I began work on a new memoir essay over the past winter. Cold dark mornings are conducive to introspection. I’d make my 6 am cup of hot water and lemon, then pad downstairs and start the fireplace. Cozied up on the sofa with an artist pad and an assortment of colourful pens, I’d stare into space and take a deep breath. What did I need unearth and grow from?

My first plunge into a new essay begins with a brainstorming of ideas I’d like to explore through my personal history, introspections gained over time, and unresolved business. Like everyone else, I’m still figuring out life. And that’s okay. The road to understanding oneself is where the best stuff comes from.

Now that my ideas have sat for months—not dormant, but composting into something rich—the next phase of writing begins. It’s time to pry open the uncomfortable bits that evoke memories and feelings. What meaning can I make from those? Once every stone is turned over, I’ll write the first draft which contains everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink. This draft is for me. It’s where I learn things about myself, heal hidden wounds and evolve further as a human being.

But a finished memoir is for the reader. In exchange for their attention, the writer promises illumination and a fed spirit. Hence all traces of navel gazing and complaint must be shed. Through subsequent drafts, there will be a thread—the ultimate story I’ll tell. I need to pull that thread and let everything fall apart. Then I’ll put it back together again. That’s where the magic lies.

[Mark your calendar: Memoir Writing Workshop (online) with Gwen Tuinman, July 14 2020 at 7 pm. Click here for details.]