Writing Memoir: The Fine Art of Listening to Your Self

Writing, like relationships, takes time and attention to develop. Indeed, both writing and relationships demand that you show up and listen—really listen—to the person you are in relationship with.


Okay, then. But who, exactly, are you in relationship with when you are writing?


When you write memoir, you are deepening your relationship to your Self.


That’s right. Showing up for your writing is no different than showing up for someone you love, except that instead of paying attention to someone else, you turn your attention inward and listen to your Self.


Your Self. That part of you that is benevolent, wise, and knowing. That part of you that sees your material clearly and recognizes its deeper truth. That part of you that believes in—indeed, that knows—your story and wants you to tell it.


But in order to tell your story—to write your memoir—you have to receive it. Not only its surface events, but also its deeper themes, which are essential to writing a memoir of meaning. And this is where the fine art of listening comes in.


Think about the times you have listened, really listened, to someone you care about. What happened? The more you leaned in, stayed present, and paid attention, even when it was difficult to hear the hard stuff the other person had to say, the more she revealed.


Before long she said something unexpected that caught her by surprise, an “aha” that she could not have anticipated. Your listening led her to this new insight or discovery. Your paying attention brought this gem of new knowing to the light of consciousness and raised her awareness about the thing she needed to say.


When you write memoir, you tune in to your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind speaks to you in a language of images, memories, and details. It reveals your story through metaphors, patterns, and associations. Writing becomes an act of listening to your Self as you capture these images on the page. The deeper you listen and the more you stay present with your Self as you write, the more your subconscious mind reveals. Until—aha!—a gem of new knowing you could not have anticipated arrives on the page.


Suddenly your memoir takes a turn toward insight and wisdom.


In that magical, transformative moment you understand your material in a way you hadn’t before. You see your Self through new eyes—what I like to call your “true eyes”—and with this new vision you make sense of your story for yourself and for your reader.


The result? Writing that raises your story to an artistic expression. Writing that deepens your relationship with your Self.


So the next time you find yourself in a struggle with your writing, remember that writing is an act of listening to your Self, of leaning in and staying present, of hearing what you have to say even when what you have to say is hard to hear.


You know how to do this. Of course you do. You’ve done it for others countless times. Now it’s your turn. Go on, pick up your pen or sit down at your computer and practice the fine art of listening. Only this time tune your ear inward. Your story is speaking to you. Hear it? Those images arriving on the page contain your deepest, truest Self.


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  • Susan July 9, 2014   Reply →

    Oh, Marilyn, I wish I could’ve taken your class this time! Many words of wisdom in your post. I struggle with opening the space to go just that bit deeper … it’s not an emotional concern (very often) but more one of allowing the time and energy to get to “open.” You’ve given me fresh inspiration. 🙂 (And I will get into one of your future classes!)

    • Marilyn Bousquin July 9, 2014   Reply →

      Hi, Susan. I love your comment and how clear you are about what it will take for you to “open” to the fine writing you aim to do. Looking so forward to the day that you are in class and we are raising our pens together! Best, Marilyn

  • Peggy Mangan July 9, 2014   Reply →

    Oh, Marilyn, You are speaking to me. I must listen and the story will be told. I have not trusted this process before because it was too simple. I trust it now. Thank you, beautiful woman.

    • Marilyn Bousquin July 10, 2014   Reply →

      Hi, Peggy. So very good to see you here, and what a lovely comment. I love that you are returning to yourself and trusting your own process as a way of telling your story. Cannot wait to read your memoir! Beautiful woman right backatcha! xo, M

  • Tania July 17, 2014   Reply →


    I love this concept that the nurturing quality of our own attention (something we are so used to training on others, something we likely take for granted as a gift because many of us do empathy and deep listening so naturally) can be something we give to ourselves…and that it has that alchemical potential to transform the way we not only see ourselves, but the way we discover the frame or entry to our stories. Great post.

    • Marilyn Bousquin July 17, 2014   Reply →

      So good to see you hear, Tania. I love your phrase, “the nurturing quality of our own attention.” Kind of like drawing on that to stay present for ourselves as we continue writing past the fear. And when we do that, “outstay” the fear, we experience the alchemy you speak of. Lovely. I hope you well, my writing friend. xo, M

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