Telling the Truth about your Life

“The telling of your stories is a revolutionary act.”

–Sam Keen, writer

In a world where we are constantly being bombarded with subtle–and not so subtle–messages about who we ought to be, it is a bold statement to take a stand for personal authenticity.

One of the most transformative statements an individual can make is to tell his/her story with honesty and objectivity. At its best, this is what a memoir is–a statement that declares “this is who I am, who I think of myself as being.”

Lest you think that telling the truth is only about revealing scandals and unmasking abuses, let me assure you that it is more often about smaller issues, issues more within the realm of the everyday experience. Perhaps you were never ambitious of worldly success. This has embarrassed you but you would like to make a statement for another set of values other than financial success. Or, perhaps you have been attracted to people of your own gender and would like to bear witness to that but still fear repercussions. Or, perhaps you were a parent but, if the truth be told, you and your children might have been better off if you had not parented. As you can see, “telling the truth” need not be earth shattering, but it is about incredibly essential features of ourselves.

The daring part of this “telling the truth” work occurs strongly at the beginning of the writing–when the “juices are flowing.” It is then that you ask, “Do I dare say this?” You get nervous and feel yourself sweat. You get up from the computer many times and can’t believe that you are actually writing what you are writing. But, you persevere and later the piece of writing becomes one you work and rework and the fear of telling the truth seems to diminish, to be come less visceral.

Later, however, as you make your writing public–i.e., publish it or share it with others, you tremble at the boldness once again of telling the truth of your life, the truth that may not be consonant with norms of society or family expectations. Others–an audience you both craved and did not know would be so intimidating–will now judge you. You fear this audience will not only judge your choices but your very essence as a person.

This moment of judgement is, more than any other time I believe, when writers fear being found insignificant.

But, if insignificance there be, I say–and I hope you will too–“Let it be MY insignificance! Let me stand proudly for who I am.”

Therein lies the challenge of telling the truth. It can revolutionize your life by placing you at its center. Not a bad place to be at all! 

Your task this week: write a story that is scary for you to write. Tell yourself, for the moment, you are writing only for yourself and it’s alright if no one else ever sees that story.

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About Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux began helping people to turn their memories into memoirs in 1988. Denis was named Lifewriting Professional of the Year by the Association of Personal Historians in 1996. Today, Denis is a writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir-writing coach, editor and publisher. He directs The Memoir Network, an international group of memoir professionals who use his method and materials to help people write lifestories. Denis also offers writing tele-classes and leads memoir writing tele-groups.
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2 Responses to Telling the Truth about your Life

  1. An excellent entry Denis and one I agree with entirely.
    Those stories that may reduce our respect or acceptance withing the norms of an unforgiving society can be extremely difficult to write. Those things that happened to us that were outside our control that we need to face can be just as daunting. I have written some of these and I have found it to be very therapeutic. It is best to write them for yourself at first and, as you reach acceptance of your self and your experiences, you will find it easier to share with others.

  2. Denis, this issue is at the heart of memoir. When I was writing Green Rider, Thinking Horse, I wrestled with the truth about horse racing and the training these animals are subjected to. I was challenged to be truthful without being hurtful. I hope I did it, but there is a difference, isn’t there, between memoir and expose.

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