Dreamer: First Know Thyself

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I wrote a story once, about finding my birth mother that ran first in the S.F. Chronicle, with a slightly less humorous version running in Glamour Magazine shortly thereafter.

It was a two payday story because it was that interesting — and funny.

It worked because I let go of how I sounded in the story and just told it straight with warts, flubs and unintended consequences included.

The universe was very plainly rewarding me for writing from the heart, albeit a somewhat charred heart.

The double success also proved an old writing maxim: that which is most personal is most universal.

The one thing you want to keep under wraps is very likely the match that can fuel inspired writing.

For example, my friend Eileen Mitchell, who writes about her dog Elvis (and other critters) for the S. F. Chronicle http://www.sfgate.com/columns/pettales/archive, once wrote a piece about her biggest vacation worry — where to go to the bathroom. She sank to the depths of her personal fears pondering the elusiveness of porcelain facilities in foreign countries.

What if she couldn’t read the language? What if you needed a token? What if the facilities were dirty or worse — unisex?

Her readers confirmed that her voice — and worries — was authentic and universal.

Writing in your own authentic voice requires ruthless self-assessment.

Comparing how you felt about a topic decade by decade can be illuminating. Recently I took two sheets of paper and compared my mother’s life to mine decade by decade.

From age one to ten I had lived a pretty normal life up until my mother started shopping for her next husband. My mother’s first decade included an alcoholic mother who brought men to the house, being kidnapped from grammar school and moving to San Francisco with a dipsomaniac in free-fall.

From age 10 to 20, I caught up to my mother’s experiences in many respects, while her own teen years included grueling instability and abuse until she worked up the nerve to put her own mother in a sanitarium and married my dad.

Scribbling notes I continued working decade by decade, comparing our two lives.

That little self-awareness exercise helped me realize that my mother and I had so much in common it was strange that we never aligned as a team.

But it’s kind of like realizing that you came this close to being Warren Jeff’s tenth wife, or Ed Gein’s twin. It might have made sense to join forces but thank goodness suspicion, anger or free will helped repell each of us from the other.

Readers in search of authenticity can practically smell it on the page.

When I’m reading a memoir I’m like a shark in horn rim glasses trolling for jagged and bloody bits floating in front of my nose. That’s why telling your story requires self knowledge.

Start with the truth, add your real responses, crazy impulses and guilt then excise the fear of looking bad or stupid. Resist the urge to clean it up, to simplify.

Then you just might have something worth reading.

Until next Sunday readers, be as kind as you can to your mothers, while being kindest to yourself.

Rayne Wolfe’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2011. She completed her dream journey May of 2011 on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.

  • “The double success also proved an old writing maxim: that which is most personal is most universal.

    “The one thing you want to keep under wraps is very likely the match that can fuel inspired writing.”

    Rayne, SO true – I do find that when I am afraid to press “publish” that is most often when I hit a nerve with other readers. Being authentic and raw and real resonates with readers.

    It was such a joy to meet you – thanks for hosting us :) I love reading your writing each week and anxiously anticipate your memoir… Looking forward to following the journey and cheering you on here!


    p.s. loved your pups too! :)

  • Remy G

    Rayne, I think it would be harder to be inauthentic – even if it means feeling raw… I look forward to reading your blog every week. Welcome to 8wd! Rem

  • Toni Schram

    People love writers who lay it bare naked with raw emotion
    and truth. It gives them someone to root for.

    I will be one of your biggest cheerleaders, Rayne.


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  • Catherine, Site Admin

    Your writing is like hearing a wise voice in my head. I love the way you write.

    I was told once by an agent that if I didn’t feel fear when I hit the publish button when sending my writings out in to the world, then I am not writing authentically from my heart, and people will ignore my writing.

    Writing authentically is not for the faint at heart.

    Great post – Happy Easter.