserved via tape recorder, in a journal or diary, as a keepsake for the family.
What were you put on earth to do? To pour your life into the radical act of living? Or to put words to your living? And where are those words to go? Into the hands of your children? Into the blogosphere? Or out into the world?
We’re all in a rush to be known. Yet, we’ve forgotten we’re already known by one who has counted the very hairs on our heads, and this truth needs to be the heart of all of our stories: this desire to make God known, more than ourselves.
Now that’s a story worth telling.
Today we’re giving away five copies of Emily’s memoir, Atlas Girl. Leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy. ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go towards The Lulu Tree, a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda.
How are you sharing your story? Share in the comments.