On Writing Memoir: Voice Versus Ego

If someone approaches you with boxing gloves, do you take the first punch? If not, do you put up a defense or duck to protect yourself from the blow heading right towards you? If the ego is attacked or threatened, it will always fight back. But you are not the ego, so why do you fight so hard to protect something which only exists in your mind.


Recently, I've felt a lot of challenges concerning the ego. What I've realized is this:


I'm not completely free from the ego because I still use words like "I," "mine," and "me."


But don't we all?


Today I decided to try and loosen my grip on those three little words that cause so many problems. Instead of saying, "I wrote a book about my life," I've decided to try "I wrote a book about life." What a difference!


It started with a phone call from my editor. It was a good phone call full of great feedback and constructive criticism. Some of this criticism would have been hard to take had I not decided to drop the word "I. But in the end, I suppose, it was a lost cause because I stood up for my voice. I wanted my voice, which I felt might have been lost a bit in the editing process, to be heard.


It's hard to tell our own stories and not be attached to the story we are telling, especially if it is the story of our lives. Even though I stood up for my voice, I'm learning to see the writing I am doing from different angles and different perspectives. I think this is important and I also think there is validity in much of the criticism we receive if we'd just LISTEN and get beyond this "I."


The irony of it all is that much of the story I am telling in my book is about learning to listen to the "voice" inside of you (and me) and to follow it. I think that this voice inside is very different from the ego. The voice inside knows much more than the ego we try so hard to protect and the images of ourselves that we create in our own minds and the minds of others.


The voice inside of you is very wise. It doesn't care about "how you look" to others. It is not interested in keeping up with appearances. In fact, when you choose to follow your inner voice or inner wisdom, you may feel like your outer world is falling apart. This is because your ego is fighting to survive. It doesn't feel comfortable with the changes going on inside you. It doesn't want to give up or lose its "shininess" or "good standing" on the outside.


But believe me, if you choose to follow that inner voice or inner wisdom and loosen up on the ego or the "I" a bit, you'll find that there's nothing to lose and EVERYTHING to gain.


Also posted on my blog Lessons from the Monk I Married. My book, by the same title, will be published by Seal Press Spring 2012.

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  • Katherine Jenkins

    Carolyn-I'd be honored to be listed in your collection of quotes by memoir authors. Yes, Jennifer and I are both Seal Press authors! Mine will be published spring 2012! Love the quotes and I'd be happy to be included in your list. PS-My blog, which has over 365 lessons on it, has many quotable quotes! (Not sure if that's my ego speaking or my inner voice ^_^!) Peace to you, Katherine

  • Carolyn Barbre

    Thanks for shaing Katherine.

    My ego finds it very helpful for me to collect quotes from other memoir writers like the three following which just happen to be the last three collected. Something you've written here may be next. It's interesting to note that both you and Jennifer Lauck are published by Seal Press.

    Years later I am still humbled by the courage of these wordsmith warriors, these women who left everyone and everything they knew to travel to a place where they might once again know themselves—women who are willing to share the most personal and tragic parts of their lives without promise of restored wholeness or the return of that which is missing or taken away.
    poet Nikki Williams in Poets & Writers, March 2011,
    regarding poetry workshops for battered women

    Memoir is, at its best, the heroic journey of a writer courageous enough to walk, fall and even crawl toward understanding on the page. –Jennifer Lauckon SheWrites

    We’re created by home, by family, by place, by ancestors, by political climate, by cultural era, as well as by personal failures … and by how often, and how obsessively, we look back and examine it all—or—because of all those factors, “growing up” is a lifelong journey.
    --Cris Mazza, Indigenous: Growing up in California