No one thinks it is a weakness to eat a meal. No one considers it a weakness to sleep from time to time. Runners take breaks and drink water. Weight lifting routines require breaks for the muscles to recover.
Similarly, writers can't stare down the devil every moment of every day and expect to be okay. There will come times that story writing with get you down, down, very, very down.
That doesn't mean that there isn't a time for staring down the devil, for taking all of those terrible emotions and committing them to the page, or for delving through those less-than-comforting memories of the past. There absolutely is--just like there's a time for fasting, all-nighters, marathons, and weight-lifting regimes. But you can't do it twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.
Simply put, you must take a break, or you will burn out.
More than that, you don't want to simply take a break from writing. Instead, you want to associate writing with something positive, something fun, something refreshing to your soul. Furthermore, even though you want to take a break, you want your break to stretch you.
Think of it like a vacation. Many vacations are both fun and edifying (and by edifying, I mean stretching. You don't need to go to the Smithsonian on your vacation to learn something).
So how do you take a writing vacation, particularly in memoir? (My examples are in the hollow bullets.)
- First, think of joy or peace or any other good, refreshing feeling you have had.
- refreshing, surprise, laughter
- Locate one particular instance in which that feeling manifested itself.
- My first date with my husband
- Put that part on paper.
- DH drove from Daegu to Cheongju. I had gotten lost on the way home from church and so I was late meeting him. He was sweating to beat the band because he'd agreed to wear a red sweatshirt so I would know who he was but it was about 85 degrees that day. I saw him, waved, and immediately fell over a hole in the sidewalk. The whole date went like that.
- Next, think about some type of writing or expression you've always loved but have never dared to try (or one that you haven't tried in a while)--it could be poetry, song lyrics, visual poetry, emoticons, a short story, a fairy tale--any kind of genre you've always wanted to play with.
- I'd love to try to write this date/marriage to the tune/structure of Harry Chapin's "Cat in the Cradle." I've never been able to thread narrative, allusion, and dialogue together like that, and I love it.
- Think carefully about what type of structure that genre has and what information you need about your instance to create one of those stories.
- I need (1) the narrative for the verses; (2) the allusions; (3) the dialogue; and most importantly (4) THE POINT!
- Collect that information.
- You'll have to wait till next week for that. But you get the picture.
- Try to put it together.
Facing down the stuff that shaped us, the stuff that bent us, and the stuff that made us who we are is important, healthy, and cathartic. It is also exhausting. We need emotional restoration as well.
PS - If you say restoration stands in the way of finishing, I have only two arguments. First, if you're too emotionally spent to finish, then you're not getting anywhere anyway. Secondly, it's very hard for anyone to read a memoir of unrelenting hardship. Even the saddest stories have bright spots. And those bright spots throw even more emphasis on the dark ones, creating greater interest and impact. So go for it! Take a break!