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The Memoir’s Myth of Self-Indulgence


Pain points for my author clients are time, accountability, consistency and pure exhaustion. They occasionally have a moment where they doubt the writing is any good, but for the most part, they are confident in their writing.  They don’t have any time to not be. I have been told I am like a “nice drill sergeant” in the 90 days they write their first draft with me. I have been equated to the Jillian Michaels of book coaching (trainer on The Biggest Loser).  One client told me, “Writing the first draft is like taking a big hard poop.” Another client confessed, “The crazy thing I kept thinking as I wrote was I paid you a lot of money for this torture.”

When it comes to writing your memoir, you have spent a lifetime living this life, knowing this story or variations of this story, and have vomited it onto the page. Now the first draft is complete.  You are full of glee, anger, elation, healing, revelation, mission, purpose and poise. You envision masses of people reading your book, drawn in, captivated by what you experienced and how they relate.

Then you realize, “Oh my God, people are going to read this.” What was a chapter a week writing program in a sheltered and safe environment now becomes a seamless, alive wriggling creature of verse. As the printer chugs out page after page, in this modicum of time you start to think, “What have I done?”

A pang in your gut indicates that perhaps this whole exercise of memoir writing has been self-indulgent. You think you are far more interesting than anyone else ever will. No one is going to take precious time to read your drivel.   As the printer hums on, your pang turns into a sinking feeling that your book has no audience.  You are about to pay an editor for a line edit, or developmental notes. Spending more money on your self centered crap. How much time was already spent on this book business already? All the months of writing – confidence, purpose, a vision to share with the world, your story, your life – comes crashing to a halt when a voice comes in and says, “Who gives a shit?”

I wish I could give it more eloquence but inner critics that want to derail you are pretty uncouth and limited in the English language. Funny, considering they are the inner critic of a writer. Mine is some townie from New England that is embittered and wants me to play small. Dirty faced and sooty, my inner critic can also be a neglected child pitching a fit. I have to soothe these voices and not give any power to them and realize… this is all just part of the process.

If while writing your memoir you had even just one miraculous moment of belief this story needed to be written for others, that is the magic you want to hold on to. That is what gives you greatness. There is where the success lies. A little seed. Not a big power play. Your book needs to be told for others to heal, enjoy, to adapt to a movie, a play, initiate great causes…  Printing it out and asking others to read it, and paying for professional opinions, is just another adult stage of being a confident writer. The people who give you feedback will offer you a new perspective and perhaps point out areas that could be a little smidge, self-indulgent. Here’s a kinder way to say it… we don’t always have to tell every detail of a story to have the most impact.

So take your printed memoir, all one pound of paper (I love old school printing so I can hold it en mass in my hands) or your electronic file and in a heart-sinking moment of fearful self indulgent doubt, send that courageous bold first draft to the next phase of the book’s life. Hopefully a very wise friend who can give constructive feedback or a paid professional editor or a publisher.

Don’t let the myth of self-indulgence kill your memoir before it is given life. That is self-indulgence at its best.



Kim O'Hara

About Kim O'Hara

Prior to launching her business A Story Inside as a book and story coach, Kim spent her adult life as a producer and screenwriter of independent film, developing countless projects from script to screen. On the never-ending quest to know more about writers and writing, she has taken short fiction, satire and screenwriting classes at UCLA, Stanford Writers’ Lab and San Jose State. To hone her skills in comedy and collaboration, she survived an Improv Intensive at IO West. She was also the Editor of a prominent food journal, charged with the task of making subjects like antibiotics in meat a riveting read. She is passionate about intuitively and mindfully connecting women entrepreneurs to their hidden greatness and help them achieve their unrealized dream to write a book. Her children are the root of her existence, her true teachers.