“My mother cried over all the men in her life.
I am in the Blue Flame. a dive bar in Onset, Massachusetts, carefully folding a dollar bill. This bar’s okay because the bartender’s nice and there’s a good jukebox. Right now it’s playing ‘Fire’ by the Ohio Players, which is one of the first 45s I ever bought. It’s still pretty early, so the smoke isn’t too bad. Still, whenever I need to inhale deeply, I bring a napkin to my mouth, breathe through it. I’m in sixth grade, eleven years old. I do not want to get cancer.”
This is the opening to Chapter 2 in my last book, Love Junkie: A Memoir.
When I was a kid, my mother used to take me to bars. I was a diligent kid, headstrong, so I did my homework there, ate Slim Jims, and distributed out hand-drawn No Smoking signs to patrons. My mother went to the bars to pick up men.
All I wanted was for my mother to love me. To get me dinner, make sure I did my homework — pay attention.
I wasn’t aware of all this maybe, then — but it was the undercurrent.
In this scene, while I’m doodling and driving other customers crazy, my mother’s flirting with a man.
Then she pulls out a cartoon I drew of her, which shows her overweight with a beer bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other. And she says,
“Look what my daughter thinks of me.”
She didn’t understand, I’d drawn it to help her see. To help her shape up. Step up. Take care of herself.
Spend more time with me.
So there is a moment in this chapter, the pivotal slowed-down moment, when I describe this:
“I glance over and see tears sliding down my mother’s face. This makes me feel sick. I’d like to wrap my arms around her, hold her and have her hold me. I miss that, but she’s so far away, and I know from years of seeing it that she wants the arms of a man.”
Every time I read this short passage on the page — or read it out loud for an audience, it makes me tear up. Not fall apart. But it moves me.
Because it’s true.
And painful. Vulnerable. And full of yearning.
Do you have one moment like that in your personal story? One moment where the world cracks open, and your heart burns through?
As I’ve said before, If you want to move others — you have to move yourself first.
Perhaps this example will help illustrate what I mean. Because I have a feeling, if I’ve done my job, you might feel something from reading even this excerpt.
When I wrote my memoir, I focused on the recent past. All the romantic relationships that had crashed and burned.
Since memoir is about taking responsibility, exploring an emotional journey — the attention is on the protagonist. The hero or heroine.
It’s not about pointing the finger.
Though sometimes, pointing the finger at yourself can go overboard too.
Friends read the sections and suggested that I was being harsh with the character of Rachel. The twentysomething and thirtysometing Rachel.
They suggested I write about Rachel as a child. That maybe that way, I’d find my way back to compassion.
(NOTE: When you are writing memoir, or personal stories, you write in first person. AND, that first person — is NOT YOU! This is a bit of a tricky concept. And, if you get it — it will improve your writing and improve your approach to business too.
For example, when I write “I” above, that is “I” at age 11. I am no longer 11. So I am time traveling. I am returning to a memory. I am revisiting that memory. That moment in time, and space. I am reliving it. And I am RE-IMAGINING IT.
The latter is where fictional technique comes into play. You don’t lie. You re-imagine in service of capturing the vividness and essential truth of something.
Then, when you talk about it, you talk about “Rachel” in the third person. Because she is a character! She is now starring in a story. Your story.
Does this make sense? It’s really profound. And — liberating. This concept will help you sort out lots of business issues as well as writing!
If you have questions, zap me an email or post in comments. Or hopefully, you will have an A Ha!)
I blamed myself for a lot in my childhood. In writing that last memoir, I found a way to feeling compassion for myself. This was something new.
This can happen even when you write short pieces. Even when you identify and write your Signature Story.
This is what happened to a current star client of mine, Diana M. Needham.
When we started working together a few months ago, Diana didn’t think she had any stories to share. Then I started asking questions, and she started telling some of her background — and together we began to see the grand narrative of her life. Her own remarkable heroine’s journey. The courage. The resilience. And the sweetness of that young Diana. That shy Diana who also grew up in a chaotic household, and who found joy, hope and encouragement in school, as I did.
My kickass business coach, Suzanne Evans — a helluva storyteller herself (with a book forthcoming February 18th called The Way You Do Anything Is The Way You Do Everything: The WHY of Why Your Business Isn’t Making More Money — stay tuned for an exclusive interview with her!) — says this is the biggest problem most entrepreneurs have:
They don’t know who they are.
Do you know who you are?
Finding and writing your Signature Story will show you who you are.
And your business will soar because of it.
As I’ve said repeatedly, your expertise is no longer enough.
You must now emotionally engage and entertain your clients and prospects.
That requires story. Personal story.
Otherwise known as memoir.
If you are interested in learning more, check out the brilliant business coach and former client Pierrette Raymond’s upcoming telesummit, “Your Best Year Yet.” I am honored to be part of this telesummit. My interview is the first! Because story is fundamental to your business foundation. It airs December 9th. Here is the link:
The cool thing about this telesummit is each interviewee played a part in Pierrette’s journey through the Hell Yeah Star program. Yes, she was in it too! In her case, I helped her during the book-writing process. We dug down and found her signature story. She added it into her book. AND used it to open her stage presentations. If you’ve heard Popsicle Moments, you’ll never forget it.
The other people featured are her speech coach, a products expert, an online course instructor, a book publisher, and more. So the whole telesummit is structure to reflect Pierrette’s own journey. With all the experts who helped her along the way. Pretty groovy.
If you sign up, you’ll also get a bonus. The Power-Punch of the Personal Story: 5 Fast Ways to Identify, Design and Share Your Signature Story for More Emotional Engagement, More Entertainment — and More Money. I created this report exclusively for Pierrette, her telesummit, and the participants.
Here’s the link again, if you’re inspired:
And now, I leave you with a writing exercise:
Pick a vivid memory from childhood. Write that memory in 1st person, present tense. Write it as if you are that age again. Fully inhabit that body, that brain — that space and time. Then write the memory as if it were happening right then. Again. You know the truth of it. And, you might not remember it all. You are allowed to fill in details — not lie — just add in sensory details that make the memory come to life.
Let us know how this goes! And remember — this is not idle work for entrepreneurs. As Suzanne says, in business, “Story is context for a message.” Once you write a bang-up story — YOUR story, your Signature Story that can only be yours — you can then anchor it in a message you want to share.
And there, my friends, is the beauty, power and relevance of memoir writing to your success.
It’s December. We are hurtling toward January. A new year. Why don’t we make it the best year yet? Add personal story into your business and watch it soar.
We’d love to hear your comments, response, and questions. Also your memories! Feel free to post. Join the conversation! We’re here to support you.
Yrs in truth,