Growing up, I lived a double life. On the face of it, we seemed like a normal, happy family: My father had an important career. We lived in nice houses and wore pretty clothes. But all this seeming perfection was a veneer, a façade, for the other life. It masked the reality that my father sexually molested me, a reality never spoken aloud either in our house or in public.
Before I began to write about my childhood, I didn’t understand this double life or the devastation it caused. Instead, for years, the past appeared in my mind’s eye like faded black-and-white photographs, in which no one, especially me, seemed to be fully alive.
Then, I started putting words on the page. Finally, I chose to examine my past. Finally, it was more a relief to write my life than to ignore it, a relief to develop a clear focus and vision.
I’ve been asked: Isn’t it painful to write about the past, all those scary childhood memories?
Yes, writing about pain was painful—but it was also a profound relief. With every word the pain lessened. It was as if I extracted it, one word at a time.
Most memoirists I know are scared to write their stories. But the point is to write anyway—on your own terms. As you challenge yourself, you’ll feel more courageous every day.
This may sound obvious, but the only way I know to work through difficult material is to do just that—to go through it one word at a time—to bring dark places to light. To skirt a truth, to sidestep it, is to be emotionally vague.
Memoir writing, gathering words onto pieces of paper, helps me reduce a dark place to a manageable size. By discovering plot, arc, theme, and metaphor, I give my life an understandable and clear organization. Memoir creates a narrative, a life story.
Writing my life is a gift I give to myself—and, I hope, to readers. To write is to be constantly reborn. Now, I no longer hide behind a veil of secrets.
After writing my secrets, my life feels lighter. I step into the world more authentically, more honestly alive.
FEARLESS CONFESSIONS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO MEMOIR
University of Georgia Press, paperback
Watch book video trailer on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/csekan
Everyone has a story to tell. “Fearless Confessions” is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper—or in a Web site or e-book. Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers.
Author Sue William Silverman says: “It’s crucial to cultivate the courage to tell one’s truth in the face of forces—from family members to the media—who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts remain silent.”
Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W. W. Norton), is also a Lifetime Television original movie. Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction. She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her most recent book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, published with the University of Georgia Press (video book trailer at http://tinyurl.com/csekan. As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Headline News. For more about Sue, please visit www.suewilliamsilverman.com.